By expanding its economic sanctions against Russia to include for the first time major banks and energy companies and key Russian defense companies, the Obama Administration has taken another step in what is becoming a deliberate, even orchestrated program to ratchet up the pressure on Vladimir Putin and Russia for its ongoing aggression against Ukraine. The West has been deliberately, albeit too slowly, responding to Moscow’s campaign against its neighbor with a series of economic, military and political moves. With the downing of the Malaysian B-777 commercial airliner by a surface-to-air missile, this process is likely to accelerate.
NATO and the European Union have reacted to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and attempt to destabilize Ukraine with a mix of targeted sanctions and military moves. For an Alliance that thought its only future missions were to be out-of-area, the response to the first use of force by a state on the European continent to change national borders has been significant. On a few days’ notice, the U.S. deployed elements of the 172nd Airborne Brigade, one of the few remaining Army combat units still deployed in Europe, to the Baltic states and Poland. Fighter aircraft were also dispatched to the Alliance’s eastern edge to enhance air patrolling capabilities. President Obama has asked Congress for $1 billion to be used for military exercises, the deployment of U.S. warships in the Black and Baltic Seas and military assistance to states threatened by Russia: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
NATO officials are engaged in a full-court press to focus the Alliance on taking concrete measures in response to the new Russian threat. In one of the more remarkable moves by a NATO Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. General Philip Breedlove published an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he methodically documented Russia’s deliberate and well-planned assaults on Crimea and eastern Ukraine. He described how Russia has developed a set of 21st Century tools such as “unbadged little green men,” cyber attacks and information operations, supported by well-trained and equipped mobile shock troops to pursue a 21st Century offensive. Breedlove called on member countries to reverse years of declining defense spending and make targeted investments in critical capabilities.
Senior NATO commanders have made it clear that the three most important foci for additional investments are military exercises, enhancing communications and connectivity and improved logistics. NATO is planning to conduct this year the first multiple corps command exercise since the old Reforger maneuvers of the Cold War era. Because it is likely that units from one country will be subordinated to those of another and that these larger units will be under a third country’s headquarters, NATO needs systems for rapidly and effectively sharing information and passing orders up and down a massively multi-national military structure. Finally, if NATO is to effectively project power into its eastern edges it needs improved logistics.
The next step in the West’s multifaceted response to Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine should be to develop a comprehensive strategy for Ukraine’s energy independence. Today, Ukraine is almost totally dependent for its energy needs on Russian natural gas. Russia is refusing to supply additional gas to Ukraine and winter is coming. A comprehensive strategy must include all options for freeing Ukraine from Russian energy supplies. What the West can do immediately is help Ukraine switch its major gas-fired power plants which are old and inefficient to burn indigenously supplied coal. These old power plants leak like sieves, allowing huge amounts of greenhouse gases to escape into the atmosphere. Converting them into modern clean coal burning systems would actually have the secondary benefit of helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The West is back in the game of containment, something it did very successfully from 1946 to 1992. One of the keys to the successful Cold War campaign was the use of all available means to contain the Soviet Union: economic, political, informational and military. Now we need to apply Western power to the containment of Russia.
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