Sitting face-to-face but not seeing eye-to-eye, Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Sunday. Must have been an awkward afternoon around the diplomatic drawing board, way I see it. Four hours of Kerry pleading, “Pretty please… Won’t you pull back your troops?” Only to be met with Sergey’s, “I’ll take that to the Kremlin. In meantime, why don’t we turn Ukraine into federation? You divide, we conquer.” Four whole hours of soft power talks, without a single Ukrainian at the table—another conversation— and not a thing accomplished.
Diplomatic isolation, asset freezes, travel bans on oligarchs, even angry Obama phone calls to Moscow were appropriate at a time—but objectively ineffective. Mr Putin laughed off US sanctions that targeted his inner circle, promising the Russian government would “have the back” of those on the list. And did you hear? Vlad ordered fireworks over Moscow after the second round of US economic sanctions.
Look, I’ve never been one to argue “give war a chance,” so well meaning bleats aimed at painting me as a neo-con can remain calm.
But you’ll forgive me if I just don’t get what kind of playbook the White House is employing.
It’s no secret Obama’s no foreign policy president—compounding the problem: Putin knows his record. Obama gave up Bush’s win in Iraq; even helped topple slavish American allies in Egypt and Libya. And Putin himself has taunted Obama in Iran, in Syria, and with Edward Snowden. But this leaders’ game of cat-and-mouse is unlike the others… It is much, much worse.
Quite apart from the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, where dozens are missing and tens of thousands of Russians, Ukrainians, and Tartars have been turned into political refugees… The invasion of Crimea by the expansionist Russian federation marks the destruction of the present system of international relations and public law.
Either Obama is in denial of these facts or perfectly incompetent.
To be sure, the probability of war in Ukraine’s southeast is high. When Russia invaded Crimea, it mobilized 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern frontier. Most of those forces still terrorize Ukraine, never mind Putin’s pull-back promise to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday– some 20,000 troops still occupy the peninsula and provocateurs sent by Moscow continue to stir unrest. And, like a holy hangover of the region’s Soviet past, Ukrainian Catholics are completely paralyzed in the occupied territory, where priests in Crimea have been kidnapped, accused of being ‘Vatican agents’ by Russian supporters.
For Putin, the Cold War ended, as he put it, “tragically.” He will turn the clock back as far as intimidation through military power, economic leverage and Western inaction will allow.
Annual Defense Budget (USD) $76,600,000,000 $4,880,000,000
Fit for Military Service 46,812,553 15,686,055
Active Military Personnel 766,000 160,000
Total Tank Strength
Total Aircraft Strength 3,082 400
Total Nacy Ship Strength 352
And with 15 times the cash being dumped into their annual defense budget, Vlad has the military and economic power he needs to successfully crush Ukraine and her people. See, while world leaders were busy drawing down troops and spending less on security, Russia has been increasing her military might since the Cold War. Today, the Russian Army is virtually unopposed in Central Europe.
“Parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland are states where Putin claims to have ownership.” – Andrej Illarionov, Former Putin Aide
And now, an ex-Kremlin aide warns Putin wants to annex Finland, Belarus and the Baltics. I, for one, believe him.
The immediate concern for world must be to show Russia that FURTHER MOVES WILL NOT BE TOLERATED and that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is, indeed, sacrosanct. Putin is a narcissistic sociopath… a megalomaniac. Like the bully on the playground, he does not respond to soft power; to reason or arguments. Putin must face a threat of physical force in order to even consider changing course… hard power fighting hard power.
So, who should supply that muscle?
No country can on its own. Look here: Obama’s indebted America is not a reliable ally or consistent power. When the interim Ukrainian Prime Minster met with Obama, his request for weapons was politely declined. Instead, the Obama administration offered uniforms and military meals… As if Ukraine was going to the Garrison Ball. And forget handicapped Europe… She’s has welcomed tens of billions in dirty money from a who’s who of Russia’s most unsavory business men, all along doing little to wean herself from Russian oil and natural gas. And our P-M, despite leading the class in harsh rhetoric, has totally abandoned the traditional conservative build-up of armed forces and defense industries. Canada might talk the talk but we certainly can’t walk the walk.
So, only NATO is apt to provide a robust defensive strategy and lift the Ukrainian militarily out of its present isolation. “But Ukraine is not a NATO nation,” you say. That’s right, but why aren’t they? Following the Georgian crisis, Obama’s Russian “reset” led to an abrupt revision of plans… Talk of Ukraine and Georgia’s future in NATO ceased. Moscow cheered.
To avoid consensus-building an sticky precedent, a NATO coalition of the willing ought to be formed and three actions taken.
1. Arm Ukrainian nationals
2. Deploy intelligence capabilities and military trainers
3. Conduct a military exercise
First, the Ukrainian P-M’s request for military equipment should be immediately approved and, above that, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons should be included. These weapons will complicate Russian military planning and add risk to its tyrannical operations. And, as a point of taste, U.S. equipment might bring back unpleasant memories of when Soviet forces encountered Western weapons in Afghanistan.
Second: the alliance should deploy intelligence capabilities and military trainers to Ukraine. The deployment of military trainers to Georgia was one of the most effective elements of the U.S. effort to bolster Georgia’s security after it was invaded by Russia in 2008.
Third: NATO allies and partners should soon conduct a military exercise in Ukraine as part of the effort to train the Ukrainian military. The alliance’s plan to wait until its next scheduled exercise in Ukraine, this summer, could incentivize Russia to take additional military action before then.
Ukraine is our Sudetenland and Russia our Berlin. The same dynamics are at play: barefaced racism, xenophobia, a violent nationalism unbending to moral scrutiny, and the reproduction of lies by ranting lawmakers. Appeasement didn’t work then and it’s already not working now. Enough of round tables and photo-ops, statesmen. Less talk, and more spark— for 46M Ukrainians, for the balance of power in this world, for freedom. Anything less won’t satisfy me.