The most bizarre aspect of the current situation in Ukraine is not that Moscow has continued the atrocities, however heinous – after all, it is sad but not uncommon for Russia to flex its military muscle. What is truly frightening is the complete lack of foresight and analysis in Western capitals, including Washington. Did these elected officials really think that Russian President Vladimir Putin was designing a new kind of board game by gathering troops everywhere just outside of Ukrainian territory? Did they stare, clueless, assuming Putin was playing an internet game like Forge of Empires but would never seriously think about invading in real time?
And now innocent Ukrainian citizens are suffering.
There are four primary groups of actors who could at least in theory get Putin to end the aggression. Let’s briefly discuss the four before we talk about another altogether more promising fifth set of actors.
In theory: 4 sets of actors
First, there are individual European nation states such as Germany and the UK, clear political heavyweights. Under normal circumstances, Moscow wouldn’t want to bother any of them. Berlin in particular and a number of social democratic politicians have always maintained close personal ties with Russian leaders. The overarching goal has shifted from ensuring that there can never again be war on European soil, to building relationships ranging from student exchanges to economics and finance. Now Moscow has crossed the red line – so will Berlin, London and of course Paris also step in and risk an open confrontation with Moscow? On the other, there is Washington, once seen as the policeman of the world. In fact, Washington has always accepted to be in such a controlling role instead of the rest of the world pushing it. Former US President Donald Trump is gone, Joe Biden is gone… it seems highly unrealistic to expect a decisive response from North America.
Second, there is the European Union. Still searching for soul after Brexit becomes a reality, it seems unlikely that the EU will speak with one voice. Even if such a “one voice” strategy could be developed, it would never include a military option.
Third, we have NATO. NATO is by definition a defense alliance and not a war machine. NATO has begun to increase its presence closer to Russian territory and will continue to do so. But would NATO really commit to an outright military response? Technically speaking, it could only do so if an alliance member state was attacked by Russian troops. But we will come back to NATO later.
And fourth, there is the United Nations. Time and time again, the UN, including the UN Security Council (UNSC), has failed to find a solution to a conflict that has broken out somewhere in the world. The UN is a perfect place for endless debate, but apparently not a perfect place for ending conflict.
Four sets of actors: Powerful actors such as Berlin and London will in all likelihood refrain from active military support for Ukraine. Washington under a supposedly less decisive leader than before with Trump no longer at the helm… Your guess is as good as mine. The EU will issue statements but also not send troops – there is no EU army. NATO is a defense alliance and not a body that would go into the territory of another country, especially if it is not a member of this same alliance, and only if it were attacked. No further comment is necessary with regard to the UN
Results? No choice but to impose economic sanctions on Russia, including freezing the assets of wealthy individuals?
And rest assured, Putin was aware of all these constraints. But here’s some interesting news: Looking only westward, including across the North Atlantic, and detecting both logistical and military weakness, Moscow may have made a serious mistake.
The fact is that there are many other states that are completely unhappy with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and they are not light political players.
I would not be surprised if China moved closer to Moscow to end the aggression immediately. I wouldn’t be surprised if other countries followed suit, including Japan and Pakistan. But there is one country in particular that should get Putin’s attention or, shall we say, concern: Turkey.
Ankara has clearly stated that it is against the recent Russian aggression against Ukraine. Turkey has an increasingly important position among Muslim nations. But Turkey also has an increasingly important position in many other parts of the world. Turkey as a member of NATO is out of reach for Putin and can therefore act with confidence in condemning Putin’s invasion. Of all the actors listed above, only NATO has the theoretical capabilities to ensure that Putin cannot go anywhere else after Ukraine.
Putin will not bow to economic sanctions, at least not in the short term. Nor is anyone in favor of an attempt at open military confrontation with Russia. So there is only one last option: diplomacy. One-on-one meetings must take place to explain to Putin that even if he manages to replace the current leader in Ukraine, only his reputation will suffer. Russia’s reputation will suffer. In a post-pandemic world, every nation needs confidence in the future after realizing that no nation can fight a pandemic alone. Nor can any nation alone play the warmonger. Wars must be a thing of the past.
Let NATO follow Turkey’s suggestion to unite and act in unison vis-à-vis Moscow; that Turkey and other nations, including Germany, are trying to talk with Putin, just this once and maybe one last time. But more innocent citizens of Ukraine losing their precious lives is not an alternative.
As we said in the spot: to sit idle and ignore all this is not an option for the free world.