By Robert Pszczel, Senior Fellow at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation and former Director of the NATO Information Office in Moscow
The most dangerous confrontation facing European security today has been artificially engineered. It has been planned by Russia for some time now. The Kremlin regime has decided to launch a diplomatic, political, military and hybrid offensive against the security status quo in Europe. This decision was spurred by a belief that the collective West is demoralised and weak, and thus would be unwilling to offer strong resistance, especially with the US focused elsewhere. Moscow has calculated its chances and has chosen – as the opening gambit - to point the gun at the head of Ukraine. Its chief blackmail tools include open preparations (now almost complete) for a full or partial military assault on Ukrainian territory, coupled with a deluge of disinformation and other hybrid instruments of compellence. Their use flows from the serious intent to turn Ukraine into a Russian satellite. Continued pressure through the flawed Minsk Agreements (never implemented by Russia) is just another item in this playbook. The playbook, one must stress, which does not include many, if any, self-limitations (moral, legal or political) that hamper the Kremlin.
Preventing a criminal war, which could lead to the possible destruction of Ukraine as a sovereign state, result in immense casualties, millions of refugees and a possible escalation of conflict beyond Ukraine, is naturally the top priority for NATO and the EU. Strong US leadership, better coordination, readiness to continue (most likely futile) diplomatic engagement with Moscow, an uptake in military supplies to Kyiv, precautionary steps to reinforce the eastern flank of NATO, and unity on massive sanctions against Russia, are the key elements of the Western strategy. They aim to cancel out the Kremlin’s offensive capabilities. There is hope that thanks to such a package, together with the assumed resistance will of Ukrainians themselves, Putin will not risk starting a war. He must contend with the fact that it would not automatically generate enthusiasm among ordinary Russians. Moreover, due to a novel use of intelligence data by the US and allies, the Kremlin has been deprived of the element of surprise. The package may work.
But, if it does not prove sufficient to stop the Russian predator, the West should be ready to implement the agreed measures and go beyond them. Russia should be defined as a hostile power, and Russian citizens and entities with links to the regime and its servants, should be declared undesirables in NATO/EU countries. The price for aggression must be made prohibitive, durable and escalatory.