Fear of provoking Putin is driving the Western world to disaster
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that NATO should refrain from imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine due to the risk of an all-out war between NATO and Russia. This view reflects a decades-long misunderstanding by both Russia and Ukraine, and is mired in the thought of appeasement. Although the window for imposing a no-fly zone is probably closed, there are still alternatives that could work. The West should implement them without delay.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States quickly abandoned the post-Soviet world and moved on to other international challenges. Ironically, this divestment meant he stopped maintaining and developing the very expertise that had enabled America to triumph over the USSR in the first place.
Over the next three decades, appeasement replaced expertise. Whether it’s Russia’s brutal wars in Chechnya, the 2008 war with Georgia, or the 2014 invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the West’s approach has often been shaped by the fear of provoking an already aggrieved Russia.
This has led the West to misinterpret Putin’s Russia again and again. It has also caused Western leaders to misinterpret developments in Ukraine. We overestimate Putin and underestimate Ukraine due to a limited understanding of the rapidly changing dynamics in the post-Soviet region.
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The West’s dangerous disregard for the threat posed by a vengeful Kremlin explains why the democratic world failed to maintain its advantage over Russia when the latter was most vulnerable. The fall of the Soviet Union provided a golden opportunity for NATO’s rapid expansion, including in Ukraine. While it is fashionable to claim that NATO enlargement has gone too far, in the current circumstances it makes much more sense to claim that it has not gone far enough.
Fortunately, it is not too late for the West to learn from its mistakes. While Russia today has far greater military power than in the 1990s, it still falls short of NATO, and Putin won’t fight if challenged for power. collective of the West.
NATO could coordinate with non-NATO countries to protect Ukrainian skies, especially as the Biden administration has demonstrated in recent weeks its ability to unite the world against Russia.
America could theoretically mobilize a broad coalition to protect Ukraine. In the current dire circumstances, there is no reason why the world community cannot take a creative approach to saving a country that has been openly attacked by a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has stunned the world with his heroism.
Retired US Air Force four-star general Phil Breedlove said a no-fly zone must be on the table. He also suggested an alternative: a humanitarian no-fly zone. It’s a potentially seductive idea that could serve as a middle ground between proponents of a cautious policy towards the Kremlin and those who believe that Russia will not ultimately escalate into open war with NATO.
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While Western leaders have so far been unambiguous in ruling out direct intervention, they are also providing Ukraine with improved anti-aircraft capabilities. These measures must be considerably accelerated and reinforced by the parallel supply of fighter aircraft
In less than four weeks of war, Russia has fired more than a thousand missiles into Ukraine and reduced entire Ukrainian towns to rubble. While the civilian death toll remains unconfirmed, it is already feared that several thousand people have died. Despite the obvious urgency of the situation, the West continues to act in half measures and contemplate if arming Ukraine could be interpreted as a provocation by Putin.
If Western leaders maintain their current cautious approach to Russian aggression, the watching world will witness an ongoing genocide of the Ukrainian people. Added to this will be a rapidly escalating global food crisis.
Russian tanks will not stop at the western borders of Ukraine. On the contrary, Putin will embolden himself to expand his wars of imperial aggression and will inevitably turn his attention to Moldova and the Baltic States while also seeking to destabilize Central Europe and the Balkans.
Meanwhile, China and other authoritarian powers will take note of Putin’s success and act accordingly. They will forge closer ties with a resurgent Russia and seek to expand their own spheres of influence in the same way. The whole world will enter a new era of global insecurity that will undo much of the progress made since World War II.
Rather than remain reactive and pay an even higher price in the near future, NATO should act decisively now and dramatically increase its support for Ukraine. To do otherwise is not only immoral; it runs counter to the fundamental strategic interests of the entire western world.
Ilya Timchenko studies public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and is chair of the Ukraine Caucus, a student organization at Harvard Kennedy School. He was previously an editor at the Kyiv Post.
The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
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