On 21 July 2021, United States President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a "Joint Statement of the United States and Germany on Support for Ukraine, European Energy Security, and our Climate Goals" that highlighted the arrangements made between the two leaders for the U.S. to withdraw its opposition to the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
The rationale at the time was that the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was inevitable, and the removal of U.S. sanctions that were blocking this highly controversial Kremlin project would not only considerably improve relations between the U.S. and Germany but would also thaw the frigid rapport between the U.S. and Russia.
Having gained such a favorable concession from the West during Russia’s occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, as well as parts of Georgia, an uninitiated observer (unfamiliar with the Kremlin’s twisted mentality that considers such concessions as signs of weakness that are ripe for further exploitation) would understandably assume that the Kremlin would be on its best behaviour (for a while, at least), if not even making pro forma concessions to demonstrate some form of reciprocity in its international relations with the West.
This one-sided attempt at rapprochement by the West is disconcertingly reminiscent of the West’s effort to appease another belligerent dictator on Sept. 30, 1938, when the UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned home after signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler, and stated reassuringly to his people:
"I believe it is peace for our time. […] Now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds."
Eleven months later, on Sept. 1, 1939, the UK woke up to the atrocities of World War II as the Nazis crossed into Poland and, two days later, on Sept. 3, 1939, that same UK Prime Minister had no choice but to declare war on Nazi Germany.
This time around, after the July Joint Statement of the state leaders of the U.S. and Germany, we have already witnessed the unfolding of the following alarming events:
(i) gas prices have skyrocketed as a result of Russia’s manipulations to create an artificial gas supply crisis in an effort to pressure the European Union and Germany to provide quick regulatory approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline (the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol stated on Jan. 12, 2022 that Russia is worsening Europe's gas crisis by holding back at least one-third of the gas it could send to Europe through existing gas pipelines);
(ii) Russia has stationed some 100,000 troops in Crimea and near the eastern border of Ukraine threatening a further Russian military invasion of Ukraine (оn Jan. 15, 2022, Russia's Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov stated that “We’re not going to say that we will not deploy any offensive weapons on Ukraine’s territory”);
(iіі) Russia has orchestrated with Belarus a migrant crisis at Belarus’s borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to destabilize the European Union; and
(іv) Russia is pressuring NATO and the U.S. to revert to the Cold War “spheres of influence” and proposed divisive Yalta-style “security” agreements (these draft “security” agreements provide for the withdrawal of NATO troops and armaments from 14 out of 30 NATO member states and override NATO’s “open-door policy”, more particularly regarding Ukraine, with the clear intent to destabilize the West, discredit and then dismantle NATO and re-establish a Russian sphere of influence on the territory of the former Eastern Bloc countries).
For instance, the draft Agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of Dec. 17, 2021 proposes, among others, that:
The Russian Federation and all the Parties that were member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as of May 27, 1997, respectively, shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other States in Europe in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of May 27, 1997. With the consent of all the Parties such deployments can take place in exceptional cases to eliminate a threat to security of one or more Parties. […]
All member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization commit themselves to refrain from any further enlargement of NATO, including the accession of Ukraine as well as other States.
The Parties that are member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization shall not conduct any military activity on the territory of Ukraine as well as other States in the Eastern Europe, in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia. […]
Russia wishes NATO and its member states to simply abandon their eastern flank against the backdrop of a farcical narrative that aims to cast Russia as a victim, whose borders are incessantly threatened by NATO expansion whereas: (i) European countries (that were formerly under the Soviet sphere of influence) have sought NATO membership to protect themselves against a menacing Russia; (ii) since World War II it is Russia that has defiantly violated the territorial integrity of independent countries, including Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine; and (iii) it is Europe’s dependency on Russia-controlled gas supplies that constitutes the main threat to Europe’s energy security as the current artificially inflated gas prices demonstrate.
In fact, Putin has calculated that Russia can become an empire once again by controlling Ukraine, weaponizing Russia’s gas, destabilizing the West, including NATO, spreading fear of the “Russian bear,” and invoking a selfgiven right and a duty to be a protector of Russian-speaking people all over the world.
Why is Ukraine the primary focus of Russia’s attention?
In his book titled “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power,” President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, as well as foreign affairs adviser to several other U.S. Presidents, Zbigniew Brzezinski answered that question with the following unmistakably clear words:
"It cannot be stressed enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire."
Russia’s current tsar has confirmed this when he openly lamented that the break-up of the Soviet Union was “the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century” and vowed to restore its so-called past glory.
Moreover, on July 12, 2021, Putin wrote an article titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” where he went so far as to deny the existence of the Ukrainian people as whole and attacked the legitimacy of Ukraine’s renewed Independence in 1991:
"During the recent Direct Line, when I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe. […]
The name “Ukraine” was used more often in the meaning of the Old Russian word “okraina” (periphery), which is found in written sources from the 12th century, referring to various border territories. And the word “Ukrainian”, judging by archival documents, originally referred to frontier guards who protected the external borders. […]
In essence, Ukraine's ruling circles decided to justify their country's independence through the denial of its past, however, except for border issues. They began to mythologize and rewrite history, edit out everything that united us, and refer to the period when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an occupation. The common tragedy of collectivization and famine of the early 1930s was portrayed as the genocide of the Ukrainian people. […]
I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people."
Notwithstanding this imperialistic approach by Russia and Ukraine’s constitutionally enshrined desire to join NATO and the European Union, NATO tried to keep a safe distance from Ukraine so as not to provoke Russia. As the events unfolded, it is clear that NATO’s subtle appeasement policy with an imperialistic Russia did not work.
Indeed, in February 2014 Russia invaded Crimea and, shortly thereafter, parts of eastern Ukraine. Since then, Russia has occupied these territories and has waged a relentless and vicious hybrid war against Ukraine with the clear aim to regain full control over it.
Russia’s military aggression has already destroyed with total disdain both people and property alike. Over 14,000 individuals have been killed and more than 30,000 injured in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions alone, and there are over 1.5 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine.
The following preposterous characterization by Putin of this military aggression by Russia against Ukraine in his article of July 12, 2021 and Russia’s blatant violations of the Minsk agreements indicate why Putin’s imperialist ambitions threaten global security and he cannot be trusted when he offers a poisoned chalice:
"The coup d'état and the subsequent actions of the Kiev authorities inevitably provoked confrontation and civil war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that the total number of victims in the conflict in Donbas has exceeded 13,000. Among them are the elderly and children. These are terrible, irreparable losses.
Russia has done everything to stop fratricide. The Minsk agreements aimed at a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbas have been concluded. I am convinced that they still have no alternative. In any case, no one has withdrawn their signatures from the Minsk Package of Measures or from the relevant statements by the leaders of the Normandy format countries. No one has initiated a review of the United Nations Security Council resolution of Feb. 17, 2015."
If the West wishes to overcome Russia’s imperialist threat, then Western leaders will need the foresight and courage to take decisive measures including to:
(i) enforce a course of action focused on global peace, security and stability, the respect of the territorial integrity of all countries and the promotion of democratic principles enshrined in the UN Charter;
(ii) provide Ukraine with NATO’s military support and the NATO Membership Action Plan (since Ukraine is not only defending its territorial integrity, but also containing Russia’s global imperialist ambitions);
(iii) ensure that Russia cannot bypass Ukraine in supplying gas to Europe by setting strict supply commitments of gas through Ukraine’s gas pipeline network and underground gas storages (which will improve Europe’s energy security as Russia has clearly demonstrated that it is not a reliable gas supplier to Europe);
(iv) increase sanctions against Russia and Putin’s entourage, ban Russia from the SWIFT payment system and suspend the certification process of Nord Stream 2 until Russia deoccupies Ukraine and de-escalates tensions on Ukraine’s border (as sanctions do work despite the fact that Russia belittles them as has been clearly demonstrated by Putin’s warning that further sanctions by the U.S. in response to a further invasion of Ukraine could rupture ties between the U.S. and Russia); and
(v) effectively counter Russia’s powerful and destructive disinformation machine by disseminating truthful information and the values based on the UN Charter both in the West and Russia.
Countering Putin’s imperialist plans will not be easy. Russia is convinced that the West will ultimately adopt Chamberlain’s approach in its dealings with Russia and will therefore continue to push NATO to the brink of conflict to maximize concessions. The West must not be duped by such tactics. Instead, the West should draw inspiration from its meaningful efforts in the past against adversity from the same historic foe, including the Soviet Union’s extortive Berlin Blockade which the West countered with an effective Berlin Airlift.
Like all dictators, Putin only understands and reacts to the language of strength. Previous concessions to Russia have only yielded a more belligerent Russia. The West should therefore adopt a proven and effective strategy from the playbook of Muhammad Ali to overcome Russia’s hybrid aggression against the West, namely: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.
It is only by recognizing Putin’s imperialist ambitions for what they are and taking decisive actions to enforce the basic principles of the UN Charter, that NATO and its member states can avert a bigger crisis and ensure global peace, security and stability.