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Apr-22-2014 13:18printcomments

Russia's Actions In Ukraine Threaten Dangerous Instability And Indicate U.S. Retreating from its Leadership Role

Often, we learn the wrong lessons from history

Ukraine war

(WASHINGTON DC) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is seriously challenging the post-Cold War international order. Will one nation be permitted to use force to annex the territory of another country---or will it be prevented from doing so? Thus far, the world's response----and that of our own country, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world----is ambiguous. At this point, aggression appears to have succeeded, with no response other than a rhetorical one.

THE ECONOMIST put it this way: "First Vladimir Putin mauled Georgia, but the world forgave him---because Russia was too important to be cut adrift. Then he gobbled up Crimea, but the world accepted it---because Crimea should have been Russian all along. Now he has infiltrated eastern Ukraine but the world is hesitating---because infiltration is not quite invasion. But if the West does not face up to Mr. Putin now, it may find him at its door."

In 1994, the U.S. signed the Budapest Memorandum, declaring that if Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, we would come to its aid if its sovereignty were threatened. Now, we say that this was really not a legal commitment. This is a dangerous precedent. We are now negotiating with Iran, urging it to abandon a nuclear program. We are calling upon North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. Why should these countries trust any security guarantees, if such guarantees mean nothing in Ukraine?

Developments in Ukraine matter, argues Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, "because for the first time since the Second World War, one European country has annexed a province from another European country. And that matters because it is a rejection of our entire legal system and international norms and treaties that we have regarded as the foundation of peace. Remember, there is not a country in Europe that does not have national minorities. If we went back to protecting them through changing borders, we would be back in the hell of the 20th century and before. This is why what President Putin has done in Crimea and is now doing in eastern Ukraine is so threatening to all of us."

Asked if he thought the whole post-Cold War order has now changed by THE WASHINGTON POST's Lally Weymouth, Sikorski replied: "Russia has declared itself to be a revisionist power, unhappy and ready to break the political and legal consensus (established) after World War II. That is why everyone is so concerned. The people who should be most worried by what they have heard from the Kremlin are the countries that have large concentrated Russian minorities. That is Kazakhstan, Belarus and, indeed, Latvia. But the first thing we should do is to take stock of where we are in terms of security in Europe and abandon postmodern illusions that conflict is unthinkable."

If some Americans seem uncertain of what is taking place in Ukraine, those living in its Eastern European neighborhood are under no such illusions. Thomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, provides this assessment: "Russia's aggression in Ukraine marks a paradigm shift, the end of trust in the post-Cold War order, based on respect for territorial sovereignty, the integrity and inviolability of borders and a belief that relations can be built on common values, has collapsed. International treaties no longer hold, and the use of raw force is again legitimate. In its annexation of Crimea, Russia has thrown the rule-book out the window."

All of this is happening at a time when the Obama administration appears to be in the process of disarming in Europe. For example, we have removed all operational combat tanks from Europe and key strike aircraft, limiting the options for a show of force to bolster eastern NATO allies. In the past two years, the U.S. has deactivated the only two armored combat brigade teams in Eutope equipped with the Army's M1 battle tanks. We have also disbanded a squadron of A-10 ground-attack jets that were effective over Libya.

The ambiguous foreign policy of the Obama administration may be making the world a more dangerous place. Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, reports that, "Since leaving as January 2009, I have talked with officials from friendly nations in Asia and the Middle East. Increasingly, I hear skepticism ahout whether the United States remains a reliable ally our friends can trust for support against attacks. These private conversations echo public statements by leaders in the Persian Gulf states and Asia expressing concern that they may have to fend for themselves in the face of military challenges from Iran, China or North Korea."

There have been a number of responses to Russia which have been suggested by military experts. NATO, some argue, should announce that it will hold exercises in central and Eastern Europe, strengthen air and cyber defenses there and immediately send some troops, missiles and aircraft to the Baltics and Poland. NATO members----which, along with U.S. have cut their military budgets---should pledge to increase military spending.

Beyond this are sanctions, thus far imposed only on a handful of people close to Mr. Putin. The time has come for a broad visa ban on powerful Russians. France should cancel the sale of warships to Russia and the time seems right to cut Russia off from dollars, euros and other Western currencies. Such financial sanctions would deprive Russia of revenues from oil and gas exports and force it to draw on reserves to pay for most of its imports.

Luke Coffey, a former Army officer who was a defense adviser to the British government and is now an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, says that there are steps the White House can take. For example, the U.S. sent older aircraft---F-15 fighters---from England to Lithuania for policing missions. "If we're going to take this threat seriously," he said, "why not send F-22s? Why are we sending planes that had their heyday in the 1980s? The F-22 is the most advanced fighter plane we have in the inventory and it would send a message to Russia that we mean business. It's not business as usual when you send F-22s."

James Russell, an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, says that, "There really aren't any military options. The truth of the matter---the Russian army is there and ours isn't, and the Europeans have mostly disarmed, so you can forget about them."

In his view, the real option is to make Mr. Putin suffer: "Russia will pay a mounting political and economic cost to its thuggery, as Putin and his cronies expand their looting activities to what's left to steal in the Ukraine."

We live in a changed world and NATO countries which have slashed their defense spending, and the Obama administration, which is in process of doing the same thing, must reconsider the assumptions upon which such a policy has been based. As Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski points out, "What I think has changed is that many people assumed that Russia was on a convergence path with the West. They joined the World Trade Organization, we were helping them to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, they were already a member of the Council of Europe...So it looked like Russia was rejoining the real world after the Soviet detour. This has now been questioned."

Often, we learn the wrong lessons from history. Because the war in Iraq, based on alleged weapons of mass destruction which did not exist, was a war which had nothing to do with 9/11 and which, most Americans now believe, should never have been entered into, does not mean that the world does not remain a dangerous place. Often, after wars, the tendency is to disarm and to believe that we can withdraw from our international responsibilities. But if the U.S. does not exercise leadership to make it clear that aggression will not be permitted to succeed, who will? This is the challenge presented by Vladimir Putin. Hopefully, we and our allies will respond effectively to that challenge. The price will be high if we do not.


Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and editor of ISSUES. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.



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Dexter April 24, 2014 12:13 pm (Pacific time)

Oddly enough the US have moved in Airborne troops to some of the eastern countries (including Poland) today (under the "training exercise flag" routine). I had a news update from that dreaded website called Fox News. There is too much investment and personal interests for the States to turn their backs on this. Also the States are pretty pissed by Putin’s behavior over this topic. Apart from China, Russia is the only country left in this world, that can give the States the "bird" and not be coerced or intimidated by Americas "personal" policies ...or what they deem to be right or correct under their eyes (congress). Countries are still being run and financed by certain Western countries (backdoor politics and semi legal ownership of a country) ...until those western countries think they are on the same page as they are. Lets not forget the "legal " vote in Crimea ...and the country that’s predominantly occupied by Russian people, that reside that part of the country. Before all this happened, Crimea was of no interest to any country on this planet; more so the States. It’s all down to the States being slapped in the face to an old foe, that still has the balls to stick up for itself, with out being bullied in to American submission. Its basically a "dick measuring" contest between two supper powers.

Vic April 22, 2014 2:55 pm (Pacific time)

"But if the U.S. does not exercise leadership to make it clear that aggression will not be permitted to succeed, who will? " My God......what utter hypocrisy ! The most aggressive, warlike state the world has ever seen is in no place to lecture Russia or anyone else about aggression and invasion of weaker countries. WE hold the record for countries invaded, killing of defenders, WMDs. weapons production and proliferation, and disregard for boundaries. Aggression HAS succeeded for us..especially since we only attack poor countries with no air forces or means of defense. If we are upset about Russia's aggression we had better take a look at ourselves....Russia's military aggression pales in comparison with ours.

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