As Russian troops move into Ukraine, a new global "Axis of Evil" is rising, emboldened by the Biden administration’s weak leadership, according to a Republican senator.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the invasion marks the arrival of a "new axis of evil" comprising Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. The Biden administration’s refusal to take tough unilateral action when faced with aggression has emboldened these nations, she said. Her remarks came during a recent roundtable discussion on the escalating situation in Ukraine.
The discussion, hosted by Blackburn and recorded late last week as Russian troops prepared to invade Ukraine, was provided to the Washington Free Beacon by Blackburn’s office. As Russian troops moved into the border region with Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday, the Biden administration announced new sanctions on Russia.
"This is probably the weakest and most incompetent administration in history," said Fred Fleitz, former chief of staff at the White House National Security Council under Donald Trump.
"This is the result of a year of incompetence, of appeasing Putin, of the Afghanistan debacle, of an incompetent and incoherent foreign policy focused on climate change," said Fleitz, who is also a former CIA analyst. "Undoing it now is pretty hard, maybe next to impossible."
Blackburn and other participants in the roundtable, including retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, said the bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan set the stage for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s fresh military operations.
Maginnis, who keeps in contact with the Pentagon, said Putin’s latest military plot should come as no surprise. He took similar steps against Ukraine in 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea.
Putin "will continue to do this until he gets what he wants," Maginnis said. "Putin is a savvy person, a poker player, someone who understands how to do this. This administration could have fixed this a year ago, but they failed dismally to do this."
Maginnis also blamed the Biden administration for being "unprepared" to face down this latest crisis—the same way it failed to anticipate the Taliban’s quick rise in Afghanistan after U.S. troops fled the country. A U.S. power vacuum across the globe has allowed Putin and his allies in China to increase their international standing.
"Weakness is not going to be tolerated by the likes of these two men," Maginnis said, referring to Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Just days after Blackburn held the roundtable, Russia began its invasion after accusing Ukraine of increased violence in the border region. The United States and other Western nations say Putin staged attacks as a pretext for his country's invasion. While the Biden administration initially said such action would spark "swift and severe" penalties, U.S. officials moved the goal posts late Monday.
The United States announced a limited set of sanctions on two areas of Ukraine that Russia now recognizes as separatist regions. These sanctions, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Monday evening, are just a first step until Russia conducts a "further invasion" of Ukraine—comments that drew widespread criticism from Republican foreign policy leaders who accuse President Joe Biden of walking back promises to get tough with Moscow.
"To be clear: These measures respond to Russia’s recognition gambit; they are not the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine," the senior administration official said.
Biden, during a press conference Tuesday afternoon, declared that Moscow's latest moves mark "the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine" and that new sanctions will be applied on the country. These include sanctions on two Russian financial institutions that will cut the country off from American and European banks. There will also be sanctions applied on "Russian elites and their family members," Biden said. "If Russia goes further in this invasion we stand to go further as with sanctions," the president promised.