Voice of America’s Peter Fedynsky writes that Ukraine had been expressing solidarity with Georgia long before the Russian tanks rolled in, and Russia’s actions are causing Ukrainians who previously worried about provoking Russia by jointing NATO to reconsider their position just as the Poles have done. He quotes Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, long one of the boldest Russian-language critics of the Putin regime, who “cautions that Ukraine could be Russia’s next target as part of what he says is a grand Kremlin plan for the partial restoration of Russian greatness.” Felgenhauer states: “Russia right now wants at least half of Ukraine to be annexed. Vladimir Putin talked about that rather openly at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania in April. Ukraine will disintegrate into two halves, and we want the eastern half, including of course, first and foremost, Crimea.”
Fedynsky adds: “Felgenhauer says Ukraine’s overwhelming vote for independence in 1991, which included a majority of Crimeans, means nothing to Kremlin rulers, who the analyst says do not respect the will of even their own people.” He points out that Russia’s Georgia adventure ties it down militarily, and gives the West a window of opportunity to move forward with NATO admission while minimizing the risk of any Russian response. Moreover, of course, no more compelling argument could be made to those in Ukraine who have sympathy for Russia than to see Russian tanks on the move.
There are many other steps that NATO can take to defend its interests from Russian encroachment. Its members can — and should — boot Russia out of the G-8, block its entry into the WTO, boycott the Sochi Olympics, and massively increase funding to organizations like Voice of America that give Russians some hope of actually finding out what is really going on in the outside world. Poland has already taken the bold action of joining the U.S. missile defense plan for Eastern Europe, clearly showing that it cannot be intimidated by Russian threats in Georgia and indeed is motivated by them to move even closer to the West. (Prior to the Georgia attack, Poland had been expressing misgivings about the plan.) Ukraine understands its peril just as clearly. All these measures will make the KGB spies who govern Russia think twice before they assert military power towards the West.
But Ukraine is first and foremost. NATO must draw a line in the sand around Ukraine and understand that its failure to act decisively on Georgia when it had the chance may well have cost that nation its freedom. Even if Russia does not annex the whole country now, what is to prevent it from continuing to bait the nation’s leadership from its new positions in Ossetia and Abkhazia, provoke a new incident, and move on Tbilisi? Based on NATO’s response so far, why should it not believe it is free to do so?
Ukrainians have already shown their mettle. They’ve offered the use of a Soviet-built satellite facility as part of the missile defense system for Eastern Europe, infuriating Russia in the wake of its barbaric attack on a major civilian railway line for the purpose of crippling Georgia’s infrastructure just hours before Russia signed a cease fire agreement. It’s a clear sign that they are ready to join the fight against Russian imperialism, and we must respond in kind.
The USSR was bankrupted and destroyed by being forced into an arms race by Ronald Reagan, and it toppled and fell without firing a shot. Russia’s economic base is far flimsier than the Soviet Union’s ever was, and its allies are far fewer. It is not only morally proper to reach out to Ukraine now, it is a strategic imperative.