Diane Francis

November 15, 2021


December 8 marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – an event that Vladimir Putin believes was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. The Soviet empire controlled one-sixth of the world’s landmass but disintegrated after being humiliated in Afghanistan in 1989. This defeat led to unrest at home and most significantly an outright unilateral declaration of independence by its key “colony” Ukraine on August 24, 1991. A month later, the Baltic States seceded, and on December 8, 1991, President Boris Yeltsin formally dissolved the 15-member USSR. Russia’s European satellite states turned to the European Union. But Putin wants to reverse history and get the linchpin, Ukraine, back plus the rest.

In 2014, Putin declared war against Europe by invading Ukraine and has conducted a hybrid war against the continent ever since. Europe and America have been clueless, or complicit like Germany, and have done little to combat him as he unleashes military force, weaponizes energy and migration, sabotages, cyberattacks, murders, corrupts, and threatens. And now, as the most significant date in Putin’s calendar approaches on December 8, his tanks and troops surround Ukraine. The only bright spot is that this has led more leaders to part their self-delusional curtains and admit that catastrophe is possible.

The crisis involving illegal migration from Belarus to Poland is his current flashpoint and a way for Putin to test the waters before invading Ukraine. So far he’s been unwilling to grab more of Ukraine’s territory, but he’s gone too far, in my opinion, by directly attacking NATO countries. Using his puppet Belarus as a proxy, thousands of migrants from the Middle East are paying to be flown to Minsk, then transported to the border in order to illegally cross into Poland or Lithuania. They are desperate and unwitting weapons, but what Belarus, with Russia’s urging, is doing, constitutes an act of war, and under NATO’s charter, an act of war against one NATO nation is an act of war against all others.

So it’s game on.

No one articulates this. But at least, a pile-on has ensued as other NATO members now actively help Poland and the Baltics fortify their borders. Britain has stepped up by sending troops to Poland and Ukraine as well as warships to the Black Sea to help defend Ukraine and other NATO members against Russia’s incursions there. America has upped its military aid to Ukraine and continued to move its military presence from Central to Eastern Europe. Most significantly, NATO member Turkey has come through by signing a mutual defense agreement with Ukraine and supplying killer drones with warheads to its military. This week, Ankara also banned travelers from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (and refugees it houses) from buying tickets or boarding flights from Turkish airports to Belarus.

By the way, Putin’s now claiming the Polish and Lithuanization mobilizations along their borders to stop migrants are a threat to Russia and a deliberate provocation. In reality, this is a welcome development and indication that the West is starting to demonstrate to Putin that two can mobilize, use proxies, and play games of chicken. As for the threat to Ukraine, that country must be fast-tracked into NATO as soon as possible even though Putin has declared it would consider its entry as a “red line” or act of war against Russia. So members, led by Germany, have vetoed its membership.

This is nonsense and the way around this obstruction is to grant de facto NATO membership to Ukraine, despite Germany’s decision to veto it at this year’s summit. Frankly, I would suggest that any NATO member like Germany that builds a dangerous pipeline with Putin and that doesn’t meet its NATO military spending commitment of 2 percent of its GDP should be ignored and demoted to observer status until it ponies up.

At the moment, Europeans prepare new sanctions for Belarus, which misses the mark because the real perpetrator is Russia’s Putin. A cascade of severe sanctions is appropriate now, starting with the removal of SWIFT privileges to bring Russia to its knees. This deterrent should be prepared to kick in the minute NATO troops are killed or wounded at the border, or after one inch of NATO or Ukrainian territory is invaded by Russia’s proxies. I also believe that it’s time that Russia was suspended from the UN Security Council and booted permanently out of the G20.

Diplomacy is useless because there is no middle ground nor “deal space” available to halt Putin’s march to take over Europe and his former republics. In 2014, he tried shopping around his “Eurasian Union” federation to these countries but was roundly rejected, most dramatically by Ukrainians who opted to join the European Union instead. They stood up against pressure and violence imposed by Putin’s Ukrainian puppet president and overthrew him. The country was thrown into economic chaos for months, which is when Putin made his move and invaded.

He only ended up with 7.5 percent of the country (he wanted half). But – to the eternal disgrace of the United States and Europe – he got away scot-free with the slice he conquered which abrogated international law. Then in 2020, he used the energy weapon to coerce Belarus’s dictator Alexander Lukashenko into joining his “Eurasian Union” after his people voted him out of office, then launched mass protests after he rigged the election. Putin propped him up and in return, Belarus hosts Russian troops and launched the current migration crisis scheme.

The American press, chronically uninformed about geopolitics and Putin, is finally waking up to the possibility that there is a geopolitical crisis between nuclear powers. One publication naively wrote: “The uptick in American concern, confirmed by two U.S. officials, indicates that President Joe Biden’s efforts to reach some sort of equilibrium with Putin are running out of steam.”

Equilibrium? Really? Surely no one with a cortex believes that Putin ever sought a state of balance with Washington or with any entity. He does not desire parity or equilibrium. He seeks only domination.

The best course of action is for NATO to send more troops to the Belarusian border and the Black Sea and hang tough. That, plus huge sanctions and more weapons for Ukraine, will force Putin to climb down. He will simply throw his proxy Belarus under the bus, blame America’s provocations and Lukashenko for the crisis, and bide his time.

NATO must provide massive support, weaponry, and money for Ukraine and its plucky army – the largest in Europe – against a possible Russian onslaught. (By the way, Russia’s victory over Ukraine is not a given: Putin’s conscript armed forces are, according to military reports, drunk most of the time while Ukrainians are fierce because they are fighting for their homeland.) Ukraine has been one of Putin’s most formidable enemies; witness that in 2014 and with only 6,000 active soldiers, it repelled the mighty Russian military. This was thanks to a groundswell of volunteers who supplied food, medicine, vehicles, and equipment and helped stop Putin’s tanks and troops. In the face of the world’s most dangerous predator, Ukrainians as a nation proved they are the world’s bravest people. The Russian nickname for their soldiers is “cyborg” because of their tenacity.

America and Europe must aggressively punch back with sanctions and institutional shame. They must have the guts to do for Ukraine what that country does every day for Europe, which is to protect Europe’s eastern flank from the Moscow marauder.