Russian President Vladimir Putin sends a message. By massing 40,000 troops near the Ukrainian border – the largest concentration of its kind since 2015, according to military observers – it is testing the resolve of NATO and the new White House resident, President Joe Biden. The West must show its courage.
The Kremlin should not be able to dictate the nature of another nation’s government or society, especially within the envelope of European democracies.
He certainly did so on Thursday when the Biden administration issued a new round of ever-tougher sanctions against elements of the Russian state. The punitive measures came after the Russian cyberattacks and election interference and were a welcome change after years of President Donald Trump turning the other cheek. A number of sanctions targeted people associated with Russia’s seizure of Crimea seven years ago, but none appeared to target the latest Russian threat to the fringes of Ukraine – and that’s where Biden and his administration must act next.
The president, in a brief televised statement Thursday afternoon in Russia, was fairly clear in his warning. He said the United States is “steadfast” in favor of “American allies and partners in Europe” and that “the time has come to defuse”. He also offered the carrot of a Biden-Putin summit in Europe this summer to launch a “strategy of stability and dialogue”.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin more directly charted the way forward following a series of NATO consultations in Brussels this week. “We are determined to help Ukraine meet its self-defense needs,” he said. “I call on Russia to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
But Russia is unlikely to take this step simply because of the impassioned rhetoric from US leaders. Instead, the West must take action – the most important of which would be to invite Ukraine into NATO’s fold.
Indeed, it is time that we treated Ukraine as a true ally. As the critical clause of the NATO treaty, Article 5, says of member countries: An attack on one is an attack on all. This is how the United States must view Ukraine after years of rhetorical support backed only by largely defensive weapons.
The inclusion of NATO is a difficult decision that will not please everyone – especially since it could lead to a direct NATO-America confrontation with Putin if Russia leads its long streak. skirmishes directly on Ukrainian territory.
But it is the right decision, because the Kremlin should not be able to dictate the nature of government or society of another nation, especially in the envelope of European democracies. The onus is on the United States in particular to uphold these values as Ukraine wage a potentially existential war.
Of course, granting Ukraine membership in NATO – if Kyiv asks for it – wouldn’t go very well in Moscow. Almost three years ago, Putin issued a warning: “Our colleagues, who are trying to escalate the situation, seeking to include, among others, Ukraine and Georgia in the orbit of the alliance, should reflect. the possible consequences of such irresponsibility. political. ”On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went even further, directly accusing NATO of“ threatening ”actions.
But Russia shouldn’t be allowed to just come in and take over the territory it wants just because it was once part of the Soviet Union. It is a terrible precedent far beyond Ukraine; Another important reason for building support for Kiev is that Putin sees that Biden cannot be rushed.
So far, however, Ukraine has not asked to join the alliance, in large part because it will only complicate its immediate problems with neighboring Russia. Moreover, its leaders are probably unaware of how much they can rely on Western, especially American, support in the long run.
Until he seeks admission to NATO, there are many alternatives to help the besieged government and its besieged people. In a constructive step, the Pentagon announced in early March a military aid package of $ 125 million for Ukraine, the first under the Biden administration. This included patrol boats, forward radars, and combat evacuation equipment. But this is hardly the kind of heavy offensive equipment that Ukraine has said it needs.
The lingering fear is that Putin will repeat his decision to suddenly seize territory in eastern Ukraine, as he did when he took Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. In this case, he has took over the gift Nikita Khrushchev made in 1954 when he transferred Crimea from Russia. to the Ukrainian province of the Soviet Union in a gesture to the region he once ruled. It had been part of Russia since Catherine the Great seized it from the Ottomans in 1783.
Under the Soviets, other parts of Ukraine served as Russia’s breadbasket while its mines and factories in the eastern stretches Putin wants to reclaim helped fuel Soviet growth. But not anymore. Moscow must recognize and accept today’s reality.
Russian speakers constitute the majority of the population of eastern Ukraine and some would still prefer to be reintegrated into Russia, in part to protect their language and culture, which Kiev has increasingly suppressed in recent years. But the territory does not belong to Russia any more than it does to Poland, or even Lithuania, which once controlled large swathes of this region, filled with split ethnic groups and competing allegiances.
Putin’s excuse to attack Ukraine this time is reminiscent of the Kremlin’s argument for its capture of Crimea – that the port was “an inseparable part of Russia” and that Ukrainian nationalists threatened in a way local Russian speakers. This concept is easily extended to a number of nations and nationalities that surround the core of the former Soviet Union, known as “near abroad”.
Putin’s excuse to attack Ukraine this time is reminiscent of the Kremlin’s argument for its capture of Crimea.
There is no doubt that Putin is also worried about the threat these marginal regions could pose to his grip on power. Belarus, in northern Ukraine, for example, also exploded this year as angry crowds took to the streets over the fraudulent elections that kept a close Kremlin ally Alexander Lukashenko in power. Putin has never been so keen to squeeze Belarus tightly.
Today, however, Ukraine is a very independent nation, deeply keen to forge its own path. Of course, neither the United States nor NATO should show an interest in raising the temperature in this already overheated region. However, it is imperative that the West and in particular the United States help Ukraine and its people to face Putin’s ambitions.