NATO Doesn’t Seem Ready to Counter Putin’s Russia
The alliance met in Wales, but solutions to Putin’s aggression are lacking.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a seven-point “peace” plan to end the conflict in Ukraine last week, one that he supposedly scribbled out on notebook paper during a flight to Mongolia. The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire between Russian separatists and Ukrainian military forces, an end to Ukrainian air strikes on separatist strongholds, an exchange of prisoners, the creation of humanitarian corridors for the free flow of civilians in separatist areas, a repair of damaged infrastructure and the deployment of international observers to monitor the cease-fire.
The last, and perhaps biggest, point of the plan calls for Ukraine to pull back artillery out of range of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, currently under separatist control. Conveniently, this would solidify gains made by the Russian-supported separatists and essentially force Ukraine to concede the loss of this territory, leaving roughly a tenth of Ukraine’s population under separatist (read: Russian) control.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tepidly supports the cease-fire, hoping it will bring an end to hostilities, but Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk called the peace plan a “deception” disguising Putin’s real goal to “destroy Ukraine and restore the Soviet Union.”
Putin’s announcement came on the eve of a NATO summit in Wales. The alliance, which has faltered repeatedly in half-hearted attempts to curb Putin’s “New Russia” policy, has been toying with the idea of tougher sanctions against Russia for its support of the Ukrainian separatists. Yet sanctions have had almost no effect on Russia’s behavior to this point. In fact, Russia holds the upper hand, since much of Europe is beholden to Russian natural gas to keep warm this coming winter.
Poroshenko, who took office in June, has been vigorous in attempting to beat back the separatists up to this point. Government military forces had successfully beaten back rebels in an extended campaign, driving them back to Donetsk and Luhansk. It was then that thousands of Russian troops with hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles entered Ukraine to support the separatists, a move the Kremlin still denies in the face of reports on the ground proving otherwise.
Now Putin is calling for a stop to hostilities, figuring that he can hold onto the territory his minions have gained for him, leaving Ukraine fractured and weakened politically and economically. This is all part of Putin’s master plan to keep Ukraine under the Russian sphere and prevent it from joining NATO, an organization he despises.
NATO successfully protected Western Europe from Soviet invasion for almost 50 years, but the organization is a shell of its former self. Putin is clearly not intimidated by an alliance that exercises no clear directive and is run by countries decidedly reluctant to engage in any military endeavors. Count the U.S. among them. Barack Obama, appearing in Estonia before heading to the NATO meeting, expressed a muddled mix of optimism and skepticism over the peace plan announcement, but once again noted favor for more sanctions over a more robust response to keep Russia inside a box.
Obama has made it quite clear that there is no military solution to the Ukraine issue or the broader problem of an expansionist Russia. This signals to Putin he is free to run wild. However, political analyst George Will noted that the West underestimates Putin at its own peril. Putin’s anger, Will wrote, “is a smoldering amalgam of resentment (of Russia’s diminishment because of the Soviet Union’s collapse), revanchist ambitions (regarding formerly Soviet territories and spheres of influence), cultural loathing (for the pluralism of open societies) and ethnic chauvinism that presages ‘ethnic cleansing’ of non-Russians from portions of Putin’s expanding Russia.”
The lack of will to truly engage Putin only fuels his ambitions. He knew that by announcing his peace plan before the NATO summit he would confuse the alliance’s leadership, making them ponder an extended wait-and-see policy that has already seen Russia carve up Georgia and annex Crimea. After Ukraine, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia may be next. Sure, they’re full-fledged NATO members, but it’s not entirely unreasonable to believe that weak-kneed NATO leaders would validate a Russian annexation of the Baltics by making the excuse that they weren’t “original” members of the alliance, but only joined after the end of the Cold War.
This kind of backward thinking that propelled Obama’s inaugural apology tour and has driven many of the decisions made by European leaders is directly proportional to the high level of chaos we are witnessing around the globe. Tyranny is on the march because no one stands ready to oppose it. Historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that free peoples have a tough time giving up their comforts in peace to ensure they are not lost in war. “It is even harder for sophisticated liberal thinkers to admit that after centuries of civilized life,” Hanson wrote, “we still have no better way of preventing Neanderthal wars than by reminding Neanderthals that we have the far bigger club – and will use it if provoked.”
The time has come to brandish that club.
Start a conversation using these share links: