It is useless to talk about Europe taking any steps to counter Russian ambitions. For the British and French, Eastern Europe is too far away, and the problems of Russian aggrandizement too insignificant for those powers to take any steps that might have any impact on Vladimir Putin and his crew of former KGB thugs. In the case of the Germans, the situation is even more dismal. Much of Germany’s elite across the political spectrum and professions is in the hands of Putin’s narrative, driven by a belief that somehow the Russians have achieved a civilization of far greater depth than that represented by the American way. In the largest sense, this explains the widespread acceptance by those who should have known better, that the Ukrainian uprising in January represented a fascist attempt to overthrow a legitimate and relatively popular government.
Matters are quite different in Eastern Europe. The Poles and Baltic states have suffered for centuries under the heels of Russian oppression. They have had no difficulty in recognizing the Russian moves against the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine for what they represent—a serious attempt to recreate the old Russian Empire. Here the United States possesses the ability to use its power to stabilize what could prove to be a dangerous instability. The presence of one or two combat brigades with an establishment equivalent to the brigade present on the Korean Peninsula would go far to presenting the Russians with a serious deterrent to further mischief, particularly in the Baltic region. There, the presence of substantial minorities—nearly 40 percent in Estonia—offers Putin significant opportunities for further mischief. Yet, Putin does confront the fears of the Russian people that they might find themselves involved in a major war. In the case of Poland and the Baltic states, the stationing of American ground forces in Poland would represent a significant deterrent, given those fears.