Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent denouement at the Kremlin youth camp speaks volumes about the intentions of this 21st century threat to global security. Putin himself made the strongest point possible with a warning to the West: “It's best not to mess with us,” while brandishing Russia's nuclear capability: “I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.”
If U.S. President Barack Obama felt during the 2012 election campaign that Russia was merely a regional threat, Putin certainly has disabused the American president of that mistaken notion. Russia is a global serious peril stemming from both its intercontinental capability and its hostility, whether rational or not.
First, and, perhaps, the very least given the United Nations' history of ineffectiveness, as well as its structure with Russia holding a veto in the Security Council, Putin's remark must be taken as a serious nuclear threat. Paragraph 4 of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum requires the signatory states such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China to “seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear weapon state...if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.”
The issue of Russia's aggression against Ukraine has been the subject of several UN Security Council sessions since February. This time, however, the debate must follow a specific request for UN Security Council action not by Ukraine, but by four permanent members of the Council, three of whom should proceed immediately even if China reneges on its obligation.
Second, sanctions both personal against members of the Putin regime and even sectoral affecting Russia's economy have been effective. Yet they have failed to deter a dictator who is perhaps irrational and immune to the inconvenience or even suffering of others, even his own people. This is hardly unusual with Russian dictators. Stalin did not care to arrange a prisoner exchange for his own son and the Soviet soldier was merely Stalin's cannon fodder. Yet, Stalin was very much, to the point of paranoia, concerned with his own personal safety and well-being.
Sanctions need to be directed against Putin personally and members of his immediate family assuming Putin is more sympathetic to his children than was Stalin. Restrictions on travel to Europe and/or the U.S. would inconvenience Putin's immediate family. Freezing assets would certainly have an effect. Symbolically, the process should begin with a rescission by FIFA of Russia's 2018 World Cup hosting privilege until such time as Putin withdraws from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
Third, and most immediately, NATO has to step up with arms, both lethal and non lethal, medical supplies and training for Ukraine. Furthermore NATO forces have to be positioned on all of Ukraine's border with NATO allies in a state of readiness. Simultaneously Ukraine should be afforded an accelerated Membership Action Plan.
Ukraine's prime minister last week expressed a desire for Ukraine's entry. The people of Ukraine today support NATO membership. Frankly, that membership is long overdue dating back to the Bucharest NATO summit in 2008 when Ukraine expressed a desire for MAP, the United States supported Ukraine's aspirations and only Germany and France for selfish reasons blocked Ukraine's quest. In the interim President Obama should designate Ukraine a Major Non-NATO Ally with all attendant benefits commencing with the transfer to Ukraine pursuant to the Lend-lease program, of U.S. surplus military equipment currently in Afghanistan and subject to disposal anyway.
Edmund Burke wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Doing little politically and militarily is tantamount to doing nothing. It provides a degree of satisfaction to the doer, but merely the illusion of hope to the victim. The point is that Putin must be taken very seriously and not dismissed as a madman like a Zhirinovsky, who is a Putin puppet created to make Putin appear reasonable. Their similarities are more striking than their differences.
The United States and NATO cannot afford to play the role of Putin's or Russia's psychologist. Similar to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria characterized by President Obama as a cancer, Russia and Vladimir Putin are a cancer which has to be eradicated, or at the very least neutralized. Additionally, time has now become a factor. Given time, Russian aggression will grow like cancer. At some point it will become too late.