Appetite, as the French say, grows with eating. Paralyzed with a crippling fear of a massive war with Russia, a conflagration likely to leave the world over in ruins, it’s no wonder the leaders of the West are terrified to call such recent events in Ukraine an “invasion.” Vladimir Putin, the former KGB colonel, now has the gratifying taste of supremacy over the United States within reach.
It’s not necessarily difficult to trace the source of his boldness. Putin has seen the United States “draw a red line” in Syria over Bashar al-Assad’s poison gas attacks on his own people. Putin knows the West couldn’t agree on how to deal with Syria against his will, and yet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expects the West to help him now. It’s easy for the West to assume, “Well, if they were a member of NATO…” citing Article V of that organization’s charter declaring an attack against one is an attack against all. But the United States and the West are exhausted from war in the Mideast. President Obama, as head of the leading Western country, quite frankly doesn’t terrify a person like Vladimir Putin. Putin knows we are too weak financially to fund protracted military efforts, nor has our president given him any reason to fear U.S. action.
The economic sanctions that Obama helped secure are not doing as much damage as is necessary to contain Russia; Russia has only banned certain Western imported food. Putin has agreed to a cease-fire between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian rebels in “Novorossiya” — New Russia in eastern Ukraine — that is largely on his terms. It is obvious the cease-fire was a last-ditch effort by Poroshenko to calm violence, when he saw the West would do nothing at all. Poroshenko knows the Ukrainian military will not last much longer without aid. Russia has the time now to set into motion a strategy to finally secure a land bridge between Crimea and Russia. What happens, then, Mr. President, if Putin does indeed decide he needs to “secure” ethnic Russians in NATO countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as he claimed was his purpose in Crimea? Could we do something like the humanitarian action we didn’t do in Syria?
Putin has come too far to back down now. He is a megalomaniac who is obsessed with Tsarist grandeur and Soviet prowess. Like Hitler in the Rhineland, he has obtained industrial land in Crimea, a heavy natural gas area. Hitler became strong because there was no force to keep him in check. The weak, ineffective British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain insisted on appeasing Hitler, giving him areas of Europe that had a majority of ethnic Germans while proclaiming “Peace for our time.” It’s a scary proposition, but nonetheless one that, if pushed aside, could very possibly lead to war.
Commentary by Benjamin Terry