Geopolitical Mistake: US Troops to Poland
Yesterday, Secretary John Kerry and Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov signed an agreement to resolve the Ukrainian Crisis, through de-escalation of the conflict. But today, an announcement from the Pentagon demonstrated U.S. willingness to send troops to Poland and Estonia. In a press conference, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak claimed the move to be a necessary response to the still tense situation in Eastern Europe. “The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a US presence in Europe anymore. Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.” Similar rhetoric was used in Lithuania, a former Soviet Republic that quickly joined NATO upon their independence twenty years ago. President Dalia Grybauskaitė issued a statement, after meetingU.S. Senator John McCain, that “Russia’s actions in Ukraine pose a threat to the security system of… Europe.”
The message being posed by Washington, is to deter Russia from breaking the Geneva Declaration through military show of force. No statement has been made yet that U.S. troops will be deployed to the Baltic. However, the arrival of U.S. troops in Poland maybe seen as expanding the current theatre of conflict. Sure, Putin still has made statements about Novorussiya or New Russia. However, Russian forces massed on the Ukrainian border have not made moves to cross into Eastern Ukraine. While rebels still hold out, the situation is calmer. A shift in stance by Washington could create a larger foreign policy crisis throughout Eastern Europe, and bring greater danger to our NATO allies, including Poland and Lithuania.
A Ukrainian Issue is Now about NATO
Remember that a resurgent Russia has not taken lightly to NATO expansion in the former Soviet Republics. The Georgian Intervention was in part caused by the Bush policy of creating a Missile Defense Shield (MDS) in Eastern Europe. The problems in Ukraine are partially caused by the West’s interest for Ukraine to join the European Community. Russia is also fault for trying make Ukraine a satellite state. Putin’s insistence on incorporating the Russian speaking sections of the country has placed a road block in the path to further negotiation, along with the refusal of protestors in Donetsk to disarm. A local show of military force by the US, such as a naval exercise in Black Sea, would be considered a reasonable response to show the U.S. is not afraid, if military action was needed.
That can hardly still be the case if Russia responds to U.S. troop deployments by moving its own armies to the Baltic or along the Belorussian border with Belarus. It is now an issue of NATO and Russia’s role in policing and protecting those states in Eastern Europe. The geographical scope of the conflict changes, bringing us closer to igniting regional conflicts that were originally thought to happen in a cold war setting in central Europe. It is essentially restarting the Cold War over a local issue that should stay local.
The economic costs are also high. An unfortunate reality for Europe is that most of its energy supplies (oil and natural gas) comes from Russia via Eastern Europe. While war is extreme and hopefully farther off, any escalation that includes NATO could precipitate Russia’s retaliation via cutting off energy. By “flipping the switch” on energy supplies, the European economies will be strained. Attach that to potential demands from Moscow for the withdrawal of troops, the credibility of NATO is at risk when dealing with potential Russian aggression.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissenger is arguably the foremost expert on US foreign policy alive today, especially on Russia. When asked in the Washington Post his thoughts on Ukraine, Kissenger has this to say: “Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations… [and] should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people.” As part of that, he urged the United States and the West needs to develop an effective policy on Putin, rather than demonizing him. The US, throughout the Cold War and now, has never been able to connect Russian history and mindset to the actions of its leaders. this in turn leads to turbulent politics and even reliance on our own allies (who are equally belligerent and ignorant) to deal with Russia. Now, Warsaw, Vilnius and Kiev are framing the issue in their terms, threatening the US’ ability to stay true to its own interests.
“Foreign Policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissenger. Moving troops to Poland and Lithuania, at the insistence of our allies, is not the priority. Rather, it is detracting from the main goal of diffusing the Ukrainian Crisis and encouraging reconciliation between parties. It is avoiding the Novorossiya Policy challenge issued by Moscow and setting up a new Cold War scenario. The former Soviet Republics of Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova (even the Baltic states) are the 21st century “Cordon Sanitaire” that keeps Russia divided from the West. That is the direction the current policies are taking the US and our allies.
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