Ukraine is slipping away from somnolent West....
The Economist, usually staid and restrained in its choice of words, chose "full blown war" to describe escalating the Ukraine crisis:
IN CONFLICT, physical changes often happen quickly: a road is closed, an apartment block flattened. Mental changes, meanwhile, happen slowly and imperceptibly. It has taken a long time for the realisation to sink in that Ukraine's “crisis” is really a war, and quite possibly a long one. “Too much blood has been spilled to speak of peace,” says ‘Dushman’, a senior rebel commander in Donetsk. When this correspondent first met Dushman last spring, he spoke of how to keep Ukraine united, and called himself Ukrainian. Now Dushman keeps Ukrainians as prisoners. “We took nine yesterday,” he says with a grin.
The separatists have, according to the article, blocked humanitarian aid, including medicine, to the region. NATO acknowledges that Russian troops are involved; but President Obama still rules out military action, albeit likely there will be new sanctions against Russia. Fear of war & Russian aggression is spreading: Lithuania has issued an invasion survival manual to its citizenry. Russia's push is financed by Chinese money, writes China maven Gordon Chang. GC explains that China sees Russia as junior partner in an anti-US alliance. To which I'd add that in effect, China, which turned to the US in 1972 to deter a hostile, nuclear-armed Russia, has switched sides, aiming to deter the US from supporting its Pacific region allies.
Ukraine is a valuable prize for the West, though Team Obama seems oblivious to this. Begin with Russia's war aims:
Putin’s sights are set firmly inland on the cities of Odessa and Kharkiv and beyond—all places he identified before the war began as part of his “Novorossiya” project. The areas under threat go beyond Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They include in addition Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Kherson, and Mikolaiv, which would allow Putin’s Russia not just to dominate the entire Black Sea northern littoral but also to expand its territory to the borders of Moldova and Romania. An ancillary strike may soon develop in Transdnistria, which has begun to practice mobilization bordering on the Odessa region.
If Russia succeeds in setting up its “Novorossiya” project, Ukraine is finished as we know it. It will have lost close to half of its population, about two-thirds of its GDP, and, to top the already crippling losses to its industrial and energy sectors, 70 percent of Ukraine’s coal production is in the territories now controlled by Russia, forcing Ukraine to import coal from overseas.
NATO is vacillating in the face of Russia's designs:
Case in point: at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales the Alliance could not agree to offer necessary reinforcement to the most exposed Nordic/Baltic/Central European peripheral countries, despite their repeated pleas for permanent NATO bases. Instead of sending an unequivocal message of deterrence and defense, the best NATO could do was to offer a fuzzy policy of “reassurance” and “persistent rotational presence.” While symbolically important, a small contingent of NATO soldiers on ad hoc exercises and a few additional aircraft for Baltic air policing do not make for a deterrent posture against a revisionist Russia. Furthermore, NATO’s slowness and overall inability to respond decisively when Russia breached the allied air space or penetrated territorial waters (or, as it did last December, deployed its naval assets in the Baltic) only further reaffirmed Putin’s conviction that he retains the initiative.
The result has been a persistent erosion of confidence in NATO’s security guarantees among states along the northeastern flank, notwithstanding official rhetoric. To compensate for the hollowing out of NATO, these countries are scrambling to rearm and to build regional security cooperation networks. But their increased budgets and new purchases will not register until in 2016–17 at the earliest, and when it comes to air and missile defenses, not until 2020. This makes 2015 arguably the most volatile and potentially dangerous year for the security of Europe since the end of the Cold War. The Putin regime, despite reeling from the energy-price collapse and from the economic sanctions imposed by the West, has nonetheless faced nothing in terms of hard power that would preclude it from entertaining further military moves. This will make Russia even less predictable in the coming months. It is in this context—a direct and accelerating threat to Europe posed by Russia—that Ukraine matters to Transatlantic security writ large. Russia may either dispatch Ukraine in short order, or it may face the mounting costs of a long-term war that it cannot afford in its current economic condition. Today the United States and its European allies have the ability to significantly influence either of these outcomes, and thus weaken or strengthen Europe’s security.
A new Ukraine has emerged from all of this turmoil and struggle. It’s a more unified country than ever before, with a much stronger sense of national identity. Professor Volodymyr Vassylenko, who served as Ukraine’s ambassador to Great Britain and who is one of Ukraine’s leading experts on international law, recently said that Vladimir Putin’s ultimate objective is nothing less than the destruction of Ukraine’s national identity. But in an ironic way, it is because of Ukraine’s struggle, and therefore also because of Putin’s deep enmity, that Ukraine has become a new country, a unified state where language and other divisions are no longer as difficult as they once were; a country that wants to become a modern, European state with democracy and the rule of law.
Putin, Gershman writes, seeks nothing less than a reversal of the evens of 1989 - 1991, that saw the old Soviet Union collapse & a new era begin in Russia, shorn of its former satellite states. But stopping Putin requires that the West arm the Ukrainians:
Key leaders in the US and Europe worry that weapons for Ukraine might make Ukrainians think that there is a military solution to the conflict. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Putin himself seeks: a military solution. He has used military escalation to achieve his victory—bisecting Ukraine and freezing the conflict in a way that will destabilize the country for the foreseeable future and deny it membership in the European Union and NATO. Military aid to Ukraine may not by itself bring the conflict to an end, but no political solution is ever possible in the absence of military pressure, and Putin is much more likely to end his aggression if his forces in Ukraine suffer more casualties, which he is desperately trying to hide from the Russian people.
Russia expert Nicholas Gvosdev sees growing danger afoot, with Obama making it worse by goading Putin:
One of the most important tasks of the staffs of both the National Security Council and of the White House speechwriting apparatus is to think through the second- and third-order effects of presidential rhetoric, and to process the immediate, gut reactions of the Chief Executive to avoid creating policy problems for the United States. The system does not always work—the fateful "red line" statement on Syria was, according to some sources, an on-the-spot ad lib of President Barack Obama, rather than a thought-through and vetted policy pronouncement—but one always hopes that for important and major addresses such as the State of the Union, the staff is prepared to speak the proverbial truth to power.
It is an unfortunate pattern for this president that his statements and comments on Russian president Vladimir Putin always seem to generate a visceral negative reaction from the Kremlin, particularly when Obama suggests that Putin is weak, isolated or facing defeat. Without fail, Putin tends to initiate a response—whether signing major new trade deals with the Chinese after his isolation has been proclaimed or seizing an Estonian officer on the border in the immediate aftermath of a presidential visit that was meant to demonstrate confidence in Western security guarantees. Given what Obama said about Putin before both houses of Congress—and given that the president, who viewed the address primarily as a domestic political event, wanted to take a shot at his political opposition who in the past year unfavorably compared Obama's decision-making style with Putin's—the national-security establishment should have been prepared for an intensification of the Ukraine crisis. One can only imagine Putin watching the speech or reading a transcript, then bellowing to his aides, "I have not been defeated!"
Putin has yet to be deterred, which requires hard power.
Bottom Line. Putin likely will prevail, in the face of NATO and--especially--American lassitude.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Foreign Policy, Conservative Politics