1) Henry Bodkin, Edward Malnick, Nataliya Vasilyeva, and
Nick Allen, “Britain claims Vladimir Putin is plotting a puppet regime in Ukraine; Boris Johnson warns Europe against ‘naivety’ over the Russian president as the Foreign Office names Kremlin’s agents,” The Telegraph, January 22, 2022 (10:30pm).
2) Walter Russell Mead , “How to Halt Putin’s Ukraine Push; The U.S. needs unity and tough diplomacy. Economic sanctions won’t be enough,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2022 (5:20 p.m.);
3) Editorial, “How the West Is Losing Ukraine; Biden suggests a ‘minor incursion’ by Russia might divide the U.S. and Europe on how to respond,” Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2022 (6:45 p.m. ET);
4) Martin Greive and Moritz Koch, “Swift-Sanktionen vom Tisch: EU und USA rücken vom Ausschluss Russlands aus globalem Finanzsystem ab; Moskau von dem System auszuschließen ist den Unterhändlern zu heikel. Stattdessen bereiten die Länder gezielte Wirtschaftsstrafen gegen russische Banken vor, Handelsblatt, den 17. Januar 2022 (16:20 Uhr).
Everyone seems to have forgotten one central tenet of U.S. military strategy aimed at deterring Soviet (now Russian) aggression in Europe. It was always recognized that conventional Russian military forces would be able to beat Western conventional military forces if Russia launched an aggressive war. U.S. forces stationed in Germany, which was then on the front line with Soviet-dominated countries and Soviet military forces, were meant to serve as a tripwire which would guarantee U.S. direct involvement in any such war.
It was never believed that these U.S. forces would themselves be able to stop the advancing forces. But the tripwire was of critical importance, because it guaranteed that America, with its nuclear weapons, would come to the defense of Western European countries attacked by the conventional military forces of the Soviet Union. That meant that the American “nuclear umbrella” was the ultimate defense against a Soviet invading army.
Much has changed since the early days of the Cold War. Germany is no longer a front-line state facing Soviet and Soviet-allied forces. The line separating NATO and Soviet (now Russian) forces has moved to the East. Still, the underlying logic of a defense strategy that protected Europe from an invading Soviet or Russian army continued to have as its centerpiece the stationing of American troops in the heart of Europe, and the implicit nuclear umbrella which they provided.
Donald Trump, who imagined Vladimir Putin was his friend, sought to neutralize this deterrence strategy by withdrawing American troops from Germany. Fortunately, the 2020 presidential election brought the Democratic administration of Joe Biden to power, and with it a reversal of the decision to withdraw American troops from Germany.
Still, as Putin threatens Ukraine, and Biden has taken a direct U.S. military response to a Russian invasion “off the table”, Europe faces Russian military power with only Article 5 of the NATO Treaty to guarantee the defense of NATO members.
This leaves some doubt as to whether the U.S. would honor its Article 5 commitment to defend Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia (all formerly part of the Soviet Union but unlike Ukraine all now NATO members), and leaves not only Ukraine but also Finland and Sweden outside the area formally covered by the American and NATO nuclear umbrella.
The logic of this analysis points to the continuing importance of American nuclear weapons for the defense of NATO countries, and perhaps others.
Putin threatened Obama with nuclear war in 2014, and Obama blinked. He is probably quite confident that Biden too would blink, if things escalated following a Russian invasion of Ukraine. In Putin’s mind, after the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the ambivalence and lack of decisiveness revealed by Biden in his press conference on January 19, 2022, the American president probably does not loom as a formidable adversary.
Germany as the weak link in threatened sanctions
With direct U.S. military involvement placed “off the table” by Biden, and nuclear deterrence apparently not in play, Biden and NATO have retreated to the threat of crippling economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.
Yet these threatened sanctions are not as credible as they might at first appear. Germany has apparently opposed the potential expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, perhaps the most crippling of the threatened sanctions, and has made no firm commitment to cancel the €10 billion Nordstream II gas pipeline project if Putin invades Ukraine.
Olaf Scholz, the new SDP Chancellor of a governing coalition with the Green Party and the FDP, represents a party full of appeasers of Russia or so-called “Putin Versteher” (people who understand Putin). Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party has opposed the Nordstream II pipeline in the past, but in the end will have to follow the directions of Scholz and the coalition.
With over 100,000 Russian troops near the border and threatening to invade Ukraine, Olaf Scholz was too busy this week to rearrange his schedule so that he could meet with Joe Biden to discuss the crisis.
Gerhardt Schröder, a former SPD chancellor (1998-2005), promoted the Nordstream II project and signed on to it just before leaving office. He has served since 2017 as chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG and of the Russian energy company Rosneft, the second-largest state-controlled company in Russia. Rosneft and its CEO, Igor Sechin, a very close associate and adviser of Vladimir Putin, have been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.Schmidt is a close friend of Vladimir Putin. In 2014, Schmidt notoriously celebrated his 70th birthday party with Putin in St. Petersburg after Putin had invaded the Crimea.
The potential SWIFT and the Nordstream II sanctions may be those most likely to deter Putin from invading Ukraine.
Given its role in destroying the international legal order beginning in 1938, these are two measures Germany should adopt to defend the current international legal order.
“Vladimir Putin, like Adolf Hitler, challenges the world (Updated),” The Trenchant Observer, January 20, 2022:
3) Germany should state clearly, immediately, and unequivocally, that it will support expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT international payments system if Russia invades Ukraine. Germany’s ambivalence on this point has greatly diluted the deterrent force of threats to adopt this measure.
Germany should also state unequivocally, and immediately, that if Putin invades Ukraine, it will kill the Nordstream II gas pipeline project and will never authorize it to operate in its territory.
Germany, which was responsible for the collapse of the international legal order beginning in 1938, owes the world at least these two measures.
Politically and financially, these steps will not be easy to take. Germany now stands at the center of the world stage, with a potentially decisive voice in Putin’s calculations.
International law and international order require sacrifices. These, however, are minimal when compared to the sacrifices of war.
Western leaders have been slow to realize what’s at stake in defending Ukraine. They talk of maybe having to deploy the “nuclear option” of expelling Russia from SWIFT and canceling the Nordstream II gas pipeline.
In the event, if Putin invades and tries to install a puppet regime in Kviv, they may cone to wish they had been thinking about the real nuclear option–nuclear deterrence to prevent a Russian army from conquering a European country with conventional military forces.
It is time for leaders in many countries to wake up to what is going on and to what the stakes are, and to take Russia’s threat of launching a major European war to the United Nation Security Council.
They need not wait further on the foreign policy leadership of the U.S. Great Britain, or France, Ukraine, any member of Security Council, or the Secretary General of the U.N. can call for an Emergency Meeting. This they can do at any time, but the right time is now.
Such action would complement diplomatic efforts currently being led by the U.S.
Britain, in particular, and also Germany, seem to have a better understanding of the U.N. Charter and international law than do current leaders in the United States.
The Trenchant Observer