Staunton, June 9 – Vladimir Putin has met two of the West’s demands concerning Ukraine — recognition of the presidential elections there and a pullback of Russian forces from the border – but he will stop backing the secessionists only if they win, the Ukrainian army defeats them, or he recognizes that he is creating his own nemesis by re-energizing NATO.
The last may unexpectedly prove the most important, Andrey Illarionov writes in a blog post today. That is because “by his military campaign in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has achieved what was practically impossible and unthinkable only a few months ago” – the revival of NATO as a defense alliance and its projection of force and guarantees eastward toward Russia.
To date, the Russian analyst says, Putin has changed only his tactics not his strategy, but what he is doing leaves “practically” no room for a diplomatic resolution of the situation in eastern Ukraine and leaves him with fewer options to respond to any future imposition of sanctions, thus leaving him without the ability to distract Russian attention.
And the Kremlin leader has changed his tactics not because of sanctions imposed so far or threatened but because after what Illarionov calls “the historic conversation” of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, Moscow has been confronted by a broad, US-led “program of resisting Putin’s aggression in Europe.”
Illarionov lists 15 aspects of US President Barack Obama’s program that the Russian analyst says are having an impact on the Kremlin.
First, for the first time over the last two decades, a US president has publicly declared that an attack on Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania, all NATO member countries, will prompt a NATO response under Article Five and that the West is prepared to defend them against a Russian attack.
Second, the US president has “publicly called Putin’s actions “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” and a violation of the basis for cooperation between NATO and Moscow.
Third, Obama has “confirmed” that NATO will go ahead with the installation of ABM sites in Eastern Europe, something that it had delayed for several years at Moscow’s insistence, and will complete that action before 2018.
Fourth, Illarionov points out, “the US has begun a new program” of basing arms supplies in Eastern Europe and expanding military training and joint exercises there.
Fifth, “NATO has already increased its military presence throughout all of Eastern Europe ‘from the Baltic to the Black Sea,’” with additional flights over the Baltic countries, NATO ships in the Black Sea, and larger and more frequent military exercises across the region.
Sixth, the US “for the first time” is permanently basing American forces, in this case, so far, aviation units, in Poland.
Seventh, the US is beginning a new partnership program” with the friends of the US: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
Eighth, President Obama has asked Congress for an additional appropriation of one billion dollars to support these programs.
Ninth, “the US and NATO have begun a campaign to increase the military budgets of ember countries up to a minimum of two percent of GDP.”
Tenth, the US has launched a program to increase energy exports to Europe and thus reduce the dependence of the latter on Russian supplies.
Eleventh, the US is promoting “other means” for the diversification of energy supplies to Europe.
Twelfth, the West has blocked the construction of the South Stream pipeline Putin has promoted.
Thirteenth, the US is providing military support to Kyiv.
Fourteenth, the US and other Western countries have declared that they will never “recognize the Russian occupation of Crimea.”
And fifteenth, US President Obama has declared that “any country which is a neighbor of Russia and is subject to aggression by Putin ‘be it Ukraine, a NATO member country, Moldova or another’ will receive support from the United States.
Every one of these moves, far more than sanctions, is having an impact on the Kremlin, Illarionov says, adding that “what is particularly important to note is that the majority” of these measures will now “be carried out independently of Putin’s actions” in Ukraine and thus won’t be affected by a possible change in the Kremlin’s policy.”