This situation has been enabled by the weakness and ineptitude of the Biden administration.
Putin would know Biden's weaknesses from studying Biden's 50 years in public life. Putin would also see Biden's diminished mental capacity. He understands that fish rot from the head.
And just to be sure, Putin has been watching and testing Biden and his administration even before he became President. The list of indications that Biden can't handle himself on the international stage includes:
- the shady dealings of the Biden family in China, Russia and the Ukraine (you don't think Putin could use that against Biden?)
- Biden's silly and ineffectual response to Russian hacking of US infrastructure
- the US administration boxing itself into a domestic political corner about the COVID lab-leak theory
- China lecturing the US on human rights
- the ongoing disaster in Afghanistan
- Biden's comments about Russia having "military superiority" in Ukraine
- the lack of unity within and between NATO and the US on Ukraine,
- the admission that the West's response to an invasion of Ukraine would "depend on whether it was a minor incursion", and
- the response would be sanctions not military action.
Biden continues this weakness. He drew a line in the sand, eventually saying that if any Russia soldier crosses the Ukraine border, there would be a strong response. Putin's response was to simply and unilaterally move the Ukraine border, and then order his troops and tanks in! And Biden's administration seems to be unable to decide whether or not this is an invasion.
Would Trump or someone else have done better? Who knows? All I can say is that on that score, I look to what Trump achieved in North Korea, his stance on Taiwan, his specific targetting of top enemy military brass, and his historic Middle East peace treaties. He was unorthodox, unpredictable, and unashamedly pro-America. This made opposing Trump a high stakes game for any foreign government looking to take him on. He was crazy enough to threaten to annihilate North Korea and possibly crazy enough to do it. It kept adversaries largely in check, and with no new wars.
Would this Ukraine situation have happened with Obama? Again, who knows. But at least he was a sentient, clever guy, and a good negotiator and builder of coalitions. He could speak with authority, and was actually a leader and decision-maker. We don't have that now.
Weakness makes fights more likely, not less.
Those chickens may be coming home to roost. Taiwan may be next, especially if there is actual war in Ukraine.