Leadership: Ukraine As A NATO Partner

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May 3, 2022: Slovakia agreed to donate its Russian made S300 air defense systems to Ukraine because other NATO members agreed to send Slovakia Patriot air defense systems, and 2,100 troops to operate them and maintain/upgrade Slovakian defenses against Russian attack. Slovakia borders Ukraine and Russia has threatened NATO members Poland, Romania and Slovakia because they border Ukraine and are supplying Ukraine with military aid as well as free passage for all aid into Ukraine. These NATO neighbors also serve as the first host for millions of Ukrainian refugees from the fighting. Other NATO members (Bulgaria and Greece) also have S300 systems and may be willing to undertake a similar deal. This would involve NATO as a whole paying for the Patriot systems, which improve the protection of all NATO nations from Russian attack.

Although Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, NATO nations are acting like it is. This is especially true when it comes to cooperation among NATO members to get Ukraine the military aid it needs. Ukraine and East European NATO members all agree that mutual defense is the best way to deal with the Russian threat.

East European nations joined NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Soviet-backed communist government in Eastern Europe two years earlier. The new East Europe members saw NATO as an alliance still committed to mutual protection, especially against threats like Russia. Many of the original NATO members were dubious of that until Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 with the intention of absorbing Ukraine into a new Russian Empire. Russia had its own delusions, the most dangerous one being that NATO was dedicated to destroying Russia and not just mutual defense. Russia missed that point that NATO members are democracies and a majority of voters in NATO nations are never going to vote for a war of conquest.

Because Ukraine is not yet a NATO member, aid from NATO nations cannot include combat forces. Everything else is acceptable, which includes sending Ukrainian troops to NATO countries for training and NATO military personnel to Ukraine to carry out training and other specialist tasks. Ukraine sends damaged equipment and seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians to neighboring NATO states for repairs, and the latter for medical care that Russian attacks on Ukrainian hospitals makes difficult.

Post-Soviet Russia was a democracy that is now run by Vladimir Putin, a self-appointed president-for-life who still has to convince the majority of Russians that his Ukrainian Operation is not a war but an effort to save Ukraine from NATO and the West in general. Putin enacted a law that makes it a crime to call the Ukrainian Operation an invasion or a war. He had already revived state control of the mass media to ensure most Russians are exposed to nothing but his version of reality. Other interpretations are literally a crime and punishable by imprisonment. Putin was a junior KGB officer when the Soviet Union collapsed and admits he never got over that tragedy, as he describes it.

One thing Putin has not been able to revive is the Soviet-era ability to compel large numbers of men to serve in the military and combat. This was one of the Soviet-era practices that Russians will not tolerate reviving. The reason is simple; World War II killed about 18 percent of the population, most of them civilians but also about a quarter of all military-age males. Westerners have a hard time appreciating the long-term impact of these World War II losses on Russians. These losses were so bad that their extent was kept secret until the collapse of the Soviet Union opened the Soviet archives for a while. Details of the true World War II human losses were widely publicized inside Russia and some of the books were translated into English and other foreign languages.

World War II Russian leader Josef Stalin boasted that he could compel Russian soldiers to tolerate heavy losses to achieve goals. During World War II it was noted that in the Red Army it took a very brave man to be a coward. Those who did not fight could be killed on the spot by officers. Even with that motivation, there were 19,000 Russian soldiers executed for such cowardice during the Stalingrad campaign.

Since 1991 efforts to maintain conscription have been under constant attack as most potential conscripts and their families view conscription as an unnecessary evil that justifies widespread draft evasion. Putin has not been able to convince Russians that Russia is engaged in a life-or-death struggle similar to World War II. While Putin can silence most open dissent, he cannot motivate current troops or potential recruits and conscripts to cooperate.

In contrast Ukrainians see the Russian aggression as a threat to Ukrainian independence and freedoms. The Russians are invaders. Not exactly Nazis because the World War II German military was far more capable than the current Russian force. The Ukrainians are not operating as irregulars or partisans but as a better armed, organized and led military force. The Ukrainians rapidly incorporated civilian volunteers into this army. The Putin advisors who understand this have been unable to convince their boss of this reality and many of these advisors have resigned or been fired. Putin’s solution is to threaten the use of nuclear weapons, a practice even the Soviet-era leaders were deathly afraid of. Several NATO nations have nukes and all agree that if they tolerate surrendering territory because of nuclear threats, an aggressor can keep going. For many East European nations that means Russian conquest and becoming a part of a new Russian empire.

Proposals to achieve a negotiated peace do not inspire much confidence because Russia has agreed to such deals since the 1990s and then ignored the terms when they were ready to make another move.

What it comes down to is that if the Russians insist on behaving like ruthless aggressors, then a mutual defense alliance like NATO has to do what it was organized to do, even if its most recent member is not officially a member. Until 2014 Ukrainians and NATO were willing to trust Russia and most Ukrainians saw no reason to join NATO. After 2014 that changed and since early 2022 Ukraine has been treated as a NATO member whose survival is necessary for NATO to survive. When first created in the 1950s NATO accepted that the use of nuclear weapons was a possibility because the Russians had nukes but were never threatening their use as aggressively as Putin.

Given the current situation, the Russians are going to lose unless Putin can convince Russians that such a loss would be catastrophic for Russia. A growing number of Russians see their economic problems getting worse the longer Russians are fighting in Ukraine. The outcome of this war is certain, the extent of the losses is not and one man has the ability to make it all stop instantly, or literally blow up. The outcome of this is not just of interest to NATO and Russia but to the rest of the world as well. The economic sanctions imposed on Russia have had a worldwide impact and caused fundamental economic changes in many countries. The war in Ukraine has had a global impact and provides a useful reality check for many politicians and business leaders.

 


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