Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997

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Donald Nuechterlein

UKRAINE'S WAR COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED, BUT NOT RUSSIA'S PRESSURE

MARCH 2022

Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine became inevitable when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared that he wanted his country to be a member of NATO. That was a "red line" for Russia.

Russia's military buildup against Ukraine began soon after. Zelensky had the choice of withdrawing his call for NATO membership, or preparing for war. He chose to resist Putin's threats because he assumed NATO, especially the U.S., would pressure Putin to stop short of war. He was wrong; His country is paying a terrible price.

Zelensky now has two choices: He could resign and make way for another government that doesn't seek NATO membership; Or, he could fight on and be a hero for Ukrainians and others who think it's better to defend their freedom even though it destroys the country. It's a tough call. But as Ukraine's cities are destroyed and refugees pour into neighboring countries, the question should be asked: Was this worth it?

Putin's political pressure on Ukraine will not cease even if Zelensky withdraws his request for NATO membership. The Russian leader has held power for twenty-two years; he is determined to bring back to power in Kviv a pro-Moscow leader like the one ousted in the 2014 uprising. He would not stop pressuring Kviv until it ousts Zelensky.

When will this war end? Not until Zelensky is gone and Russia controls major ports on the Black Sea and large cities in the eastern half of the country. Putin says he doesn't intend to deprive Ukraine of sovereignty but it must cooperate with Moscow, in effect a satellite country.

What happens to three Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, that were part of the Soviet Union, not satellites, until the USSR's breakup in 1990? As fully functioning democracies, they applied for NATO membership and were accepted in 2004. If Putin chose to undermine their independence, he would face the combined forces of NATO; It already has troops stationed there to warn Moscow.

President Putin called the Soviet Union's breakup the greatest strategic disaster of the 20th century. Experts on Russia claim he is determined to recreate a Soviet-type sphere of influence in eastern Europe that would include Poland, Hungary, and Romania.

It's now clear that Putin's larger ambitions will not bear fruit. His invasion has united Europe in a way that appeared impossible earlier. Nowhere is this more evident than decisions of Germany's new government to cancel the Nordstream 2 Gas pipeline, greatly increase defense spending, and reverse a policy on sending arms to Ukraine. Putin now realizes NATO will hold firm against his ambitions.

It's time for diplomacy to find a solution to this national tragedy. France's President Macron has talked to Putin but this has not succeeded. Another country, China, may have more influence with Putin because he and President Xi Jinping recently concluded an agreement to support each other. This was before Putin's war in Ukraine, and could now give Peking more leverage in Moscow.

How long will Vladimir Putin remain as leader in power? One possibility is those closest to him politically will work against him when economic sanctions threaten their livelihood. Another possibility is Putin's health will force him to share power with one or more leaders. This occurred in 1953 when a very ill Josef Stalin was replaced by a troika of leaders who chose d├ętente over confrontation with Washington.

But it's also possible that Putin will never give up, and depend on the police and intelligence services to support him.

The good news is that Ukraine's war has unified the West, triggered an insurgency that slows the invasion, and ruined Russia's economy. Kviv may turn out to be Putin's Waterloo.

File last modified on Tuesday, 08-MAR-2022 09:05 PM EST

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