By Tom Evslin, Fractals of Change
First, we all thought that Ukraine would be conquered in two days. It wasn’t only Putin who made that mistake, it was almost everyone else, including me. Now, because of Ukrainians’ incredible courage, we’re dangerously optimistic that they will manage to defeat the Russian invasion even though Putin is clearly willing to fight to the last Ukrainian. They may never surrender, but they can be slaughtered and brutally subjugated – at least for a while.
Even if we didn’t care about them as people, we cannot afford to have them lose. At this point, any end, which doesn’t involve the humiliation of Putin, is a clear and present danger to the rest of NATO – which includes us. If triumphant – or even allowed a face-saving way out, Putin has now learned the weakness of his army and will correct much of it before his next assault. He will also be reinforced in his belief that the West does not have the will to avoid being conquered piecemeal. Meanwhile Ukrainian refugees will become a burden on their host countries and Eastern Europe will be increasingly uncertain of our resolve to defend NATO and they will seek Russian accommodation.
Even if Russia does occupy Ukraine, we will continue our sanctions – and should. Europe will reduce its dependence on Russian energy; but that oil and gas will be sold cheaply to its other big customer – China. With a source of cheap energy including plenty of coal, China will continue to grow stronger. This stronger and even richer China will invade Taiwan, confident that the West will retreat behind a cordon of self-drawn red lines.
At some point we’ll have to face a resurgent Russia, possibly a Russia in military alliance with China.
There is no better time than now, no less risky time than now, to push the bear as far back in its cave as we can. The Russian army has been at least wounded thanks to the Ukrainians. It’ll take time for it to rebuild and reinvent itself. Putin doesn’t want war with NATO now. How do I know? Because, if he wanted such a war, he could easily have it. He’s said the sanctions are tantamount to war. He’s said that our supplying weapons to Ukraine is tantamount to war. He’s tiptoed closer to the Polish border. But he hasn’t even cut off natural gas to the countries which are arming Ukraine. He needs the money. His army clearly isn’t ready. This is the time to push him back.
I favor a no-fly zone but don’t think there’s a national consensus for that – yet. Meanwhile we should be facilitating the transfer of the Polish MiGs to the Ukrainians. It must happen in the next few days.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby say that we have decided that the MiGs wouldn’t be much help to the Ukrainians. A lot we know about that. We didn’t think they could hold off Russian tanks for two days. Let the Ukrainians be the judge of what they need to protect their people.
Most dangerous of all is the argument Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been making in public against both the no-fly zone and the transfer of the MiGs: “It’s risky. We might end up shooting at or being shot at by Russians.” Yeah, sticking by our NATO obligations is also risky. It means shooting at Russians if the time comes. Do you think the people of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania aren’t worried we won’t be risk adverse when the Russians attack them?
There is risk in confronting Putin, no doubt about it. There’s also risk for Putin in firing the first shot at NATO, especially when his army is clearly in no shape to take on more enemies and when he hasn’t yet built more pipelines to China. There’s more risk to us in waiting until he’s stronger.
We should enforce a no-fly zone. Failing that, we must at least get the MiGs into Ukrainian hands while they’re still able to use them in our defense as well as their own.
The author, an author, entrepreneur, former Vermont state cabinet officer, lives in Stowe. He founded NG Advantage, a natural gas truck delivery company. This commentary is republished with permission from his blog, Fractals of Change.