The border town that may shred America's future....
WSJ reporter Matthew Kaminski details the harrowing currents in the Estonian border town of Narva, facing the Russian town of Ivangorod, the latter named after 15th century Tsar Ivan III the Great, who ascended upon the departure of the Mongols that ended their 240-year rule:
The ethnic Russians in Narva haven't thrived in the post-Soviet era either. The city ... is a grim, somewhat sinister place of Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and two barely passable restaurants. Tallinn, the charming capital down the coast, might as well be on another planet.
When he swallowed Ukraine's Crimea in March, President Putin claimed to be bringing home over a million ethnic Russians abandoned and maltreated in the "near abroad." In Narva, there's nostalgia for the motherland....
"Russians are a different people," says Eduard East, Narva's mayor, speaking in Russian. His father is an Estonian and his mother a Slavic Belarusian. "The Estonians are individualistic. The Russians are a collective nation.....
Russians make up a quarter of Estonia's 1.3 million people, a bigger share than in Ukraine....
The area around Narva is inhabited by a 98% ethnic-Russian majority.
What if, Kaminski asks, Putin decided to annex Narva, as he did the Crimea? Would President Obama intervene to eject Russian troops from NATO member Estonia? Such is required by Article 5 of the 1949 NATO Treaty, which provides in pertinent part:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
The US is as obligated to defend Estonian soil as he is to eject Russian troops from Brooklyn's "Little Odessa" were they to land on Brighton Beach. Should the president fail to honor America's bedrock commitment to its NATO allies and eject the Russians--by force if need be--the NATO alliance would be hollowed out overnight.
Such a default upon America's obligation would be literally a geopolitical earthquake. Every American ally around the globe would know it is on its own. It would be every nation for itself--as the French say, sauve qui peut. And a tectonic shift in the international balance of power would result.
The Ukrainians recognize this, and are pushing back hard against Russian encroachment. A July 7 NYT report provides detail:
In the past week, however, after President Petro O. Poroshenko called off a cease-fire and ordered his troops to end the rebellion by force, an entirely different Ukrainian military appeared to arrive at the front. Soldiers retook an important checkpoint at the Russian border, routed insurgents from the long-occupied city of Slovyansk, and, on Sunday, began to tighten a noose around the regional capital of Donetsk ahead of a potentially decisive showdown.
The insurgency is far from over, and Ukraine’s leaders say they still fear a war with Russia that they would certainly lose. Still, the recent success, however tentative, reflects what officials and analysts described as a remarkable, urgent transformation of the military and security apparatus in recent months.
“The military themselves learned to fight,” said Mykola Sungurovskyi, the director of military programs at the Razumkov Center, a policy research organization here in the capital of Ukraine.
By most standards, the Ukrainian armed forces remain in a pitiful state. But they have benefited from the enlistment of thousands of volunteers into new militias, financial donations by ordinary citizens — including a Kiev Internet-technology entrepreneur who raised $35,000 and built a surveillance drone — and an aggressive push to repair and upgrade armored personnel carriers and other equipment.
The Gray Lady further reports that Ukrainian forces have jelled, and evince a new willingness to shoot at pro-Russian countrymen. The US has sent $23 million in aid, of which $5 milliion covers night-vision goggles, body armor, communications equipment & food.
The degree of success they achieve may put a dent in Putin's ambitions. But a more active US of A would help as well.
Bottom Line. President Obama's failure to stand by red lines drawn in Syria, its retreat from overseas commitments and its lassitude over the Russian invasion of Ukraine collectively make it possible that Vladimir Putin might move on the Baltics. Putin, by nature a gambler, ardently desires to recapture territories surrendered at end-1991 when the former Soviet Union collapsed--in 2005 Putin called that event "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."
We face a nail-biting 2-1/2 years as Putin ponders whether to leap across the abyss in an effort to destroy America's position as the world's sole superpower.
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