With 35,000 to 40,000 Russian troops armed to the teeth positioned near the border with Ukraine, the easternmost members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have reason to worry. The Baltic states, Poland and Romania, all of which were once in Moscow’s orbit, would be in harm’s way if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders the military to move into Ukraine.
This week’s response from NATO foreign ministers to beef up the defenses of front-line alliance members is timely and appropriate but must be a first step.
Putin must know that any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty will be viewed by NATO as a declaration of war to be met with an immediate and aggressive response.
The public proclamation by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that America is “unwavering” in its commitment to the security of its Eastern European allies will go a long way toward bolstering NATO. The organization has been the keystone of U.S. and European security since the end of World War II.
The current crisis is the most acute since the height of the Cold War in which the Soviet Union and the United States squared off.
Moscow’s unilateral annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula has been condemned by the Obama administration and its allies as a brazen, illegal land grab. Putin and other government officials insist that Russia’s only interest is to ensure the safety and stability of Russian-speaking Crimea.
But the presence of the 40,000 troops equipped with tanks, other armored vehicles and fixed and rotary-wing aircraft along the border with Ukraine sends a very different message. The aggression cannot be ignored.
The U.S. has sent six F-15 fighters to perform air patrols over the Baltic, deployed a dozen F-16s to Poland and dispatched the USS Truxtun, a guided missile destroyer, to the Black Sea.
“And more U.S. support is on the way,” Secretary of State Kerry said earlier this week.
For their part, NATO’s 28 member nations ordered suspension of all “practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia. However, they are keeping the line of communication with the Kremlin open at the ambassadorial level.
Significant financial support for Ukraine is also urgently needed in light of Moscow’s attempt to squeeze the country economically. It sharply increased the price for natural gas and threatened to reclaim billions in previous discounts. The cash-strapped Ukraine government will soon feel the pinch, which is why the U.S. and its allies must be prepared to bolster the embattled country’s treasury.
With household gas prices set to rise 50 percent May 1, it won’t be long before the Ukrainian people express their discontent with the government in Kiev.
There is a presidential election scheduled for May 25, the outcome of which will determine the country’s future. Economic upheaval could result in a wrong individual being elected to lead the country.