Well, why not? The only reaction to Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea was a series of personal hand slaps and being called a relic of the 20th century, which isn’t exactly a stinging rebuke. American intelligence has finally come to the conclusion that massing troops and armor on a border actually is a pretty good sign that both will be used, and soon:
A new classified intelligence assessment concludes it is more likely than previously thought that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine, CNN has learned.
Two administration officials described the assessment but declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information.
The officials emphasized that nothing is certain, but there have been several worrying signs in the past three to four days.
“This has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be,” one official said.
The buildup is seen to be reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both numbers of units and their capabilities.
Technically, Russia still belongs to the G-8 for now, although Moscow isn’t getting to host this year’s summit and won’t be invited to attend it. Much of that reaction is in anticipation of the move into eastern Ukraine anyway. It’s possible that the West will react with much more strength in terms of sanctions and diplomatic isolation in the wake of a full-fledged invasion, but nothing in the painfully slow and incremental response to Crimea gives Putin to worry much about it.
Speaking of painfully slow and not even incremental, European countries aren’t exactly taking the threat of Russian aggression seriously — even now. The EU member states still plan on cutting defense spending as part of their effort to deal with debt crises on the continent:
Military spending across Europe fell dramatically after the Cold War, then ramped up for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the five years since the global financial crisis, it has been cut sharply again — even as Russia’s defense spending has surged by more than 30 percent.
More European cuts are on the way, even as leaders hurl a daily dose of tough rhetoric toward Moscow,
That has frustrated Washington policymakers, who have long agitated for Europe to pay its fair share for security on a continent that, until last month, had looked remarkably tranquil but now faces its biggest crisis since the Cold War.
Speaking in Brussels, Obama chided fellow NATO members for not contributing to the collective defense.
“The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn’t free, and we’ve got to be willing to pay for the assets, the personnel, the training to make sure we have a credible NATO force and an effective deterrent force,” Obama said in a news conference at the Council of the European Union.
Only a handful of countries other than the United States met NATO’s target last year of spending at least two percent of gross domestic product on defense. Even stalwart members of the alliance have sharply reduced spending in the past five years, with Germany down by four percent, Britain off by nine and Italy slashing nearly a quarter of its defense budget, according to figures compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Diminished military spending in Europe has contributed to a deep unease among some of the continent’s smallest and weakest nations, which happen to be on the front lines should Russia decide that it’s not content to add Crimea, and wants to go for more.
Conservatives here in the US have heaped plenty of blame on Barack Obama for his lack of leadership and foreign-policy naïveté, much of it deserved. However, it’s difficult to lead a group that seems so determined not to wake up at all. Obama gave a good speech this week in Europe attempted to sound the alarm and to get NATO nations to take its defense posture seriously, but clearly little else than Russian tanks driving into Poland or maybe the Baltics will rouse Europe from its stupor.
At some point, the nations in eastern Europe will start asking themselves whether the Western alliance is worth the effort, and start looking for the best deal they can with Vladimir Putin and Moscow. That’s how international power politics work, whether the US and western Europe wants to admit it or not. Talking about how weak Putin is won’t stop him from overrunning Ukraine, possibly rolling all the way up to Moldova and Transdniester.