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Brett Bruen, who served as director of global engagement in the Obama White House and a foreign service officer in the State Department, penned an opinion piece in NPR about effectively turning the tables on Putin.
“When is the crisis in Ukraine going to end? According to the White House, it’s largely up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. I fail to understand why we are letting him decide the timeline, let alone the terms and trajectory of the security situation in Europe,” Bruen began the piece on Thursday. “The United States and our NATO allies need to start imposing some of our own deadlines. Congress is currently considering a series of preemptive punishments against Russia. Yet, I fear that would be a major mistake. Why would we want to give up what little leverage is available for us to try and change the Kremlin’s calculus?”
Bruen proposed giving Russia a March 1 deadline to roll back its troops and negotiate the Minsk agreement leading up to it and draw a “big red line” when it comes to meddling in the upcoming midterm elections.
“Sanctions and some other serious steps would be triggered if any of these timelines or terms are violated,” Bruen wrote. “I remain highly skeptical that simply expanding the existing economic penalties we have imposed on Russia will deter or force a deviation from an invasion they’ve already undertaken. Instead, we need to focus on what really worries Putin: increasing domestic disgruntlement.”
“Biden needs to deliver a direct message to Moscow. You either start acting like a normal nation or we are going to steadily turn up the temperature on some politically and personally sensitive points. We will begin by dropping a new batch of intelligence about the Kremlin’s corruption and mismanagement each month. Even something as simple as sharing the truth about Russian soldiers who have died during the occupation of Ukraine would help to stir public sentiment against Putin. As imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has already demonstrated, these revelations can be really damaging, especially coupled with costly foreign adventurism,” he continued.
The former Obama aide then suggested the U.S. can “launch an information invasion” in Russia by “piercing [Putin’s] propaganda with biting satire and amplifying brutal critiques of his leadership from Navalny, along with other democracy activists,” similarly to what transpired during the Cold War. He added “we now have tremendous technology to help activists and journalists circumvent censors and monitors.”
He also floated taking “a page from the International Olympic Committee’s playbook” by stripping Russia’s “privileges” as a country if it continues its actions including being disinvited from summits, ending meetings with US officials and restricting Russian officials from travel to New York City and Washington, D.C.
“There is certainly a great deal that depends on the Russian leader. Nonetheless, the Biden administration has got to stop putting Putin in the driver’s seat so often. Such a reactive response has enabled him to dominate the global agenda and distract us from other critical priorities,” Bruen wrote.