This week, as the crisis in Ukraine seems no closer to resolution despite the agreement reached in Geneva, Poland welcomed some 150 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team at a military airbase in Swidwin, north-west Poland to carry out joint exercises with Polish soldiers. Over the next few days a further 450 soldiers will be sent to fellow NATO member states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Poland has been pushing for such a gesture for some time and Prime Minister Tusk said that more paratroops could be brought in “at any moment”, bringing the contingent to a full brigade. The US Ambassador to Poland said that it was the US duty within the NATO framework to assure Poland about its security guarantees, especially at a time “when the Transatlantic Community is facing an inadmissible wave of aggression on Poland’s neighbour, Ukraine.” As the Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby had said earlier: “It’s a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe, and the message is to the people of those countries and to the alliance that we do take it seriously” And he continued: “And I think if there’s a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message – that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”
I am sure brother Putin will be suitably chastened, or most likely not. The sad fact is, excepting Poland, most NATO countries are cutting their defence spending and capabilities which sends a much clearer message to Moscow – and any other aggressor – than any amount finger waving, empty rhetoric and a few token troop movements. Of course, as I wrote in Answer This!, I do not think Russia has any intention to take on NATO or to act otherwise than to use the excuse of intervening to protect ethnic Russians, as a way of securing what it perceives to be its own regional interests.
And, to be fair, the EU has played its hand very badly, helped by a loss of nerve by Yanukovych (who had been elected, however much that election might be criticized) who fled the country the day after reaching an agreement with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland which might have allowed the Ukraine to proceed in a semi-orderly fashion to the election next month. Instead of which an interim government installed, in effect, by a coup by protestors on the streets of Kiev, now struggles to exercise any authority over the eastern regions in the face or armed thugs, supported by Russia, who are not slow to say what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (or whatever that may be in Russian). Baroness Ashton’s hugging of Julia Tymoshenko (more part of the problem than the solution) was as unwise as was the latter’s addressing the crowds in Kiev from her wheel chair unpersuasive. Added to which is the propaganda coup of a peaceful takeover of Crimea, following a referendum which, however spuriously, does allow Putin to claim adherence to a democratic process.
All very awkward, especially in the light of the West’s decade long forays in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and confusion over Syria, which have not actually made the world a safer place other than for fanatical Islamic terrorists. Ironically, however unpleasant their regimes towards their own citizens, the secular military kleptocracies of Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi, President Mubarak and President Assad did keep the Muslim brotherhood in check, tolerate other religions, and rhetoric aside, not sponsor Islamic terrorism. Hard as it may be to accept, we were all much safer before these “interventions” than we are now as in large parts of the Middle East intolerant extremism runs riot. And the average citizen of these countries is much worse off too as the over-hyped “Arab Spring” has given way to the chaotic extremist winter. That’s what happens when you intervene militarily without a long term plan and a long term commitment to rebuild the peace.
Putin knows this and he knows that war weariness has overcome the Unites States, the United Kingdom et al and that more foreign interventions beyond NATO borders are simply out of the question for the time being. Putin’s calculation must be, therefore, that apart from the wailing and gnashing of teeth he has little to fear from his exploits in the Ukraine and that sanctions are a minor temporary inconvenience, a price worth paying as he seeks to restore some of mother Russia’s glory.
Be that as it may, if only (as this week’s Private Eye cover has it) Ukraine would comply with Putin’s request to move its border away from the Russian troops, all would be well.