Wesley K. Clark
This is a new escalation, but Ukrainians have been under constant hybrid attack from Russia since 2014. The United States itself has been under growing hybrid attacks for several years, including election interference and cyberattacks. If this is indeed the new normal, and even if Russia doesn’t attack, the United States must adapt our policies – economic, diplomatic and military – to face this new reality.
The Russian military buildup has brought President Vladimir Putin clear diplomatic gains as Western leaders line up to speak with him in Moscow. Russian diplomats proclaim a willingness to negotiate, but Russian demands on NATO and Ukraine violate the precepts of international law and fundamental NATO commitments. Western offers to negotiate matters of strategic interest, like missile deployments and military exercises, have been dismissed, while Russia fishes for cracks in allied unity.
How to pressure Russia
Our positions have been made clear: There is allied unity and resolve that NATO will not give Russia a veto over its policies, including the right to consider new nations for membership, nor will it roll back its invitation to Ukraine or its military deployments in Eastern Europe.
While the West should never turn down the opportunity to communicate with Russia, it is time to stop the frantic rush to engage Moscow. The diplomatic burden must now be put on Russia in conversations at all levels, including a possible summit meeting with President Joe Biden, and in international forums like the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The message should be that Russia must de-escalate as a sign of good faith.
To underscore the diplomatic burden, deter Russian actions and penalize Russia for creating this crisis, the time is approaching to implement certain economic measures, if Russia does not de-escalate. Russian activities are already imposing severe economic and financial hardships on Ukraine.
The Biden administration along with the European Union have pledged nearly $3 billion of new economic assistance to Ukraine. But this is short-term relief, and the costs to Ukraine, and the world economy as Ukrainian exports of food and manufacturing goods are blocked, will rise substantially.
Russian leaders continue to say there is no intent to invade. The military exercises as originally scheduled were to be completed last Sunday. Enough is enough. If there is not immediate Russian de-escalation, the United States and our allies should begin ratcheting up sanctions against Russian oligarchs and financial institutions until Russia does de-escalate, both in troop deployments as well naval activities blocking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
Strengthen NATO to deter aggression
Finally, NATO must be prepared to recognize the new reality of a more adversarial Russia. This will require new force deployments, logistics and emergency procedures, and deepening cooperation in the nonmilitary spheres. Temporary, rotating deployments of NATO forces to the Baltic states are being increased now.
Because the Baltics are the likely next targets, NATO must move to make such forward stationing permanent. Designations of activities such as “air policing” should be replaced by a shift to “air defense.” A NATO composite airwing with the most advanced technologies should be forward-stationed in Romania, where it can cover the Black Sea and deter any spillover of threats against Ukraine. Interoperable logistics and routes of ground reinforcement must be strengthened, with reserves periodically mobilized and trained in supporting NATO movements to the east.
The U.S. Army contingent in Europe needs to be strengthened with additional armored brigades and their associated supporting arms and headquarters. Germany should remain the center of all NATO defense preparations in Europe, but the alliance must both protect its Eastern members and take advantage of the strategic depth their membership provides. Under the Cold War NATO rules, the export of certain technologies to the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations was prohibited. These rules should be revisited, updated and reimposed – already the West has contributed far too much to Putin’s formidable military machine.
Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, and especially natural gas, deserves special mention. Despite years of experience with Russia using or threatening to use energy as a weapon in its relations with Europe, European dependence on Russian natural gas has continued to grow.
During the Cold War, NATO built and operated a complex pipeline system to provide fuel to its forces. In a similar vein, NATO could today commence planning for an allied public-private partnership to construct additional gasification facilities in America and Canada, and regasification terminals in Europe, which could eliminate European dependence on Russian gas.
This could be an important component of an allied infrastructure program to free Europe from Russian coercion, stimulate European economic development and at the same time provide the means to reduce the carbon footprint from the coal-burning power plants in Europe.
We are today in a new, complex world. President Putin has helped all of us recognize it. Let Putin have no further illusions about American or European weakness. The United States and Europe have it fully within their capabilities to respond appropriately to safeguard European security, strengthen transatlantic linkages, rebuild the American economy and at the same time deal with the issues of an ascending and increasingly assertive China.
We and our allies should welcome the challenge, together.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark is a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.