The U.S. put 8,500 troops on alert Monday with the possibility of deploying them to shore up NATO defenses in Eastern Europe, and allies are sending ships and fighter jets. The West is finally getting more serious about deterring Russian aggression, and let’s hope it’s not too late for Ukraine.
President Biden is considering the troop deployment, along with ships and aircraft, to NATO allies like Poland and the Baltic states that are closest to the Russian threat. Go ahead and send them, sir. Biden’s strategy of restraint, in the hope of not provoking Vladimir Putin, hasn’t worked. Putin has been adding to his own deployment of troops on three different fronts on Ukraine’s borders.
Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO, and the U.S. troops wouldn’t deploy there. But their arrival in Eastern Europe would send a message that the U.S. would get involved militarily if Putin makes a play for the Baltic states or otherwise moves against NATO nations. The Russian navy is planning live-fire exercises off the coast of Ireland, which isn’t a NATO member.
The troop news also helps to counter last week’s mixed messages from the White House and Europe about deterring Putin. The Russian’s goal is to conquer, or at least dominate, Ukraine while dividing the West over what the U.S. has called “massive consequences” in response to an invasion.
Putin has reason to think that might work. Germany’s navy chief resigned last week after he sent a message of appeasement to Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron chose the worst moment to say Europe should negotiate with Russia separately from the U.S. on Ukraine. Biden slipped up as well with his press-conference remark that a mere “minor incursion” might divide the West.
The centerpiece of Biden’s foreign policy platform was reviving America’s alliances, but countries don’t have allies for the sake of having allies. The President has invested in cultivating Berlin but has little to show for it. He can make clear that warming ties are subject to Germany’s cooperation on Ukraine. That means pushing the German government to support more serious sanctions and to allow third countries to export weapons to Ukraine.
The U.S. doesn’t need to fight in Ukraine, but it can do more to help that democratic nation defend itself. That means sending antitank and antiaircraft missiles, as well as assistance with air defense, maritime security and intelligence.
Denying Moscow control over Ukraine is in the U.S. national interest. A Russia fortified by Ukrainian resources would be a more formidable adversary and a bigger threat to NATO. One of the great results from the end of the Cold War was the breakup of the Soviet empire. Putin wants to reassemble it into a sphere of influence that would enhance his standing at home and increase his influence abroad.
The consequences will extend far beyond Ukraine as other American adversaries try to assert regional dominance. Putin could look to the Baltics next, while Iran and China also have malign aspirations. Authoritarians are seldom content merely with controlling their own people.
The U.S. and West need to be prudent about when to push back against regional aggressors, but helping Ukraine stay out of Moscow’s maw is crucial for preventing a larger threat to European peace.