Last week saw the Colonial Pipeline get held for ransom by Russian hackers who extorted $5 million out of the U.S company. Whilst negations took place, the pipeline was unable to produce and supply gasoline, which meant the highest bump in gas prices for consumers in 7 years. Since then, President Joe Biden claimed “We do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack, but we do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia, that’s where it came from” and sourced the FBI for his information.
Following this comment, he was asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the attack, to which he replied, “I will be talking about this with President Putin”, but also stressed that the FBI did not believe Putin was directly behind the attack. There are a couple of issues with this statement. Firstly, this comes one year after the infamous Solar Winds cyber attack that Russia was directly responsible for, which compromised US companies and security. Going back further to 2007, Russia also did a similar attack on Estonia. So, even though Russia has a bad reputation for doing cyber attacks, it seems that this time – Biden is not directly blaming the country for the attack, rather a group of rogue, Russian individuals.
Going back to 2016, Donald Trump stated “Cyber theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States by far” which speaks volumes. In brief, it’s no secret that hacking has become a useful tool in the nature of geopolitics and is used to carry out covert attacks that can cripple an economy.
With this in mind, it seems that Biden has backed down on this particular front. Of course, even though the hackers may be linked to the Kremlin, for now at least, Biden has given Russia the all-clear. This is an example of how Biden could start to lose a grip on Russia if Putin manages to slowly but surely test his boundaries and chip away at his responses. Put another way, one weak response today may lead to several more in the future. Over the years, Putin has used propaganda to turn himself into a metaphorical and physical strongman, which is the polar opposite of the fragile image often portrayed by Biden.
So, where do we go from here? As mentioned, Biden will almost certainly have future ‘talks’ with Putin, but what will this solve, and more importantly, where will he and his USA government go from in the future? This is a tough call for Biden who may have to tread carefully. At the same time, dissolving the Russian government of zero responsibility is a dangerous game and one which may harm the US public if Biden continues to appear weak on the global stage.