Making concessions to Putin will only whet his appetite for more

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (Photo by Denis Balibouse / AFP / Getty Images.)

On Monday, Russian Lifetime President Vladimir Putin explained that the “peacekeepers” paratroopers he sent to Kazakhstan to help quell civil unrest were part of his broader policy of preventing “color revolutions” in the country. the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

Putin made his remarks at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which the New York Times described as “a NATO equivalent body comprising six countries of the former Soviet Union“.

I speak of it not to engage in criticism of the media, but to emphasize how easy it is to fall into the trap of Russian propaganda and the logic of false equivalence when discussing relations with the media. Russia and authoritarian regimes in general. Yes, the CSTO is, like NATO, a military alliance, but the similarities end there. Adherence to democratic principles is a condition of membership in NATO. None of the CSTO members — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — is a democracy. Armenia is the closest; Freedom House refers to it as a “semi-consolidated authoritarian regime” with a “democracy score” of 33 out of 100. The others are “consolidated authoritarian regimes”.

In short, the CSTO is a club of dictators in which the authoritarians agree to protect the hold on one another, including against internal threats from their own people. NATO does not send troops to member countries to support failed autocrats.

The CSTO is also a tool for Putin to rebuild the lost empire of the Soviet Union.

Putin uses another tool for the same purpose: military force, or the threat thereof. This is what he is doing to Ukraine. Putin has deployed around 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border in preparation for what could be another invasion of neighbor Russia. The United States and Russia are in Geneva this week to find a diplomatic way out of the crisis that Putin has created.

The mere fact that the United States is meeting with Putin to discuss a diplomatic solution is a concession. He likes superpower summits like this because they bolster his government’s propaganda about Russia’s prestige. The fact that Ukraine itself has been largely sidelined from these talks is also a gift for Putin, as it reinforces his claim that a great power like Russia does not need to consult – whatever. to recognize the sovereignty – of the small countries it wants to intimidate. .

None of this is to say that the United States should not try to deter Putin from invading Ukraine. But it sheds light on what the United States should be saying.

Putin’s argument for invading Ukraine is based on his nostalgia for the Soviet Union and Russian imperialism in general. Ukraine once belonged to Russia, and if Russia can’t get it back – still an “if” in Putin’s mind – it should at least be able to dictate Ukraine’s fate and alliances.

Putin subscribes to the myth – promoted by Russian state propaganda – that America and the West have pledged not to expand NATO during the German reunification negotiations and other post-NATO agreements. collapse of the Soviet Union. No such assurances have been given, but the US, UK and Russia have accepted the Budapest Memorandum on Security Guarantees. In 1994, in exchange for Ukraine’s voluntary surrender of Soviet nuclear weapons on its soil, then the world’s third largest arsenal, the signatories agreed to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security. Putin declared the deal null and void when the Ukrainians elected a government that was not Putin’s vassal.

Putin’s appetite is bigger than Ukraine. According to the draft treaties released by Russia, Putin wants a sphere of influence where small nations along his “near abroad” should defer to Russia’s priorities. They would be banned from joining NATO, and countries that joined NATO after 1997 would be banned from hosting or training with NATO troops or military assets.

These requests are almost surely a non-starter, and rightly so. Giving in would undermine NATO, reward military blackmail and leave our Eastern European allies vulnerable to a regime that has already established that it is ready to invade its neighbors for its own enlargement, most recently during the 2014 military seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

But Putin is a master of the art of asking the whole store so that he can settle for a basket full of free gifts. And it appears the White House is considering concessions, including postponing military aid to Ukraine.

The political temptation to appease Putin – just a little – is understandable. The last thing Biden needs is another international crisis, let alone a war. But one thing is certain: Any concession to Putin will be little more than down payments on others in the future.

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