Moscow’s military takeover of Crimea, its continuing threat to Ukraine, and its disdainful response to token Western sanctions all bode poorly for other, now-independent former Soviet republics, and for European peace and security generally. Moreover, as Russia successfully dismembers and re-annexes portions of a neighboring country on northern Europe’s great plain, the lessons are clear: The forces of global stability, led by the United States, are weakening, and prospects for the predators are rising.
While the West’s responses to Russia’s aggressiveness in Ukraine thus far have been weak and ineffectual, there are many more-robust alternatives available, such as significantly expanding economic sanctions and repositioning North Atlantic Treaty Organization military assets to Poland and the Baltic republics. Raising the economic costs of the Crimea annexation to levels far beyond the current pinprick sanctions could dissuade Moscow from undertaking further land grabs in Ukraine or other former Soviet territories. Increased NATO military capabilities in states abutting Russia would dramatically increase the prospective cost of hostile behavior toward these countries, and deter Vladimir Putin from acting elsewhere as he did, with impunity, in Ukraine. The United States in particular could do far more to demonstrate both strength and resolve in opposing Moscow’s aggression. At press time, pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine were locked in a standoff with the Ukrainian government, with little response from the president besides an expression of “grave concern.”
This article appears in the May 5, 2014 edition of National Review. It is available here for National Review subsribers.