On Point: Vilnius Summit Shattered Putin's Anti-NATO Strategy -- But Left Ukrainian NATO Membership on Hold


by Austin Bay
July 15, 2023

Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine directly targets the Kiev government, but dismantling NATO has been another energizing mania.

NATO's Vilnius, Lithuania, summit confirms Putin has lost his NATO war.

Putin despises the alliance. NATO defeated his beloved Soviet Union (a Russian Empire hawking utopian Marxist pap). Further insult: NATO defeated the Russian Empire without a macho major war. For the better part of five decades the alliance demonstrated the united will of diverse nations to morally, militarily and economically resist political intimidation, threatened invasion and threatened nuclear annihilation by Moscow's assorted tyrants.

Putin's anti-NATO propaganda campaigns confirm his obsession. Here's the typical pattern: Russian operatives and proxies make false but sensational accusations such as "NATO is preparing to attack Russia" or "NATO is militarizing the Black Sea." Pro-Russian protesters appear before cameras. Digital media propagate the lies.

Putin bet his hate narratives would seed suspicion and division in the alliance. He believed dividing NATO would open the whole of Eastern Europe to Russian domination.

Call it Cold War KGB agitprop recast. One oft-repeated line fed to ethnic Russians: Ukrainian forces are "bloodthirsty thugs." This repeats 1975-era Soviet propaganda, which described American forces in West Germany as gangsters and imperialist occupiers.

Lies by tyrants have consequences. In Ukraine Putin's obsessions and lies have led to the violent slaughter of tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians.

Ukraine was the second critical piece in Putin's 21st century Russian empire. RUBK, I dubbed it in a column written in 2004 -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan (pronounced "rubik," like the puzzle Rubik's Cube.) Putin controls Russia. Belarus (B) and Kazakhstan (K) were (and are) political basket cases vulnerable to intimidation.

Yes, in 2004 it was clear, by word and deed, Putin saw the RUBK as a Russian superpower restored.

However, Ukraine presented a problem. It's a big country with a large population and looks west, to Poland and the European Union. And Ukraine wanted to join NATO.

Ukraine's November 2004 Orange Revolution frustrated Putin's covert bid to use bribery and fomented chaos to install a pro-Russian Ukrainian puppet government.

At a NATO meeting in October 2013 the alliance rejected Georgia's and Ukraine's bids for full NATO membership. Both nations needed political, economic and judicial reform before they could join the alliance and benefit from Article 5.

Article 5 of NATO's charter -- it expresses united will. It states that "an armed attack against one or more of them... shall be considered an attack against them all." If an aggressor attacks a NATO member's territory or its forces operating in NATO territory, each member will take "action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain" NATO security.

In February 2014 Putin decided to act, before Ukraine had Article 5 protection. Russian "green men" attacked in Crimea. In March 2014 Putin annexed Crimea to Russia. Later that spring, Russian proxies seized territory in eastern Ukraine.

Invading Ukraine violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed Ukraine's territorial integrity in exchange for Ukrainian denuclearization. Would Russia have attacked a Ukraine armed with nuclear weapons? We will never know.

However, 2014's slow invasion didn't lead to submission. 2022's all-out conventional assault didn't either. Public opinion in Sweden and Finland swung from neutrality -- in Sweden's case tacky socialist virtue-signaling neutrality -- to publicly pro-NATO.

In April 2023 Finland joined NATO. The big news just prior to the Vilnius summit was Turkey had decided to support Sweden's bid.

On July 10 Turkey's mercurial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Turkey would approve Sweden's bid to join NATO -- if Turkey can join the EU. Quite a quid pro quo. Erdogan got his headlines. By the time Erdogan arrived in Lithuania Turkish approval was confirmed. Sweden will be NATO's 32nd member nation.

The summit, however, denied Ukraine admission, despite the support of several NATO members. Turkey supports Ukraine's admission. Naysayers have a case. Admitting a nation fighting a war on its territory against an invader risks escalation.

However, the U.S. and other key allies promise military, economic and intelligence security commitments similar to those given Taiwan and Israel.

Putin gambles he can outlast Western support for Ukraine. Looks like another lousy bet.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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