Does Russia Plan to Stop with Ukraine or Turn Left at Kiev and Continue to Poland
Today NATO has confirmed what the Ukrainian government has been saying for months; Russian troops have crossed the border and are in eastern Ukraine. Not some advisors, but troops, tanks and artillery with all the support required. Moreover, why not, the West has given them permission to invade and told Putin that nothing will happen other than economic sanctions. Sanctions that will only bolster his standing with the Russian people and lend credence to his claims of US support to the “fascist” in Kiev.
Unfortunately, most Americans will not know this is happening since the news media is still concentrating on the recent election results and current developments in Iraq and Iran. I suppose it is important to concentrate on who will be the Democratic nominee in 2016, devoting multiple columns on speculation while Ukraine is being invaded. While the troubles in the Middle East are important Ukraine present a larger danger to the West. Why is Ukraine important and what should the West do?
The short answer (or shortsighted answer) is that Ukraine is not very important to the US and only marginally important to Europe. The US does very little business with Ukraine and Europe is tied through the natural gas that flows from Russia through pipelines in Ukraine. The importance of a response to Russia’s invasion is in the long term. For the US, which has lost the respect of the world, is to reestablish the foundations of peace in Europe which has allowed growth and prosperity. It is further important to establish diplomatic boundaries; boundaries which when crossed do invite a military option. These boundaries use to exist; there was some certainty of a response when crossed. With the loss of those boundaries, invasions happen.
The invasion is moving slowly while Putin and his thugs continue to test Western resolve and capabilities. Recent activities, reminiscent of the cold war, are being used to judge us. Russian planes are flying near US, Canadian and European airspace causing fighters to scramble to intercept. Naval forces have also been involved testing the waters off Sweden. The “non-Russian forces”, disguised as Ukrainian separatist, who took control of eastern Ukraine and allowed Russia to annex Crimea, preceded these tests. Now that we have been judge and found deficient Russian forces are flooding over the border. The question is where will they stop? Once a Russian military force begins to move it will stop only when it runs into a force larger then itself or is sufficiently degraded that it can go no further. Of course, an alternative is to ensure it never begins to move.
It is somewhat late in the game to try incremental steps to convince the Russians it is a bad idea to invade Ukraine. It is not too late to show resolve and indicate that there will be a price to pay and that price will be painful. I doubt that the U.S. can pull it off and will need someone that the Russians believe will be true to their word. Germany, England and France, along with Poland and the Baltic states could provide a sufficient force to make a threat credible.
I hope that a united European front would be able to stop a war from happening or at least contain it to a limited war that would not lead to a major conflict. The problem, as I have written before, is the longer it takes to meet this challenge, the larger the war that will come. Make no mistake, unless Putin is stopped, there will be a war.