Price of land grab

  • 2014-03-24
  • By Askold S. Lozynskyj

NATO as Russia's immediate neighbor (A case for deterrence)

NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on April 1-2. It is expected that at that session NATO will respond more vigorously to Russia's aggression. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Washington last week stated that the meeting will reexamine the entire range of NATO-Russian cooperation. NATO's military readiness will be the subject for discussion more so than just locating NATO's aerial assets in Poland and Lithuania and launching surveillance flights over NATO borders, including the Black sea area. Ukraine's accelerated NATO membership must be placed on the agenda.

Russia has met initial Western sanctions with derision. To emphasize their ineffectiveness, some Russian-sanctioned government individuals have publicly scoffed at their relevance. In turn, Russia has invoked its own even more meaningless visa restrictions on Americans. Longtime Russian menace Senator John McCain, more recent vocal adversary chair of Senate Foreign Relations committee Senator Robert Menendez and other U.S. government officials have been barred from travel to Russia. But more recent sanctions by the United States and the European Union have been more palpable, and even biting.

MasterCard and Visa have stopped processing for two Russian banks - Bank Rossiya and SMP Bank. This has to adversely affect the Russian economy. Additionally, Ukraine has signed on to the EU, at least politically for now. Economic association is inevitable. A group of Crimean Tatars have voiced more vociferously their desire for independence. There are rumors of imminent jihad. Suddenly, land grab, a historical preoccupation of Russian imperialists, has become pricey and, according to President Barack Obama and the EU, this is only the beginning. Russia has threatened to respond.

In the long term, however, Western officials needs to recognize that there is a distinction between punishment and deterrence. Sure, Putin deserves punishment, but punitive measures work only if the Crimean land grab by Putin was an isolated incident peculiar to this current Russian dictator. In fact, punitive measures, in particular, with sanctions which target specific individuals or even institutions can only be temporary and not long-term solutions.

As always, history is a teacher once again. Russia's current aggression is not a historical novelty. For centuries Russia has been a regional and, more recently, a global menace. Are the Russian people to blame for this incontrovertible historical fact? To some extent, they are. Sure 50,000 Russians demonstrated in Moscow against annexation on the date of the specious Crimean referendum. But many more did not. Putin gave the orders to invade Crimea, but he and other Russian imperialists carried out the orders. Many Russians living in Crimea collaborated.

For many Russians, Putin is not an aberration, but a hero. One village council in Russia passed a resolution recently to memorialize Putin's Russian greatness with a monument. Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev were all Russian imperialists, even if their ethnicity was not entirely, or even partially, Russian. The problem lies not in ethnicity entirely.  It is complicated by a ‘Great Russian’ psychosis. Russian Andrei Sakharov was a resolute anti-Soviet dissident sympathetic to the other nationalities within the USSR. The noted Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a staunch anti-Soviet dissident, but remained until death a ‘Great Russian’ chauvinist. That's the aberration – a fervent desire to make Russia great, but in order to make it so, Russia must dominate, or even enslave, others.

NATO defenses on Russia's border would be a great deterrent. This format would not isolate the Russian people. It would deter ‘Great Russian’ imperialists. After all, NATO is not a military alliance of invaders and imperialists. It is a defensive alliance. The world community must include peace-loving people everywhere, including Russians. At the same time it must ward off psychotic Russian imperialists. Unfortunately, Putin and his current regime will not be the last in a long list. Unchecked, there will be more of the same. A genuine peace solution must be a long term deterrent and not simply a punitive payback. However, punitive sanctions should remain and intensify as long as Russia continues to occupy Crimea.

NATO as Russia's new and immediate neighbor would not be punishment for the Russian people. It would, however, be a deterrent for future Russian imperialistic ambitions. It would be an immediate remedy to any new intentions of a Russian Putinesque incursion on the territorial integrity of Russia's neighbors. Maybe long-term it can evolve into a cure of the ‘Great Russian’ psychosis itself.

March 23, 2014