Calling Vlad’s Bluff

By Diane Francis. Published Jan. 13. 2022

Living next door to Putin’s Russia.

For most of the world, the story that Russia may invade Ukraine is not a cause for sleepless nights.

In America, an ocean away, rising gasoline prices and Covid are top of mind, and even in Western Europe, still afflicted with intergenerational trauma after two world wars, there is a refusal to believe that Vladimir Putin wages a slow-motion hybrid war against them. But anguish is highest among Ukraine and its closest neighbors that were also former “colonies” of Russia. But all European countries were involved as meetings were held this week between Russia and the U.S. then NATO. Fortunately, these ended without granting Russia the concessions or guarantees it demanded. Thus Putin’s latest bluff was called, but anxiety and uncertainty linger which are the wily dictator’s latest weapons.

However, there are several important lessons to be drawn from the latest installment in the Kremlin’s ongoing hybrid war. The first is that the West was correct in taking its cue from Ukrainians who are mobilized, ready to fight, and fiercely resolute. Their attitude is that Putin will invade or he won’t which means that readiness, not anxiety or panic, is the only course of action. So they arm themselves and conduct drills with their civilian populace across the country. As Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said to US President Joe Biden that he must simply stand firm against Moscow. ”The idea of not provoking Russia will not work,” he added.

The second lesson is that Putin has forged a new weapon, anxiety, and it is here to stay. He sends out spokesmen to make contradictory statements. One will claim there is no plan to invade, another will hint it is likely, and still a third will say that Putin has not made up his mind yet. Others make bald threats or disguised threats by referring to Russia’s new missiles which are capable of incinerating America’s fleet of aircraft carriers. Such studied equivocation is, in itself, a terrorist act designed to unsettle and damage foes.

Eurasian expert and British academic Dr. Taras Kuzio, in a new report Will Russia Invade Ukraine? Moscow’s Threat to European Security, argues if Russia invades again, it must also be designated as a terrorist state and hit with Iran-level draconian sanctions. But, arguably, Russia is already a terrorist state. Its weaponization of migration, energy, and psychological warfare, its Wagner Group, special operatives, occupations in three countries, cyberattacks, and “hybrid war” against Europe and the United States for years are no different than Iran’s forays against its neighbors. Putin’s goal to destroy democracies is no different than Iran’s goal to destroy Israel.

Terrorism is not just about blowing up buildings and people – Russia did plenty of that in 2014 in Ukraine – but also about causing harm through corruption, sabotage, threats, head feints, and intimidation techniques. For instance, this latest menacing threat of violence against Ukraine has frightened away foreign direct investment, increased capital flight, hijacked political agendas, cost it billions in defense preparedness efforts, and may result in the flight of millions of Ukrainians to Europe should a second invasion occur, even a small one. In this sense, Putin has already scored a victory merely by neither confirming nor denying he will invade.

Thirdly, the West is wise to have dismissed Putin’s fabricated grievances, and unjustified demands: An armed NATO and Ukraine aren’t threats to Russia but the direct result of Russian intimidation; NATO cannot and won’t exclude members who qualify as long as the Kremlin threatens, and Russia does not deserve a sphere of influence to protect itself. Humor helps too by trivializing and mocking the situation, as this Ukrainian tweet demonstrates:

Lastly, the West is right to reject Putin’s December demand to provide “long-term, legally binding guarantees” for its security. Such a binding “agreement” in 1994 was signed and ignored by Moscow which is exactly why the world is in this mess today. That year, the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (also signed by nuclear powers France and China in a separate document) that “guaranteed” protection of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan against threats or use of force against their territorial integrity and political independence in return for their surrender of nuclear weapons back to Russia.

By 1996, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine had given their nuclear weapons to Russia, as agreed. And today Russian troops are in all three countries: Russian operatives occupy 7.5 percent of Ukraine, all of Belarus, and have recently undertaken “peacekeeping” operations to help quell pro-democracy demonstrations in Kazakhstan. Troops are allegedly leaving, but stay tuned on that one because Putin also aims to claw back his Central Asian Republics.

Agreements with a rogue nation like Russia simply don’t work — only readiness and deterrents do. This is why Washington and NATO have left talks with Russia without a deal and it’s why Congress has once more passed sanctions to shut down Putin’s pipeline to Germany. This is also why in late December the Biden administration quietly authorized an additional $200 million in security and military assistance to Ukraine and why in December, Biden reassured the “Bucharest Nine” eastern flank members of NATO of U.S. support in the face of Russia’s latest aggressive military posture.

Euros are getting their act together too. Frontline Poland is radically increasing its military forces. “If you want peace, prepare for war,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the most powerful politician in Poland. Tiny Estonia, whose power grid was crippled by Russian cyberattacks a few years ago, is sending arms to Ukraine. Denmark has pledged military support for the three Baltic states who are also fortifying their defenses. And even sideline players, Sweden and Finland, now want to join NATO for protection.

Demands for de-escalation and return of Ukrainian lands should continue, along with legal cases demanding reparation for billions in damages. If Moscow doesn’t de-escalate, the U.S. must ban all technology transfers to Russia’s military and industry (why in the world was this allowed in the first place?) and should begin to phase out Russian oil imports. Sanctions should be imposed on Putin and his cronies over this year’s hybrid attacks and intimidation. Should an attack occur, Russia’s access to the SWIFT payment system must be immediate and Russia’s UN Security Council membership should be challenged.

Dr. Kuzio pointed out that even a tiny incursion will be catastrophic for Europe. NATO countries to fund and send forces to the “eastern edge” to prevent any conflict from spreading and to brace for millions of refugees. Ramifications also extend to Asia. “If the West is unable to disinclined to protect democracy in its backyard this will send a message to authoritarian governments around the world. China claims Taiwan is an integral part of the PRC in the same way Russia views Ukraine. If the West doesn’t support Ukraine it will send a message that supports for Taiwan are not guaranteed.”

America must stand firm and Europe’s appeasers should fall in line. There must be no giveaways or face-saving off-ramps extended to Vlad. Surely, the world realizes he has made Russia more dangerous than Iran and that compromises are impossible. The only recourse is to anticipate his moves, corral him, and match his every onslaught with equivalent force.

Diane Francis

Diane Francis is Editor at Large with the National Post in Canada, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, and publisher of Diane Francis on America at https://dianefrancis.substack.com/

3 comments

  1. This article is full of excellent quotes, such as:
    “Agreements with a rogue nation like Russia simply don’t work — only readiness and deterrents do.”
    Take heed of this advice Joe Schmoe.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “The second lesson is that Putin has forged a new weapon, anxiety, and it is here to stay.”
    Indeed, the women politicians in the west are shaking like leaves. When I say “women politicians”, I also mean male politicians. We live in bad times, my friends. My grandmothers had much more courage than this pack of worthless oxygen thieves.
    Diane Francis has written a fine article, filed with truth and facts. A must-read for all those who think they are in charge in the West and don’t know what to do about their worst fear … the high-heeled pedophile Moscow munchkin.

    Liked by 3 people

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