November 23, 2023
Volodymyr Zelensky delivered grim news on November 21, the tenth anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. He said in a media interview that Russian special forces plan to overthrow Ukraine’s leadership by the end of 2023 by “any means available to them”, including assassination. He said the operation was coded “Maidan 3”, a reference to the 2004 Orange Revolution and 2013 Revolution of Dignity that took place in Kyiv’s Maidan, or its Independence Square. Zelensky bravely said he has already survived five or six attempts on his life and that, like Covid, it’s something one gets used to. He also said Ukrainians remain united, and suggested that China, the U.S., and allies pressure Russia to end its aggression because it plans “to start burning fires” in the Balkans and elsewhere to destabilize Europe and other parts of the world. Finally, he emphasized the importance to Europe of Ukraine’s struggle. “If they destroy us, if they will kill us, they will occupy NATO countries very quickly, like the Baltics, or Poland, and others. And after that, you will move your soldiers.”
Vladimir Putin wages world war against Europe and beyond. After 20 months, Europeans are finally bolstering their defenses and expediting the re-armament of their own armies as well as Ukraine’s. The recent statement by Ukraine’s top general, that the war was stuck in a “stalemate”, was a wake-up call, but so are the antics in Washington and the possibility that Trump may win and pull America out of NATO. There is now more of an urgency in the otherwise content continent, best reflected in a new report by the German Council of Foreign Relations. It declared that NATO is in a “race against time to prepare for a full-on war with Russia in five or so years”. And this is why, it argued, Europe must push for a Ukrainian victory and maximum Russian military degradation. It added that Europe’s priorities should be the integration of Ukraine into European Union-NATO defensive structures and industries; the assumption by Europe of a more “balanced” share of the burden with the US; and tougher sanctions to further impede Russia’s war economy.
Zelensky’s assassination revelation is not just a wake-up call but should be considered a global air raid siren. Ukraine is currently the bulwark protecting Europe and the idea that Putin plans to wipe out Ukraine’s regime to bring about its collapse is chilling, politically and economically. Russia’s continuing threat is why Germany has just committed to a long-term military expansion, involving tens of billions throughout the 2030s. It’s why, this summer, President Emmanuel Macron embarked on France’s biggest military spending increase in a half-century, earmarking nearly $450 billion through the end of the decade. Italy and Britain are allocating billions more for military spending, as are most European governments. For years, Macron has urged Europe to take control of its security, but Ukraine’s fight and America’s growing isolationism and its distractions involving China and the Middle East now make this imperative.
Europeans are making other defensive adjustments. An asylum and immigration backlash rolls through its democracies, and voters in the Netherlands just voted for parties to stop influxes of foreigners.
Other border reforms are taking place across the continent, aimed at interdicting arrivals, screening out potentially troublesome migrants, or deporting undesirables. The Baltics are turning into a fortress and are erecting physical, and surveillance, barriers against Russia. They are also rejecting Russian asylum seekers who, many believe, desire entry to set up sleeper cells once inside their boundaries in order to cause mayhem. The Scandinavians, two countries of which just joined NATO, are embarking on similar border and military enhancements. And Poland continues to lead the pack by dramatically beefing up its military. Its Prime Minister stated recently that “unless Russian forces are defeated in Ukraine, Moscow will remain committed to further aggression in Europe.”
There can be little doubt that Russia intends to recreate the Soviet Union, which means grabbing bits of Europe again. Poland has sounded the alarm for years concerning Putin and that is why former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, recently called for the extermination of “Polish statehood in its entirety.” The two have been sworn enemies for centuries, but especially since Poland’s Solidarity movement triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union and has become a key player in the effort to help Ukraine. Medvedev is prone to throw around verbal Molotov cocktails, but this threat is notably serious because it represents an outrageous escalation. The threat by a top-ranked Russian security official to eliminate a member of NATO is also an indirect threat against the other 30 members that are pledged to come to its defense. In essence, Russia just threatened war against NATO.
At the moment, world attention fixes on Putin’s other “special operation” — the Israel-Gaza War — instigated by one of Russia’s Middle East terrorist proxies Hamas. This conflagration adds to European anxiety. Allies now scramble to deliver ammunition, jets, and more military aid to Ukraine, and also talk of imposing tougher sanctions on Russia’s oil exports that support its war economy. The facts are that Russian energy revenues have soared, which enables Russia to buy ammo and missiles or drones from Iran and North Korea. Clearly, a crackdown is needed to interdict the “shadow” fleet of oil tankers that deliver its oil in defiance of sanctions. The culprits include third-country shippers, Greek shipping lines, and intermediaries who buy and sell to circumvent the $60-a-barrel price cap. The G7 should also lower the cap to $40-a-barrel immediately.
But it’s also time to crack down on pundits in high places who spout Russian talking points. An example was a recent piece co-authored by Richard Haass, former President of the Council of Foreign Relations, and Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow of the Council, and entitled “Redefining Success in Ukraine”. Their assertions drew a sharp, and appropriate, reaction from Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist, author, and former advisor to Russia and other former Soviet Republics during their post-Soviet transitions. He took exception to the authors’ statement that “the United States should begin consultations with Ukraine and its European partners on a strategy centered on Ukraine’s readiness to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia and to simultaneously switch its military emphasis from offense to defense.”
Asland pointed out the folly. “Haass and Kupchan appear unaware that Putin has violated virtually all relevant agreements and lies persistently. It makes no sense to negotiate with such a man, but they do not even mention this aspect. Russia would just use a ceasefire to rearm.” He also took exception to their suggestion that, in return for talks, Ukraine be given assurance it could remain independent by being given guarantees “modelled on Article 4 of the NATO Treaty, which provides for immediate consultations whenever ‘the territorial integrity, political independence, or security’ of a member is threatened.”
Such a suggestion is insulting. Ukrainians deserve more weapons as well as full NATO membership once this is over. Instead, what the two Americans served up was the equivalent of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which contained guarantees from the United States and United Kingdom to protect Ukraine from invasion – pledges that were ignored when Ukraine was invaded the first time in 2014 and again in 2022.
So how will this all end? Europe and America must go all in behind Ukraine because Putin has never negotiated peace and won’t now. He plays for time and causes trouble all over the world. Meanwhile, Zelensky and Ukrainians are willing to stare down death and remain committed to expelling Russians from their nation. It is they who must decide when this ends. At some point, they will stop and when they do they must be given membership in the European Union and NATO immediately, with whatever land they’ve regained. Their goal is to survive the winter and push back the Russians as far, and as quickly, as possible. And this must happen, for the sake of civilization.