What the West Needs to do Now to Contain Russia
In the Crimea, Russia demonstrated how quickly a dictatorship can act. In the space of about three weeks Russia took over almost all the Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea, sponsored a (bogus) referendum on independence, and rammed through legislation in the Russian parliament annexing the Crimea to the Russian Federation. Although Russia long maintained that this action was in response to a spontaneous uprising of disadvantaged Russian-speaking Ukrainians, on April 17th President Putin finally admitted that elements of the Russian army were present in the Crimea during the uprising.
Now the West finds itself staring at 30,000 or 40,000 Russian troops in a high state of readiness concentrated along the Russian border with the Ukraine. Although President Putin promised German Chancellor Merkel to withdraw troops as a sign of his desire for de-escalation, few if any of these troops have been withdrawn.
The West has threatened Russia with the imposition of additional sanctions, which may begin to inflict economic pain sometime in the future but for the moment seem almost laughable. Some of the oligarchs whose travel has been restricted or whose bank accounts have been frozen have seen their names on the sanctions list as a badge of honor which raises their personal status in Russia.
Russia’s goals in the Ukraine are becoming clearer each day. In Moscow old maps are circulating showing the territory conquered by Catherine the Great in the late 18th century called “New Russia”. The language of this discussion recalls the word Lebensraum (living space) as used by the Nazis to justify the expansion of Germany to the East. The area covered by “New Russia” includes about half of the present territory of the Ukraine and covers virtually all of eastern and southern Ukraine as well as part of Moldova. It is very likely that Russia will follow the script from its successful Crimean operation to destabilize eastern and southern Ukraine. Already disciplined, highly trained Special Forces troops wearing uniforms without national insignia have occupied more than a dozen strategic Ukrainian military bases, police headquarters and government buildings. Although Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov strongly denies that Russian troops are already in the Ukraine, he has threatened to intervene in the Ukraine if the Ukrainian government restarts its anti-terrorist campaign and Russian citizens or ethnic Russians are harmed6. Ostensibly to bring order out of chaos, the Russians would take over parts of the Ukraine and then supervise a referendum asking the people to choose between independence vs. greater autonomy from Kiev.
NATO vs. EU
NATO is sending additional planes and ships to areas near the eastern NATO member countries, 600 troops to Poland and the Baltics and is considering sending up to 10,000 troops altogether. However, instead of keeping its intentions secret from its adversary, NATO has violated a time-honored principle of warfare by announcing publicly and in advance that it will not defend the Ukraine with military force if it is attacked by Russia, since the Ukraine is not a member of NATO. The EU will only then agree to impose economic sanctions if Russia continues to ignore the diplomatic agreement signed 17 April 2014 in Geneva. Perhaps because of the enormous sums they have invested in Russia, German firms are pressuring the German government not to impose any sanctions. Germany has become the EU member most reluctant to impose economic sanctions. Although the EU, NATO and the UN General Assembly all roundly condemned Russia for its bogus referendum and illegal annexation of the Crimea, the West has already basically accepted the takeover as a fait accompli and is no longer even attempting to use it as a bargaining chip in return for concessions from Russia.
What effects would a Russian invasion of the Ukraine have on Europe and the U.S.?
1) There would be an outcry by NATO member countries, particularly Poland and the Baltic States, which would have flashbacks to the most horrible periods in their history.
2) NATO would come under increasing pressure to mobilize and reposition forces so as to offer more protection to NATO members.
3) The EU and NATO would again be caught off guard and would be unable to react quickly. The Cold War would have returned with full force. Again the cry would be to drastically increase military spending in the NATO countries in order to contain a re-emerging Soviet Union.
4) The Maidan (Independence Square) activists who successfully ousted President Yanukovitch would be in grave danger. There are already rumors that Russia is collecting the names of the Maidan leaders with a view to eliminating them if and when a pro-Russian government takes over in the Ukraine. This would mean that the most Western-oriented Ukrainians, who risked their lives to peacefully demonstrate for freedom of speech and assembly, would be jailed or executed and thereby eliminated as future allies of the West. Can the West let this happen?
What the West Needs to do Now
Instead of waiting for Russia to strike, we should act pro-actively to keep this from happening. Russia has an advantage over NATO in repositioning troops and equipment because the Ukraine is in Russia’s backyard. NATO would have to move forces relatively long distances from Western Europe. After years of cutbacks, by 2015 the U.S. Army will have only 30,000 combat troops left in Europe, so most of its troops would have to be flown in from the U.S.
We need to reopen some recently closed bases in Germany and other NATO countries and begin the mobilization and transfer of units to Europe from the Continental U.S. It could have a significant deterrent effect on the Russians to have additional American and other NATO troops stationed as close as Germany, as well as on the other side of their borders with Poland and the Baltic states. The problem is that reactivating bases takes time. In addition, the approval of the host countries, especially in view of the NSA wiretapping scandal, is far from certain. However, if the West makes a strong statement that it will come to the aid of the Ukraine if it is attacked, it is possible that Russia might postpone its plans. This would give NATO time to move troops and equipment and strengthen its capabilities in Eastern and Central Europe.
Another proposed step would be for the U.S. to stage a mobilization exercise reactivating the Selective Service to see if it still functions after such a long period of disuse. Any sort of mobilization would show Russia that NATO and the EU are serious about preventing it from taking over any more territory.
There is a great deal of similarity between the present situation and that leading up to the outbreak of World War II. Instead of standing up to Hitler in 1938 and refusing to let him annex the Sudetenland, by their inaction and cowardice the allies gave Hitler additional time to expand and mobilize his army, and their lack of resistance encouraged him to take over even more territory. Like the allies in 1938, we still have an opportunity to stop this dictator before he becomes too strong and before it takes a great war with millions of deaths to stop him.