This oped was published in iPOLITICS on July 10, 2017. To view on the iPOLITICS website, please see here.
A recent exclusive in the Washington Post exposes the fundamental error at the heart of the West’s policy towards Russia.
Russia continues to divide Europe and the world into spheres of influence, through an active hybrid war which masterfully utilizes manipulation of the media, influencing politicians, economic blackmail and military aggression in order to secure itself an outsized influence on global events.
The Post’s reporting shows a U.S. presidential administration paralyzed into inaction by fear of “escalation” or “provocation.” It shows an American president seemingly unaware of a basic truth: Vladimir Putin needs no provocation. Not to invade Ukraine, not to support the murderous Assad regime, and not to attack the most sacred of Western institutions – a free and fair election.
We have seen all of this before. In the 1930s, European leaders ignored Hitler’s early aggression and tried to appease him. This was naïveté and willful blindness at its worst, and it drew us directly into history’s greatest cataclysm. It took tens of millions of lives to rid the world of Nazism. The folly of appeasement should be clear to all by now.
This nonsensical fear of “provoking” Russia has allowed President Putin, at little real cost, to sow division and uncertainty in Western institutions and alliances. It has allowed him to occupy Crimea, and to wage war against Ukraine for three years, at the cost of over 10,000 lives. In a concerted effort to destabilize Ukraine and ensure that it becomes a failed state, Russia continues to prosecute the only active war in Europe.
It is also the reason why the United States, Canada and other Trans-Atlantic allies have thus far refused to provide Ukraine with the weapons the country needs to defend itself from Russia’s invasion and active military conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
We must understand that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is also an attack on the international order. Putin attacked Ukraine because its people chose to join the European community of nations, to build a democratic and free Ukraine. It is an attack on the values that unite the democratic world. It’s an attack on the independence and right to self-determination of states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet sphere of influence.
For all of the blather about Putin’s “unpredictability,” he is actually entirely conventional. He shares the characteristic common to all tin pot dictators and schoolyard bullies: When they meet resistance and defiance, they back off.
Here’s what a recent bipartisan taskforce of prominent American military, diplomatic and political leaders had to say on the subject:
“Making the Kremlin pay a heavy price for its aggression in Ukraine will help dissuade it from taking aggressive steps against the neighboring Baltic states and other, vulnerable neighbors. Providing Ukraine with more substantial military support would make it harder for Putin to succeed in Ukraine, and it would strengthen Ukrainian morale in the knowledge of real Western support.
“We should provide training and equipment – including defensive lethal systems – that enable the Ukrainians to defend themselves while incurring fewer casualties, and to impose much greater costs – including human costs – on Russia if it undertakes further aggression.”
Western allies should state clearly that Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine must stop and Russia must get out of Ukraine – and that until that happens, the West will supply Ukraine with the defensive weapons it needs to protect its citizens. Furthermore, Western allies should make it clear to Putin that if Russia’s aggression against Ukraine does not end and if Russia refuses to leave Crimea, stronger sectoral sanctions will be imposed upon Russia’s economy and the enablers of Putin’s regime.
Putin’s Russia is not a partner for the West. It is an adversary. The only way to effectively deal with an adversary – one who, for the last three years, has unabashedly broken international laws and committed war crimes – is through real deterrence, not just words of condemnation.
Paul Grod is president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and vice president of the Ukrainian World Congress.