Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperialism has already brought inter-state warfare back to Europe for the first time since World War II. Its likely continuation threatens the existence of Ukraine, but is also the first traditional military test of the NATO alliance in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Western responses to Russia’s unprovoked and illegal aggressions in Georgia and Ukraine have been inadequate.
Putin has annexed Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea to Russia in clear contravention of international law, and is continuing offensive operations, directly and by proxy, to seize eastern and southern Ukraine as well. Yet the West has done little except to impose economic sanctions on Russia. It has sent no meaningful military assistance to Ukraine, Georgia, or the Baltic States, and it has not even provided the economic assistance to Ukraine that might allow Kiev to try to defend itself.
Ukraine faces a difficult winter because Russia controls its energy flow. The West could have acted aggressively to provide alternate sources of natural gas to offset those Putin cut off. It should still do so, but it is too late to affect the course of this winter. The challenge has become more explicitly military as Russian mechanized forces supporting separatist troops (equipped, trained, and helped by Russian troops) are moving to consolidate control over key cities in Ukraine.
The West should provide training and lethal military assistance to Ukraine at once to help defend against this continued threat. It should, moreover, deploy significant additional military forces to the Baltic States and Poland in order to deter Russian aggression against those NATO allies. Port calls, presidential visits, and training rotations of a few hundred troops are not enough. Putin is unlikely in the short term to attack when doing so would bring him directly into conflict with American and Western European troops. But he is probing weaknesses in the alliance and finding many. It is past time to make clear where the red lines really are.