April 23, 2022
NATO faces a historic opportunity to defeat the last imperial power threatening European security. A strategic victory over a revanchist Russia can be achieved even without direct military confrontation. In addition to supplying Ukraine with all the necessary weapons to reclaim its occupied territories, NATO has several options to weaken Russia’s overstretched multi-regional capabilities.
Russia’s armed forces simply do not have the domestic manpower or functional weaponry to defend its entire western and southern flanks. From the Arctic to the Caspian, a sustained diplomatic, economic, and security campaign led by Washington will severely undermine Russia’s resources, divert its attention from Ukraine, and enable Ukrainian forces to defeat Moscow’s enfeebled military.
Along the Arctic and North European fronts, Finland and Sweden need the fastest possible track toward NATO entry. Both Helsinki and Stockholm have overwhelming public support for NATO membership, and Finland, in particular, has significant military capabilities, a border of over 800 miles with Russia, and direct experience in resisting and defeating Russia’s aggression.
All along the eastern front, from Estonia to Bulgaria, NATO needs to organize more frequent military exercises to help synchronize allied defenses, provide more sophisticated weaponry, and ensure a more robust and permanent international troop presence close to Russia’s frontiers. This would send a powerful signal that an attack on any NATO member would result in a multinational response on various parts of Russian territory that would stretch and destroy its military.
The vulnerable state of Moldova needs political and military assistance to protect itself from a Moscow-engineered conflict. The Kremlin has been threatening to open another military front from the separatist entity of Transnistria against Ukraine. NATO must signal that any such attempt will result in Moldova being afforded every means to retake its occupied territories.
Along the Balkan front, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has been targeted by Moscow to destabilize the region through a partition, should be placed on a fast track for NATO membership. Simultaneously, Kosovo must be assisted to qualify for NATO entry. This would undercut attempts by the pro-Kremlin government in Serbia to generate conflicts in order to deflect attention from Moscow’s expansionist war in Ukraine.
Along the Caucasus front, NATO troops need to be dispatched to Georgia to help protect vital energy pipelines between the Caspian Basin and Europe from potential Russian attacks. Georgia itself needs to be brought swiftly into NATO, having met all requirements for membership. Such moves would increase pressure on Georgia’s occupied territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, from where Moscow has been withdrawing troops to fight in Ukraine. At the same time, a North
Caucasus front can be opened by directly assisting free Chechens and other national units fighting for Ukraine and against Russia. This will increase fear in the Kremlin over the growth of armed independence movements within the Russian Federation itself.
The Russian regime must also be strangled with economic sanctions that precipitate elite power struggles, public revolts, and regional separatism. Sanctions should not be eased or lifted until at least four conditions are met: the withdrawal of all Russian troops and proxy structures from Ukraine, including Crimea; the payment of war reparations, including all Russian state assets frozen in Western banks, to rebuild Ukraine’s devastated infrastructure; the resignation or ouster of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime; and the surrender to an international tribunal of all officials charged with war crimes and potential genocide. Without such conditions, the West would simply allow Putin to restore the economy, rebuild the military, and launch another offensive.
Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC. He is the co-author of Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks with Margarita Assenova. His new book, Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture, will be published in May.