Ukraine Crisis, February 8, 2022: Urgent need for strongest possible deterrent steps; the Minsk II off-ramp for Putin

The current threats of economic sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine do not appear sufficient to deter Putin.

Putin’s disdainful remarks about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday in Moscow, following his five-hour meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, suggest a hardened attitude and a dug-in position.

Deterrence of a Russian invasion should not be considered merely as a desirable objective, but rather as an absolute necessity for the security of Europe, Taiwan, and other countries.

Moreover, the survival of the post-World War II U.N. Charter-based system for the maintenance of international oeace and security, and international relations based on international law, are at stake.

The alternative, in a nuclear age, is the “right-makes-right” system that led to two world wars in the twentieth century.

Maximum Assured Deterrence

To make sure the law-abiding nations of the world avoid the fate they suffered after 1938, they must adopt deterrent measures that provide “Maximum Assured Deterrence”, not just deterrence that seems “politically feasible” but which may or may not work.

In an age when Mutual Assured Destruction (what we can call MAD I) may deter a nuclear first-strike, but may not deter aggression with conventional weapons, “Maximum Assured Deterrence” (which we can call MAD II) may be required to deter aggression and invasions by conventional forces.

What steps can be taken, even now, to provide “Maximum Assured Deterrence” against a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

What MAD steps should and must be taken?

1) Expulsion from SWIFT

First, the U.S., the EU, and NATO countries should make it absolutely clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they will expel Russia from the SWIFT international payments system if Russia invades Ukraine;

2) Unconditional decision to block Nordstream II operation

Second, the U.S and Germany, in particular, should and must announce an unqualified decision that they will permanently block operation of the Nordstream II gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine.

The explicit commitment of Germany to block Nordstream II if there is an invasion is needed, to eliminate any doubt in Putin’s mind as to whether or not this threatened sanction will in fact be implemented.

This step may be a politically difficult step to take in Germany. Yet it is a necessary step. Germany took down the existing international legal order in 1938, and caused “untold suffering to mankind” in World War II.

The Munich Pact and surrender of the Czech Sudetenland to Adolf Hitler in 1938 marked the collapse of the existing international legal order, which was based on the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations, the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Treaty outlawing wars of aggression, and the 300 year-old system of international law.

This is the least Germany can do, in order to make up for its past crimes and to uphold the current U.N. Charter-based international legal order.

In the face of the Russian threat, strong leadership from Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his new coalition is required.

3) Third, NATO members and other countries should state clearly, individually and if possible jointly, that while they have ruled out the use of force to deter a Russian invasion of the Ukraine, if such an invasion does in fact take place they will necessarily have to consider all possible responses, including the use of force in exercise of the right of collective self-defense, in light of facts on the ground as they develop in Ukraine.

This statement would not commit any country to come to the aid of Ukraine in the event of an invasion, but rather simply would correct a grave mistake that was made by Biden and others when they announced that the use of force was off the table, even in the event of a Russian invasion.

This step would strengthen the deterrence equation, and make Putin think twice before launching an invasion. The U.S. and European countries need to think hard about what Europe and their world would look like if deterrence fails, and they do nothing to repel Russian aggression.

Minsk II–an off-ramp for Putin?

At the U.N. Security Council meeting on January 31, Russia stressed that any resolution of the current crisis would have to be through the Minsk II agreement, and negotiations using the “Normandy Format” (Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine) charged with implementation of its provisions.

The Minsk Protocol was signed on September 5, 2014, in an attempt to establish a ceasefire and resolve the conflict in the Donbas region of the Eastern Ukraine. Negotiations for the agreement,led by Germany and France, resulted in the Minsk Protocol which was signed and acceded to by Putin, as he attempted to forestall the imposition of heavy sectorial sanctions on Russia at the EU summit then underway in Normandy, France.

The Minsk Protocol was signed, but Putin did not achieve his objective of avoiding heavy sanctions, which were adopted by the EU leaders on September 5.

Following the collapse of the original Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, the Minsk II agreement was signed on February 12, 2015.

A two-fold strategy is urgently recommended:

The preceding analysis strongly suggests that an optimal strategy for dealing with Putin and Russia, starting today, would include the following components:

1) Adoption of the Maximum Assured Deterrence steps outlined above; and

2) Development of fully-developed and coordinated negotiating positions on Minsk II implementation in order to help construct an off-ramp which Putin might be persuaded to take.

Time is of the essence. These steps should be taken as soon as possible, on an urgent basis.

Tge Trenchant Observer