Derek H. Burney: America must act now on Ukraine crisis

Harsh rhetoric is no longer enough. Biden must counter Putin’s aggression with concrete measures

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Vladimir Putin’s cat-and-mouse tactic against Ukraine poses serious challenges to the Biden administration and the NATO alliance. Because there were no negative consequences for Putin when Russia seized Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014, there are growing fears that he will see little risk in doing the same thing again. Especially given the significant number of Canadians of Ukrainian descent, this is not a dispute on which Canada can be absent.

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Tensions rose sharply last Friday after diplomatic talks stalled. At the same time, Ukraine was hit by massive cyberattacks that destroyed several ministries. The attacks were accompanied by a threatening warning to all Ukrainians: “All information about you has been made public. Be afraid and expect the worst. This for your past, present and future.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki warned Friday that Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to carry out a “false flag” operation in eastern Ukraine, designed to look like a attack on the Russian speakers of this region and to provide a pretext for a military invasion.

This is not a dispute Canada can be AWOL over

Citing memories of Munich in 1938, historian Niall Ferguson called diplomatic talks over Ukraine “a bogus diplomacy in which aggressors indulge before attacking”. The false flag actions also draw ominously from a Hitler playbook.

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Putin’s strategic goal is to restore a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe similar to that of the former Soviet Union. He has always described NATO’s eastward expansion as an “existential threat” to Russia. In a long essay last summer, the Russian president claimed that “the independence of Ukraine was an unsustainable historical anomaly”. No subtlety there. At a marathon press conference in December, he argued that the United States having offensive weapons on Russia’s doorstep was “like Russia having such weapons in Canada or Mexico.”

Putin has consistently stated that he would not accept Ukraine’s membership in NATO, which is why, despite public assurances that sovereign countries like Ukraine and Georgia have every right to take their own decisions on these issues, the alliance has been slow to accept Kiev’s repeated demands. Germany and France have dragged their feet on any formal invitation to Ukraine, which is why US President Joe Biden has assiduously courted key European leaders to muster a more united front.

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Biden warned of ‘serious consequences’ and threatened ‘unprecedented economic sanctions’ if Russia were to invade Ukraine again, but carefully ruled out mention of any US military involvement and shied away from it. cautious about further military assistance to Ukraine lest he stumble over a “red line” enumerated by Putin. Some ambiguity about the likelihood of US action might have better deterred Russian escalation.

  1. Canadian instructors from Joint Task Force - Ukraine provide security advice and support to Ukrainian soldiers in Starychi, Ukraine on March 3, 2017.

    Canada sends small detachment of special forces to Ukraine amid tensions with Russia: report

  2. Ukrainian police say cyberattack destroyed ‘information assets’

Putin has long argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century”. He also knows that the United States and the West are more concerned about economic and military threats from China than those from Russia, whose economy is smaller than Canada’s. But its nuclear arsenal is powerful and growing, so the risk of things getting out of hand in Ukraine is considerable.

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Harsh rhetoric is no longer enough. The lessons of history on appeasement in the face of aggression are crystal clear. The United States must respond now to the latest provocations with concrete action:

• A selective cyberattack on parts of Russian infrastructure near Ukraine would be a good start.

• Ukraine must be quickly equipped to resist an invasion.

• The White House should lift the constraints imposed on Democratic senators who, along with many Republicans, want to impose sanctions on the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.

• Biden should encourage NATO allies to expedite Ukraine’s NATO membership, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should strongly support such action.

Ian Bremmer, chairman of the Eurasia Group, argues that Putin will not launch a full invasion of Ukraine because his goal is to separate Europeans from Americans. An invasion would have the opposite effect. He sees the piecemeal escalation we are now witnessing as more likely. Putin currently has some leverage to disrupt the unity of the Western alliance given Europe’s growing dependence on Russia for almost 50% of its gas and a quarter of its oil. But Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has publicly stated that an invasion of Ukraine would lead to the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, intended to deliver Russian gas to Germany while bypassing Ukraine and Poland. .

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In an opinion piece for Bloomberg , Niall Ferguson argued that Putin’s goal is not to split NATO but rather to undermine Ukraine as a sovereign and democratic state.

Putin might feel the need to restore his nationalist image at Ukraine’s expense. He would obviously prefer Ukraine to be more like Belarus and Kazakhstan – authoritarian and obedient to Moscow.

The lessons on calming aggression are crystal clear

Although vastly outnumbered in troops and military equipment for a full-scale war, the Ukrainians will fight back fiercely in what could become a bloodbath that will force the United States and the West to respond with more than a new round of sanctions. (The Ukrainians must wish they had never given up their nuclear arsenal in 1994 to reach a settlement that Russia continues to violate.)

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Putin no doubt sees Biden as an extension of former US President Barack Obama, who did little in response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014. Perceptions of weakness, reinforced by America’s embarrassing “fight and flight” from Afghanistan, will undermine US credibility. in any confrontation with Russia.

If Putin escalates the attacks on Ukraine and Biden reacts in the same flaccid style as Obama, America’s aspirations for global leadership and Ukrainian democracy will crumble. If Biden counters Putin’s aggression with concrete actions, his presidential prospects and the fate of Ukraine stand to benefit. Many things are at stake.

national post

Derek H. Burney is a 30-year-old former career diplomat who served as Ambassador to the United States of America from 1989 to 1993.

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