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Politics: Putin Preys On Biden's Escalation Fears After Crimea Strike

POLITICS: Putin preys on Biden’s escalation fears after Crimea strike

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Suddenly, after 852 days of Russia committing war crimes by intentionally targeting and killing Ukrainian civilians, the Kremlin is mightily crying foul and essentially accusing Ukraine and the United States of violating the Geneva Conventions.

Yeah, right.

On Sunday, at least four Russian civilians were killed when a beach in Sevastopol, the largest city in Russian-occupied Crimea, was struck by explosives of yet-to-be confirmed origin. More than 150 others were reported injured.

Moscow was quick to attribute the deadly attack to US-made long-range ATACMS — and Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official spokesman, pledged the attack would “not go unpunished.”

Menacingly, Peskov also asserted that “retaliatory measures will definitely follow,” implying that the United States would face a consequence.

This is projection at its absolute worst.

How many Ukrainian civilians have been killed by missiles, drones and artillery fired from the Crimean peninsula? How many of those munitions were made in Iran or North Korea?

But as ESPN football analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Now is not the time for the White House to fall again for Putin’s escalation bluster or allow Ukraine to be further handcuffed by it — especially since much about Sunday’s incident does not pass the sniff test.

It is highly doubtful that the Armed Forces of Ukraine would use its limited ATACMS munitions to attack non-military targets — particularly as at no point during the war up to now has Ukraine intentionally targeted Russian civilians.

Rather, it is more likely that the Russian beachgoers were killed not by ATACMS or other US-made weapons, but by Russian military 9M330 air defense missiles fired by Moscow’s TOR-M2 anti-aircraft platform.

Early open-source images of the weapons’ remains — as yet unconfirmed — appear to suggest this was the case in Sevastopol.

Friendly fire happens in combat, and the Russian military has a track record of inadvertently striking their own targets, even shooting down their own aircraft — as in April, for example, when Putin’s air force released a guided medium-range X-59 tactical missile over Belgorod, Russia.

According to Russian sources on Telegram, 21 known such friendly fire incidents were tallied in March and April alone.

Spinning friendly fire as propaganda also happens in combat.

Recently we witnessed that in Gaza, when Hamas claimed Israel intentionally struck the Al-Ahli Hospital last October, causing massive civilian casualties. In reality, however, the IDF did not hit the hospital, which been struck by an errant rocket fired by Palestinian forces.

After any such incident, there’s a race to get the message out first. The media runs with it — and if you are explaining, you are losing.

In October, Hamas won the disinformation war against Israel, and now Russia may be attempting to do the same in Crimea, despite Moscow’s likely responsibility for the deaths of its own citizens vacationing in a war zone.

The White House must not fall for it.

Beyond simply projecting Russia’s own murderous modus operandi that by design intentionally targets Ukrainian civilians, Putin’s motives here are even more insidious.

The Kremlin is endeavoring to paralyze the Biden administration into submission — yet, somewhat laughably, is doing so from a position of weakness.

American ATACMS arguably stalled Russia’s summer offensive in and around Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. These weapons continue to pummel Russian-held positions in Crimea, helping to render the strategic peninsula untenable.

Yet just days after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Ukraine could strike targets anywhere in Russia with ATACMS, we are now told the AFU cannot strike further than 100 kilometers beyond the border, essentially providing sanctuary to the Russian airfields delivering ordnance on Ukrainian cities.

Putin knows he desperately needs to change the equation, and change it fast. His recent travels to North Korea and Vietnam, creating additional distractions in South Korea and the Sea of Japan for Washington, was one way.

Blaming the United States for the blasts in Sevastopol is just the latest.

Nuclear bluffs, threats on Western capitals and a dubious peace offer are all obvious tells Putin knows he is holding a losing hand — and yet, Biden and his national security team keep responding as if Moscow is holding four aces.

The Kremlin knows Biden fears escalation, and has seen how the administration’s fear has driven Sullivan to repeatedly submit to Russia by slow-walking or denying Ukraine what it needs for victory.

It’s time the White House found its lost backbone and quit hedging Ukraine into a forever war of attrition that it cannot win.

Mark Toth writes on national security and foreign policy. Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Sweet served 30 years as a military intelligence officer.

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