Former Army intelligence officer, Senate candidate: Putin is not our friend

Like many of my fellow North Carolinians, I’m keeping a close eye on Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine.

As I’m on the campaign trail, I get asked frequently by people why should America care about Ukraine — a small country so far away? Shouldn’t we cut a deal with Russia? Isn’t this a European problem?

They’re asking the right questions. As a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, I know a few things about Putin.

First off, let’s level-set on Russia so there’s no confusion: Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum, and it’s led by a former KGB colonel and a host of oligarchs.

Put simply, Russia is one of the world’s largest gas stations and it’s run by a mafia family.

I know from my time as a U.S. Army intelligence officer a bit about Putin — that he is a kingpin and also one of, if not the wealthiest persons on the planet with an estimated net worth of $200 billion.

Putin is ruthless in the suppression of dissent and runs Russia with an iron fist. His associates have conducted cyber attacks against our infrastructure (like the Colonial Pipeline), and his operatives have assassinated his opponents. He is not our friend and his minions are active every day attempting to subvert democracies and sow division. He would like nothing more than to have America weak and under his boot.

So, why is Putin so bold?

Putin is, for all intents and purposes, a dictator. He views the world through the lens of power and when he can’t persuade, will pay off or threaten others to get his way. Where he senses weakness, he sees advantage and will push until he hits something solid.

This is why it is important for America to have strong, capable leaders in government who understand and take our national security seriously. The Biden Administration, with its absolutely disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, sent the world a message that America is capricious, cowardly, and abandons its allies — and even its own citizens.

Putin watched this disaster and celebrated, and I am certain Biden’s weakness emboldened Putin to press on Ukraine. Why wouldn’t Putin seek to further expand and enslave? We all know bullies will push until someone musters the courage to punch them square in the nose — fast, hard, and repeatedly.

So, why Ukraine? Why should Americans care? Why should we be sending our sons and daughters in uniform into harm’s way to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank? Here are two reasons.

First off, democracies like ours are under attack around the world and corrupt strong-men are on the march. The number of non-democratic countries today outnumber the number of democratic countries for the first time in 20 years, and the percentage of people around the world living in democracies has shrunk to the lowest point since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

America was founded on the principle of self-rule. We overthrew a tyrant king like Putin to live in a free country. If America is to be the beacon on the hill, we must reclaim our position as the champion of democracy around the world.

Second, Ukraine is the largest of the former Soviet republics and once had the world’s third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. They declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and, as part of that deal, gave up the nuclear weapons stationed there in 1994 in return for security assurances from the United Nations.

The Ukrainian people want to be free, just like Americans, and to be part of NATO. Putin detests this and wants to dominate them because he is fearful of free countries on his border, and fearful the spirit of freedom will spread within Russia and he will be overthrown.

Make no mistake. As a former soldier with two combat tours, I know the volatile situation in Ukraine has the potential to spin wildly out of control with the world’s two largest nuclear powers involved and 100,000 of Putin’s troops massing on the border.

America, as the world’s brightest democracy, has a duty to lead. This takes sending serious leaders to Washington who understand geopolitics and the stakes on the table. We cannot afford to be weak when dealing with Putin.