KEELEY: Is Ukraine The First Domino To Fall Before Moscow?


Gregory Keeley National security analyst
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The Russian military has openly attacked Ukraine. Moscow’s simmering, and until now “deniable war is set to ignite into a new phase of deadly conflict.

The Russian attack on the Ukraine navy is the most significant escalation in the nearly five years since the invasion of Crimea. Russia has been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014, unobtrusively extending the conflict to the Donbas. The conflict has killed more than ten-thousand people and caused nearly two-million Ukrainians to flee their homes.

Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine is Putin’s paramount “foreign policy” achievement — rebuilding the “Russian Empire” with new ports, waterways and stolen lands — with little international consequence. The Kremlin has been engaged in creeping annexation in the Sea of Azov for years. Now Moscow wants total control of the waters and ports around Crimea.

Russia has made the first thrust into Ukraine proper. There is little doubt the Kremlin’s belligerence will surge. The issue now – how will the U.S. and E.U. respond to Moscow’s aggression?  Based on history, the response will likely be little more than indignant hand wringing. This is simply not acceptable.

Ukraine has almost no naval capability, its land forces, while bolstered recently with Western support, is a scant bulwark against Russian invasion. Ukraine needs help — and Russia needs a stinging rebuke.

A first step: President Trump should immediately cancel a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Members ought to then issue a harsh, unified rebuke of Russia’s actions.

The U.S. and Europe should impose “rogue state” sanctions Russia – using the Iran blueprint. Existing sanctions imposed following the 2014 invasion of Crimea have been largely unsuccessful. Russian financial sector assets should be directly frozen; visas of Russian officials can be revoked; Russian oil should be off limits; Russian flagged ships should be blocked from docking in U.S. and E.U. ports.

This flagrant Russian aggression should result in a surge in military aid to Ukraine. The feckless Obama posture was rolled back by the Trump Administration with a desperately overdue increase in lethal support. However more needs to be done. Western “military advisers,” radar capability, land-based anti-ship missiles, additional patriot batteries and intelligence data must be considered. A U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group’s “gun-boat” diplomacy would prove helpful to keep open the sea-lanes and illustrate U.S. resolve.

There needs to be a synchronized and sophisticated response from both the U.S. and Europe should Russian troops violate, or threaten to cross Ukraine’s land borders. The burgeoning tension has significantly increased the likelihood that Russia will push their offensive course west in an effort to subjugate Ukraine.

A feeble response to the Kremlin would embolden Moscow, inviting further Russian military action. Ukraine may be the current focus of Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s general staff, however Moscow is building its military apparatus along its boundaries — to include not just Ukraine, but Belarus, Moldova, the Baltic states and even Finland. Additionally, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are NATO members, which the U.S. and the alliance are treaty bound to defend.

Ukraine is the first domino on Moscow’s board. A lack of diplomatic and military fortitude will be seen as weakness by Putin. The Kremlin exploited President Obama’s Chamberlain-esque, “peace in our time” foreign policy mercilessly. Eastern Europe and the West are now bearing the brunt of his cravenness. The U.S. must display resolute leadership. Failure to act decisively, and implement an effectual red line, will almost certainly see increased Russian bellicosity against Ukraine, and be the harbinger of a new, deadly phase in the Russia-Ukraine war — the consequence of which may be a significantly broader conflict.

Greg Keeley (@DreadnaughtUSA) is the managing partner of Dreadnaught. A retired Navy lieutenant commander, he is a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Pacific. He served as an adviser to the under secretary of defense intelligence. LCDR Keeley was also senior adviser to the vice chairman of the House Armed Service Committee and to the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.