A week to remember

  • 2014-09-03
  • By Sean O’Donnell

‘That Was the Week that Was,’ was the title of a satirical program reviewing the week’s news in the early sixties on the BBC and in the States on NBC. It looked at the lighter side of serious events, but fast forward 50 years and it would be very hard to be light-hearted about the ‘Ukraine crisis.’
This is a week when significant policies will be revised, and life changing decisions made. As this edition goes to press, NATO is meeting in Wales, when among other matters, a memorandum of understanding will be signed by Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser, committing Estonia along with Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands to creating a 10,000 strong expeditionary force, led by the UK which will improve NATO’s rapid deployment ability.

There are many who have doubted the ability of NATO to stand up to threats against member states. Whilst talks were held to discuss this force before the Ukraine crisis, it can be certain that Vladimir Putin has accelerated the need for words to be turned into action. Indeed, Karlis Streips reminded readers in the April edition of TBT that the “occupation and annexation of the Crimea occurred so swiftly, the world could not act adequately.”

Streips was right. Sanctions have not been effective. Putin has retaliated with bans on EU products. He has been playing with the EU and U.S. and his toy has been Ukraine, but like a selfish spoilt brat, he has forbidden anyone else to play with it. Why? Put very simply, it is not a game. This is Vladimir Putin flexing his muscles in order to “protect Russian speakers” who, he claims, are in need of protection. In a private call to outgoing EU President, Jose Barrosa, and reported in the Italian daily La Repubblica he even stated that he could take Kiev in two weeks, if he wanted to.”

Such comments should not be taken lightly. Putin has shown that he is more than happy to exercise his country’s military might in order to put into effect his foreign policy. Whether or not taking Kiev in two weeks is a sinister threat or a throwaway remark of braggadocio, NATO, the EU and U.S. need to be on high alert and need to respond. As Putin himself said on a TV show last April when referring to the people of the Crimea, “If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO, and its ships will dock in Sevastopol.”

Putin has done something, but is he going to stop? Can the West stop him? What will his next move be? One can be sure he will up the ante towards Poland, the Baltic States and Finland, where Russian aircraft have made several incursions into Finnish airspace in recent days. This will be done through propaganda campaigns and sanctions that he hopes will show his supremacy and cause maximum disruption and displeasure to everyone else. Russian supremacy is at its best when its neighbors are insecure and divided about what action to take. The EU has been very slow to learn this lesson, if indeed it has, but the newly appointed foreign affair chief, Federica Mogherini said at an EU summit last weekend that “NATO countries bordering Russia need more than a paper pledge that NATO will help them in a crisis.”
The 10,000 strong expeditionary force goes some way to honoring that pledge, but Poland and the Baltics will not rest easy just yet. They have been saying for years that Russia poses a threat, but nobody paid much attention until events in Ukraine unfolded.

Russia has the means, the desire and determination to pursue its foreign policy. Edward Lucas, senior editor of the Economist, in his testimony to the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee recommends that the Atlantic Alliance is rebooted, the defense of Poland and the Baltic States is increased, Russian corruption in the West is exposed and that whilst supporting Ukraine, any hope of returning to business as usual is given up. Let us hope his recommendations are taken seriously, if not implemented.

In years to come, the first week of September 2014 may not be remembered so much for Peter’s first day at school or meeting President Obama in Tallinn, but for the week when NATO was reborn, the West took seriously the Russian threat to Poland and the Baltics and realized that Russia is no longer a partner, just a player in the global challenges of the world.

Our world is changing! This will surely be ‘The Week that Was. ’