World diplomats meet this week to discuss what may be Europe's tensest security crisis in 30 years. Vladimir Putin has amassed an estimated 175,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, poised to invade the country if Western powers fail to appease the Russian Bear. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has responded that America will meet a Russian invasion with "massive consequences," including "economic, financial, and other consequences." But the secretary's broadside completely missed the elephant in the room: behind threats of economic sanctions, is the U.S. loaded for Bear? Will the U.S. and our NATO allies commit military resources to defend Ukraine's sovereignty against a Russian invasion?
Ukraine's 44 million people, including many ethnic Russians, is extremely pro-West and are "united in their opposition to the Russians," explained Heritage Foundation Vice President James Carafano. They "will fight really hard, and it will be very, very bloody." But Russia's overwhelming air power and manpower could turn the conflict into a lopsided massacre unless Ukraine receives Western military aid -- and fast. The result could be "millions of Ukrainians forced out of their own country, which will create a massive refugee flood into Western Europe," Carafano warned.
Ironically, Ukraine has little say over its fate. In the "three sets of meetings this week," American and Russian personnel dialogued directly (but got nowhere), the NATO-Russia Council will convene, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will meet. Ukraine is only represented in the OSCE (along with 56 other nations). That's because, for most of the world, "this is not about Ukraine," explained Carafano. "This is about Putin wanting to expand his sphere of influence, destabilize NATO, and drive the United States out of the transatlantic community."
Russia frequently bullies its smaller neighbors through "energy blackmail," as Carafano termed it, by withholding energy shipments until they acquiesce with the Great Northern Bear's political diktats. President Trump challenged Russia's stranglehold on Europe's energy supply by exporting American natural gas to Europe, but President Biden quickly killed that bright idea. Even America's Western European allies rely on Russia's energy exports, particularly in winter months (even Italy has said it cannot afford to sanction Russian energy in winter). The only obstacle to Russia's hardball energy diplomacy has been Ukraine, through which the pipelines to Western Europe run. But the Biden administration helped smooth Russia's way to complete another pipeline, the Nord Stream 2, which would completely bypass Ukraine.
So far, the Biden administration is playing right into Putin's already potent hand. Grand and manifestly vacuous rhetorical flourishes undermine America's security guarantees all over the world -- Putin's ultimate goal. Biden's team has "literally put nothing on the table so far that the Russians really worry about," Carafano complained. Threatened sanctions haven't stopped Russia before, and Russia responded to Biden's threat of sanctions with a threat of their own. And the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal convinced the Russians that Biden was no one to worry about.
The question remains, will America roll over and allow Russia to annex Ukraine without a fight? In Europe of the 1930s, the Nazi spider swallowed whole nations -- Austria (1938), Czechoslovakia (1939), and Poland (1939) -- because more powerful nations would not rouse themselves. Like the Fuhrer, Vladimir Putin claims foreign lands on the pretense of ethnicity similarities, regularly avows his next conquest will satisfy him, and piles troops on the borders of weaker neighbors. Let us pray that, somehow, the world will avoid another, catastrophic parallel to 80 years ago: namely, the leader of the free world triumphantly returning home too soon to proclaim an empty agreement has secured "peace in our time."