Six Things You Need To Know About Why Russia's Threat to Ukraine Matters
As President Biden and Russian President Putin engage in a serious video conversation that includes addressing Russia’s threatening behavior toward the sovereign nation of Ukraine, the peace of the world is once again threatened by bad men in high places.
As much of the world hopes for peace and works toward peace, there are leaders who work aggressively to destroy that hope and undermine that work. We talk about the world community and how as residents of planet Earth, we are all connected. But there are criminal elements in our community who are wreaking violence and injustice on the neighborhood. Following World War II, with the founding of the United Nations, the goal was to avoid war—and disputes among nations that lead to war. But since that founding, wars continue, and peace-loving countries must be armed and vigilant in order to protect themselves and their allies.
One need only think of North Korea, Iran, Russia, and Communist China to understand the threats to freedom and peace in the world. Add to this list of nations the groups capable of unimaginable violence and injustice—ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other representatives of radical Islamic terrorism, for example. Non-state actors can kill and maim untold thousands and push other nations into actual war. While most people and most countries desire peace and to live in harmony, we must be clear-eyed and realistic about nations and organizations who would wreak war and chaos if allowed.
Russia has positioned almost 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border. Another 100,000 Russian reserve troops are receiving additional combat training and many of them have been mobilized. Some 50 armor and artillery battalions are part of the force already on the border. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that in early 2022, Russia will invade Ukraine.
Here are six things you need to know about the situation on the Russia/Ukraine border – and why they matter:
First, the situation is very similar to Russia’s invasion and occupation of the Crimea in 2014. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. The next year, 2015, Russia invaded another portion of Ukraine. All of this came on the heels of Russia also invading the Republic of Georgia in 2008. Ukraine and Georgia are independent nations which were part of the former Soviet Union.
Second, the reaction of the West to these illegal Russian incursions was minimal. There were lots of diplomatic protests and some financial sanctions. However, the potential ramifications of a new invasion of Ukraine are more serious. Because Putin did the previous actions with no severe consequences, he is emboldened. He is on the record as regretting the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of power and prestige that resulted. A former KGB agent, he is known to be ambitious, aggressive, and corrupt. Political enemies have been poisoned or imprisoned. He wants to dominate nations of the old Soviet Union and to intimidate Europe.
Which leads to a third factor of which the world must be aware: Putin’s behavior, and his phone call with Joe Biden, is an attempt to bully the United States and to fragment NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Putin realizes that the U.S. and NATO are not a threat to Russia. But they are a threat to his ambitions to rebuild an expanded Russia that harkens back to the power and “glory days” of the Soviet Union. He believes that NATO will stop his plans to invade Ukraine and other former members of the Soviet-bloc.
Putin, in the lead up to the conversation with our President, demanded that Ukraine never be admitted to NATO. If Ukraine were a member and Russia invaded, Article 5 of the NATO Charter would be invoked: an attack on one member is an attack on all NATO members, and there would be a military response. Putin, like all bullies, wants to push people around and act belligerently—but he does not want to pay a price for his actions. He wants to invade and dominate with impunity.
Fourth, in his pre-phone call demands, Putin also wants the U.S. to not deploy any more troops in Eastern Europe. He calls for the U.S. and NATO to not help Ukraine militarily and to not station any NATO troops nearby. Putin prefers for his victims to be powerless. Let’s be clear, however: Putin does not get to decide when or where the United States places troops. He is not in control of NATO forces either. When President Obama gave in to Putin in 2010 and the U.S. removed the missile defense systems from Eastern Europe, Putin did not see that as a friendly gesture to reassure Russia. He saw it as weakness on the part of the U.S. and an opportunity to be more aggressive with Ukraine and Crimea.
Fifth, if Putin succeeds in making NATO and the U.S. acquiesce to his demands, or he causes the U.S. and NATO to disagree on how to respond—he will have achieved his immediate goals. NATO was formed to counter Russian aggression. If Putin cannot make it go away, the next best thing for him would be to cause friction and disunity within the alliance, so it is unable to act cohesively against him. Already Putin is using the Nordstream 2 pipeline project to bring Germany closer to the Russian Federation and to make all of Europe dependent on Russian gas and oil. He is enabling Belarus to create national security problems for Poland, as Poland is not only a member of NATO but also a former part of the Soviet Union. Putin is about fracturing the relationship between the U.S. and Europe—and between the individual nations which make up Europe.
Sixth, Ukraine is in a stronger position than it was in 2014-15, but it is not yet a member of NATO. It does have status as an aspirant to be a member of NATO. Membership is a process. As the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, stated: “Ukraine is an aspirant country. We provide support to them, especially to continue to modernize and refine their defense and security institutions, civilian-political control over their security services, and not least: fighting corruption.” He added: “We have different building-integrity programs, which are very much about how to fight corruption as part of the reforms . . . which Ukraine has already embarked on, but we need more. We need to do more with them to make sure they are fully implemented.”
To agree on the membership action plan, you need consensus among 30 members of the organization. However, the United States and our allies have provided Ukraine with powerful and sophisticated defensive weaponry they did not have when Russia invaded several years ago. The U.S. provides Ukraine with military intelligence, advice, and other support. However, Russia would quickly overpower Ukraine if it chose to invade. Ukraine as a sovereign country would be no more. Therefore, a) NATO membership for Ukraine should be expedited; and b) this is why Putin is demanding that Ukraine never be admitted to the alliance.
What should the response of the United States and our allies be to Russia and Putin’s demands and his threat to Ukraine?
The U.S., under the leadership of Joe Biden, must make it clear that a huge price will be paid by Russia, and by Putin personally, if he invades Ukraine. This should include:
- Sanctions not only on Putin’s oligarch friends, but on Putin himself.
- Russia must be denied access to the international banking system that goes through the United States—which is most of that system, directly or indirectly.
- Russia will be expelled from the G-20 group of nations. The countries in the G-20 control 90% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- The U.S. will deploy more troops immediately to the NATO countries in Eastern Europe and will increase the missile defense batteries there.
- The U.S. will reverse course and do all it can to block the Nordstream 2 pipeline and deny Russia that source of income.
This is a short list, and a beginning, of appropriate firm reactions on the part of the United States and its allies to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine. It must not be a bluff. And these potential consequences must be relayed directly to Vladimir Putin by our President. The Administration must communicate not only the United States’ ability to respond this way—but our actual willingness to do so. The bully on the playground backs down only when someone stands up to him and refuses to be bullied any longer.
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