By Ramin Karbasi
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
On Tuesday, the 5th fire that is the Ukrainian Crisis, by vowing to levy retaliatory sanctions against the West. President Putin’s promise, accompanied by a recent Russian-Iranian oil deal widely expected to weaken international efforts to impede Iran’s highly controversial nuclear program, proved to be a remarkably transparent Russian response amid escalating tensions. It also proved to be a distinctly blunt response, which contrasted the initial Russian reaction to Western sanctions: pride and hilarity, as if the Western sanctions were a necessary condition of ‘Russian bravado’.
President Putin’s promise, however, also comes at the heels of continued Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border – a blatantly transparent act that is attempting to envelop itself with agitating opacity. In a recent response to this buildup, United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated that increased troop buildup is in fact a concerning omen. The dwindling state of Ukrainian society, coupled with atrocities such as the pro-Moscow attack on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 (MH17), affirm the veracity of Secretary Hagel’s apprehensions.
Addressing reporters at EUCOM (United States European Command), one of nine Unified Combatant Commands of the United States military, Secretary Hagel echoed Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski’s fear of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine. Minister Sikorski, who has previously declared pro-Moscow separatists as ‘terrorists’, furthered his and Secretary Hagel’s position by noting that the only way to effectively deter Russia is to bolster the European ‘moral community’ with a buildup of NATO military provisions. If Minister Sikorski’s beliefs are any indication, a Russian invasion could very well be a reality that the West and Ukraine will soon come to face.
Such a ‘reality’, however, ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, as a student of International Relations and Conflict Studies, one is in part trained to believe that coincidences simply do not (or very rarely ever do) exist. That is, the increased Russian troop buildup and heavy military equipment being used by said troops very much suggests that, at the very least, President Putin has an invasion planned for the foreseeable future. Although whether President Putin is awaiting a ‘trigger’ – say, Western bellicosity on the border – or is solely reserving the invasion in the form of an unstated geopolitical tactic to achieve his respective goals, is largely unknown. What can be said for certain, however, is that as of now, the alleged Russian invasion is far more a contingency than it is an inevitability.
Yet it cannot be discounted that a contingency, by definition, still indicates that a possibility of occurrence is present. According to recent estimates conducted by NATO officials, there are approximately 20,000 Russian troops posted near Ukraine’s eastern border. The report also notes that pro-Moscow separatists are being trained and equipped to continue battling the Ukrainian Government. Developments such as this are perhaps most disconcerting because of how greatly they demoralise the West and its allies. of August 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin added fuel to the This instance of demoralisation, compounded with Russia’s continued denial of the troop buildup, not only further incites tensions, but also creates a rather onerous task for the West to overcome. However, Minister Sikorski’s belief in the levying power of a joint NATO-European ‘moral community’ may very well be the answer to overcoming such an arduous task.
If NATO were to reassess the organisation’s founding document (principally Article 5, which states that any armed attack against one member of the alliance is an attack against them all), it could find sufficient ground to amass allied support and pose a formidable front to the Russian and Pro-Moscow separatist advancement. Furthermore, discussions to establish a more robust NRF (NATO Response Force) should be welcomed. These discussions are not only justified – note that Minister Sikorski referred to the pro-Moscow separatists as ‘terrorists’ – but also absolutely necessary in order to reestablish order in a crisis-strewn nation. As the saying goes, the West must consider ‘fighting fire with fire’ in order to successfully repel Russian interests in Ukraine. That is, if a quick acting, highly trained NRF can reduce, or even altogether cease, instances of Russian troop buildups and pro-Moscow separatist acts of violence against the Ukrainian government, it should, at the very least, be strongly considered as a policy response.
Unfortunately, Minister Sikorski’s wishes for a more capable and formidable NATO military force may not be fully realized until the September NATO Summit. This, of course, is promising in that the Summit will likely very strongly consider a policy response that positions the NRF at the forefront. However, the ‘time-lag’ between now and September is an unfortunate hindrance, as it also includes the amount of time it would take to formally establish, train, and deploy a fully capable NRF, assuming the Summit supports the decision. President Putin has also already shown how efficient he can be with such little time. In only three weeks, his Pro-Moscow troops were not only able to seize key areas in Crimea, but also managed to hold a 97% successful referendum supporting Crimea’s desire to join Russia. In light of his recent sanctions promise and continued troop buildup, a month’s time may be more than enough for President Putin to plan his next move.
As such, it would be wise for U.S. and Western officials to expedite their responsive efforts, while simultaneously predicting and preparing for President Putin’s next fateful move. President Putin has proven to have several tricks up his sleeve, as should be expected of a man that is said to look like Harry Potter’s house-elf companion Dobby the Elf. In order to curtail him and his supporters, the West must also have several tricks of its own. Tricks that effectively and steadfastly demonstrate to President Putin that his actions will no longer be tolerated.
Ramin is currently a Senior Honors student at Southern Methodist University, where he majors in Political Science and Sociology. An avid student of comparative politics and economics, Ramin hopes to one day pursue post-graduate International Development studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. As such, and acknowledging the works of Mr. Nayef Al-Rodhan, he best describes himself as a symbiotic realist. A self-ascribed Francophile, Ramin also enjoys reading works of French existential literature in his spare time.