The concern to date that has prevented us from doing this are (1) fear of provoking Putin into expanding the war beyond Ukraine, and (2) that he might resort to using nuclear weapons.
Both fears appear to be unwarranted. Russia can barely manage its Ukraine adventure, much less assemble the wherewithal to expand its aggression elsewhere. So far, its war has been a military debacle and logistical nightmare despite its supply depots proximity to the front. Moreover, Russian troop morale is rock-bottom and its retreat from the Northern front (Kyiv, Chernihiv, Samy) signifies that Russia vastly overestimated its capabilities while grievously underestimating its enemy.
Looming over every Western assessment of what to do and how far to go in Ukraine is the unavoidable fact that Russia is the world’s number two nuclear power. While even Putin is not reckless enough to risk Armageddon, the possibility of him deploying low-yield tactical nukes makes NATO hesitate. Admittedly, bolstering Ukraine’s military capabilities is a calculated risk, but one I believe is worth taking. It looks like Putin is bluffing, trying to scare the West with bluster.
Front-line NATO nations have 56 MIG-29s in their arsenals that they plan on phasing out, “leftovers” from their Warsaw Pact days. This is about the same number that Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union. The U.S. should strongly encourage our allies to send their MIG-29s to Ukraine immediately in order to double its jet fighter fleet. Ukrainian air force pilots and flight mechanics are conversant with MIG-29 fighter jets. There is no learning curve.
Additionally, the U.S. maintains an arsenal of around 4,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The U.S. Navy, which has most of them, plans to phase them out. Instead, many of them should go to Ukraine. The Tomahawk is an accurate long-range missile that would be able to hit targets within Russia. There is every reason for Ukraine to have the capacity to give the Russians a taste of the devastation they have wreaked in Ukraine. To date, the only Ukrainian offensive thrust into Russia has been the blowing up of a fuel depot in Belgorod, 25 miles from the border. Tomahawks would enable Ukraine to do serious damage to Russia’s military supply chains and perhaps give Putin pause.
While understandable that the West is cautious about engaging Russia directly, it would be worth its NATO and EU strategtists’ time to read Andrew Cockburn’s 1983 book, The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine. The author interviewed hundreds of former Soviet military members who had emigrated to the U.S. about their experiences in the Soviet army, navy, air force, marines and rocket forces. He discovered that our Cold War adversary’s military forces were a complete mess, a house of cards, a paper tiger much weaker than anyone thought. That has now been borne out in battle by Russia’s thus far dismal showing in Ukraine.
At the same time, we need to escalate sanctions on the aggressor. That includes Western Europe ceasing to buy Russian oil. Europe gets about 25 percent of its oil from Russia. However, cutting off Russian oil imports would have little effect on Europe because both the U.S., OPEC and other producers could make up the difference.
Gas is a different matter. Europe’s dependence on Russian gas is much greater and its ability to secure alternative supplies limited. Substituting U.S. gas, for example, would require both parties—the U.S. and Europe—to build new liquefied natural gas terminals, a multi-year undertaking.
Furthermore, the U.S. and EU should immediately sever all diplomatic relations with Russia and expel its diplomats (many of whom are spies masquerading as foreign service officers). This should also include the entire Russian United Nations delegation. Three possible justifications under international law exist for expelling UN diplomats: (1) for violating UN agreements, such as warring with another member state; (2) for national security reasons; and (3) for self-defense. Justifications (2) and (3) apply because Russia’s illegal action threatens NATO.
Finally, almost 5,000 Russian students are enrolled in U.S. universities and another estimated 50,000 in EU institutions. They should all be expelled and deported. While this may seem a harsh measure, the circumstances require that all Western ties with Russia be terminated. No exceptions.
April 16, 2022