My last post expressed my biggest worry about Donald Trump: that he won’t be sufficiently firm with Vladimir Putin to persuade him to stop his aggression in Eastern Europe. The American Enterprise Institute’s Leon Aron has an excellent analysis of the Putin problem, “Changing Putin’s Mind.” Says Mr. Aron:
Vladimir Putin has called the demise of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” The overarching objective of Putin’s policies, both domestic and external, is to recover and repossess the political, economic and geostrategic assets lost by the Soviet state when it fell apart in the 1990s.
In Putin’s first two terms as Russian President, from 2000 – 2008, he focused on restoring the economy. But by 2012, when Putin returned to power, the domestic investment climate had slowed to a crawl with low oil prices causing a severe recession. Putin shifted the foundation of his regime’s legitimacy from economic expansion to patriotic mobilization.
The reason for the annexation of Crimea, war on Ukraine and intervention in Syria is that restoring Russia’s superpower pride is essential to his regime’s legitimacy. This is the point of a classic Soviet poster (attached) with a Russian soldier admonishing Uncle Sam, “Don’t you fool around!”
In Syria, Putin’s goal is to help Bashar al Assad, not defeat ISIS, and so Assad must not be restored. This could be accomplished by grounding the Syrian air force, enforcing no-fly zones, etc. and forcing Putin to distance himself from Damascus.
In Ukraine, Putin will not stop unless battlefield dynamics begin to change by, for example, sending Ukraine defensive anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, radars to pinpoint Russian positions, etc. Putin must be forced to make a choice between increasing Russian deployment and thus casualties or seeking a genuine peace agreement.
Conclusion. The choice is between two admittedly risky and unpleasant options: confronting Putin now or see him emboldened to the point where he attempts to destabilize a member state on NATO’s eastern flank.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”
Ronald Reagan, 1911 – 2004
I am now cautiously optimistic about President-elect Donald Trump. He was not my first choice among the Republican Primary candidates nor did I even vote for him on November 8th. However he is a change agent and our country badly needs change. A big problem is that he praises Russian President Vladimir Putin and says that NATO is “obsolete.” I have learned not to take Mr. Trump literally but, nevertheless, I am still concerned. I have long been a fan of the Russian native and former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, who is now the Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York. He is the author recently of “Winter is Coming: why Vladimir Putin and the enemies of the free world must be stopped.”
Here is an outline of Mr. Kasparov’s recommendations for confronting Mr. Putin:
Isolate dictatorships that exploit engagement to support oppression of their own people.
Keep human rights and the value of human life as the backbone of foreign policy.
Defend Ukraine as if it shares a border with every free nation in the world. It is easier to take a stand now over Ukraine than to let it go and then have to worry constantly about our commitment to the Baltics and Poland who are NATO members.
Europe gets a third of its energy from Russia but Europe buys 80% of Russia’s energy exports. This provides the NATO Allies with great leverage especially considering the export potential for U.S. oil and gas.
Maintaining a robust American security umbrella is much safer than encouraging military proliferation by shrinking that umbrella.
Appeasement reflects the overall climate not just the personal weakness of specific leaders.
Conclusion. Russian aggression under Vladimir Putin is now the biggest threat to world peace. It is critical for incoming President Trump to act firmly with Mr. Putin.