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War in Europe: A New Reality!

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By Guest Blogger & WACCT Member- Vaira Paegle.

Vaira is a Fellow for Democracy and Development, Center for National Policy and a former member of Parliament, Republic of Latvia.

 

During August, the world remembers a series of momentous events that destroyed empires, changed borders and eventually offered a new paradigm for resolving international conflicts. It has been 100 years since the beginning of “the war to end all wars” – World War I. On August 23, the 75th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact reminds us of the dangers of not confronting aggression at its inception. It is also the day, 25 years ago, when two million Balts held hands over 600 kilometers in a manifestation for freedom and independence, an event that culminated in the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9 ,1989 and, eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union. A divided Europe, sentenced for almost fifty years to the trauma of inhuman totalitarian control, was at last able to proclaim itself whole, free and at peace.

Tragically, as we observe these events, war is being waged on the European continent once again – by Ukraine, on behalf of the rest of Europe against a clear and present danger – Vladimir Putin and his Russia.

Countless books have been written about how war came to Europe in 1914 as well as 1939. In 1938, Winston Churchill, in a book called “While England Slept”, warned of the lack of Britain’s military preparedness to face Hitler’s drive to re-establish German power, and criticized the carelessness and good nature of the British for allowing “the wicked to reason”.

Nevertheless, now, as before, Western leader are wondering how it happened, that Putin invaded and annexed Crimea, and is waging a well-armed, new- age proxy war in Eastern Ukraine, planned and incrementally executed in full view of G-8 meetings and the Sochi Olympic Games, where Western leaders readily acknowledged Putin as an indispensable strategic partner for resolving emerging security challenges.

Just as before World War II, the signs of Putin’s “wicked” intentions have been there for all to see, from Putin publicly grieving the break-up of the Soviet Union, to relentlessly pursuing autocratic measures to limit human rights in Russia, as well as building a propaganda machine that would serve to assure him popular support at home while losing credibility and respect abroad.

Marsha Gessen, who wrote about the unlikely rise of Putin, stated that, after the year 2000, “he ceased being the democratic reformer of Berezovsky’s invention, and became the hoodlum turned iron handed ruler.”

Further proof of Putin’s real intentions came in 2008, when, on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians, he invaded not only the break-away territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also Georgia itself, before France brokered a cease fire. To this day, Russia continues to occupy sovereign Georgian territory. Calls for the West to answer Russian aggression fell on deaf ears.

For Putin, re-establishing authority in the post-Soviet space is manifest destiny, as is containing the West in Russia. For the US and EU, engaging Russia – the 21st Century form of appeasement – has been the policy of choice, at least, until the invasion and annexation of Crimea. The problem is not that the West pushed Russia into a corner by not recognizing her national interests, but that Western leaders are still waiting to develop an effective response to Putin’s aggressive pursuit of the Russian national interest.

As the war wages on in Ukraine, there are calls to stop Putin, without anyone clearly defining what that really means.

First of all, Western leaders must face the new reality of who Putin really is – an autocrat with dangerously fascist leanings, adept at duping the West with switch and bait tactics. Rather than being stopped by reluctantly imposed sanctions, Putin continues to propagate bold faced lies, daily mocking Western leaders and the international order they uphold.

The new reality also requires Western leaders to acknowledge that all options, including military ones, are on the table when dealing with international lawbreakers such as Putin. It means providing military assistance, in the form of armaments and military expertise to Ukraine, and with her consent, deploying NATO troops on the ground to secure Ukraine’s border from incursion by Russian military forces and equipment, as well as the disarming of the separatist militants.

The new reality requires the establishment of permanent NATO bases in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – countries most vulnerable to Russia’s threats.

Finally, the new reality requires Western leaders to develop a new and comprehensive security and foreign policy, at the heart of which is the recognition that the international order, unilaterally destroyed by Putin, must be reconstructed and reenergized if devastating conflicts of the magnitude of World War I and II are to be avoided

 

Vaira Paegle
Fellow for Democracy and Development, Center for National Policy
Former Member of Parliament, Republic of Latvia

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