Previously, I have believed that a compromise with Vladimir Putin was possible. To a certain extent, I also believed that his demand that NATO cease its eastward expansion was reasonable, and that NATO could therefore compromise. In return, the United States and NATO could demand the withdrawal of Russian military cooperation in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Even now, I am not fully convinced that NATO and the Biden Administration offered something tangible to the Russians to avoid the war, such as a commitment not to incorporate Ukraine to NATO. The media did not report any such offer, and neither the White House nor NATO made public that one existed. In fact, NATO’s website condemns Russia’s multiple violations of existing security agreements, including by conducting forbidden military exercises next to NATO ally countries, violating NATO allies’ air space and above all, annexing Crimea in 2014. However, it does not mention offers or concessions made to the Russians in the last round of negotiations before the war.
Whether there was any chance of reaching an agreement with Russia or not, it is now a moot point.
Now Putin’s behavior requires a different approach.
The Russian invasion shows that we are living in a time even more dangerous than during the Cold War. During the Cold War the rules were clear, and the U.S and the U.S.S.R behaved relatively responsibly. Nikita Khrushchev took a dangerous step by deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba, but he was ultimately wise enough to back off and negotiate a resolution with John F. Kennedy.
In current times we find ourselves in a situation like the one preceding World War I, in which aggressive powers have emerged and face each other ominously, threatening the global balance of power. These emerging powers include not only Russia, but China as well.
Russia is facing unprecedented sanctions with huge economic consequences for the Russian government and the Russian people. Russian troops have been forced, in many cases reluctantly, to attack a country with which Russia has had a relationship for centuries, first under the Russian empire and then under the Soviet Union. There are even ethnic Russians living in Ukraine and ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia. There are mixed marriages and family members on both sides of the border. Russian soldiers are forced to kill people with whom they share blood.
Russia still decided to intensify its attacks on Ukraine. As Hannah Arendt pointed out, tyrants of Putin’s kind don’t think in terms of national interests and their actions defy any common sense.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked for a NATO-imposed no-fly zone. So far, this request has been rejected on grounds that such an action would spark a third world war.
As U.S Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has pointed out, “”Enforcing a no-fly zone actually means that you’re in combat, you’re in a fight with Russia, and that’s one of the things that we have said, that our President said we weren’t going to do, get in a fight with Russia,”. Others in the U.S and the West have also argued that Russian attacks are not based on air power but artillery and missiles, and therefore anti-missile weaponry is more critical for Ukraine
However, the totalitarian mind such as Putin’s usually does not react in kind to moderation. He views the rejection of a no-fly zone and other military or semi-military actions as a sign of Western weakness. Such Western hesitation or plain refusals to engage encourages him to double down on his aggression.
By the same token, if we want to bring Putin to the negotiating table as soon as possible, how can we do it if we do not display courage or willingness to fight if necessary? Sanctions and statements do not seem to stop Putin’s offensive.
Russian forces have displayed surprising weakness according to several military analysts. According to some reports, more Russian troops were killed in the last three weeks than U.S troops in 20 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Five Russian generals have been reported dead. Morale is low among Russian soldiers and some of them have even surrendered to avoid fighting. The president of the European Union ‘s military committee, General Claudio Grazziano, pointed out that the Russian military’s “Plan A” has failed, and is moving to a war of annihilation against the civilian population.
Given the weakness displayed by the Russian military, and to avoid more senseless destruction, NATO allies should seriously consider imposing a no-fly zone, or even establishing a peacekeeping force inside Ukraine as the Polish government has proposed. This could bring Putin back to the negotiations.
The Biden Administration and NATO must recalibrate. They need to show strength. It is time for NATO to not only act unified—and Biden has thus far demonstrated NATO unity remarkably well— but also to abandon the pacifist attitude that has characterized the Europeans since WWII.
We are publicly displaying a hysteric fear of military escalation while watching the butchery of the Ukrainian people every night on television. This could make the Ukrainian suffering even worse. Putin is like a wild animal that becomes hungrier and more vicious as its prey displays fear. NATO is not even considering the notion that Putin could be equally afraid of us.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has approached Venezuela and Iran to replace the supply of Russian oil after two allies, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, were not even willing to take Biden’s phone calls.
Iran is happy to accept a nuclear deal if the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is removed from the foreign terrorist list, and if we don’t ask them to stop supporting their murderous proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis. How exactly would this strengthen our credibility?
We are dealing with two anti-Western tyrannical regimes, and we are considering giving them concessions they do not deserve. We expect these regimes to be something that they aren’t and will never be.
Russia has used Venezuela for decades now to gain influence in the continent. It has used Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia in the same way, including through agreements of military cooperation. Russia has even placed a sophisticated, nuclear-capable bomber plane on Venezuelan soil.
It is unlikely that Venezuela would be willing to give up this relationship with Russia, as the Biden administration clearly hopes. Venezuela has been isolated for years, yet this does not seem to intimidate President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro, like Putin and Díaz-Canel, are not moved by the bankruptcy and economic misery of their country.
The time has come to develop a global national security strategy. Russia is not only conducting a military intervention in Ukraine; for decades now, Russia has been supporting dictatorships, particularly those that challenge the west. Besides the Latin American dictatorships already mentioned, it has supported Hungary, Poland, and the far right and far left elements in Western Europe and around the world. Putin seeks to divide the west and undermine the liberal and democratic order by weakening NATO and the European Union.
Russia and China have been on the offensive for many years against the West b supporting and strengthening anti-western dictatorships and illiberal democracies. But as historian and journalist Anne Applebaum has pointed out, we have not realized this yet.
We need to develop a clear national security strategy. We have had two presidents, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, who encouraged or supported isolationism and withdrawal from the world. Likewise, Biden dismissed the generals’ advice and sloppily withdrew from Afghanistan.
The world is not going to leave us alone. We need to restore our leadership in the world.
NATO must be a real political, strategic, and military entity in defense of the liberal order beyond the North Atlantic. It should be about the entire free world. It should be about protecting vulnerable democratic countries in Latin America, Asia, and other regions. It must be assertive and create a common strategy
European countries must step up to the table and not stop at the level of what they can afford, as strategic analyst and former NATO adviser Julian Lindley French has argued.
Diplomacy should always come first. However, it is important to display strength and courage to protect that democracy and freedom that enable us to be peaceful and reasonable.
Published in palmbeachdemocracy.org Monday March 21, 2022.
“The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author”.