DC DISPATCH-I had a conversation with a former Republican Senior military officer yesterday about allegations that Trump was looking into withdrawing the United States from NATO.
He told me that NATO was a relic from the past and that China posed a more serious threat to the United States overall. He believes that with over half of the old Warsaw Pact countries now members in NATO, the Russian threat is largely gone, and that Russia isn't going to invade Western Europe. While always tough to counter a U.S. decorated member of the military, I couldn't disagree more. Russia is still a major threat and NATO is needed now more than ever as a barrier to Russian aggression.
A trusted source within the Intelligence Community also suggested that I look at the utility of the NATO alliance as outdated and a financial burden on the United States. With several members failing to meet the 2% of GDP metric, this may be a valid criticism, but I see this alliance as priceless. I believe the West should make counteracting Putin's agenda at every step a priority. Russia doesn't need to put its own troops on the ground in the Baltic region because it can outsource its black ops to an oligarch and encourage sedition between ethnic groups, inviting civil war. As Putin meddles with our partnerships, allies, and elections, we should increase sanctions on Russia, not lift them, so that its economy shrinks further. This is the only language Putin understands.
Apart from corrupting an American president, Putin's top foreign policy directive is to bring Ukraine back into the fold. As one of the most potent sources of agriculture, natural resources, and political talent, it enrages Putin that Ukraine is a part of NATO. Ukraine is like an ex-wife who has moved on to a better, wealthier partner and the vengeful Putin will never accept that partner as legitimate.
The installation of Viktor Yanukovych, though useful for four years, ended up in a disastrous coup and Yanukovvich fleeing the country for a haven in Russia. To compound this embarrassment, Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, acted as a virtual co-president of the Ukraine, but even so, Putin was unable to bring Ukraine back into the fold. Notwithstanding the cyberattacks and grid disruptions, Putin’s plan has so far been a failure, but he has not given up.
If anything, Putin has doubled his resolve and is becoming more aggressive. He has now resorted to capturing Ukrainian sailors at sea in neutral waters and imprisoning them in Russia on trumped up charges. The NATO reaction has been lukewarm, and Trump has been virtually silent. We can expect Putin to move on Ukraine, especially now that Trump's campaign to pull out of NATO has been unmasked. Just this morning, the Russian foreign minister stated that Ukraine may no longer be a country.
Without the protection of NATO and the President of the United States vocalizing his intentions to withdraw from it, Putin knows he is getting closer to his vision of a Pan Russian State. No current member of NATO has the military might to challenge him when he decides to invade, except the United States. While Germany may be an economic might, it still has no army to come to the defense of Ukraine. And as Ukraine falls, so do the countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
The ultimate cartographer, Putin has the vision and knows that it starts with Ukraine, is followed by the U.S. withdrawing from NATO, and leads to the invasion of the Baltics. I don't think Putin will invade Western Europe. That can't happen until he captures Ukraine and the Baltics. But make no mistake, the climate is ripe for Putin to start with western countries, overwhelmed with internal unrest-Paris Burning, London Falling and Washington Closed for Business.
The West is engrossed by the surge of nationalism, volatile capital markets, and political uncertainty both here and abroad so why shouldn’t Putin test the limits of Western resolve. With the Secretary Mnuchin’s pathetic attempt to dilute sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, Trump is taking the temperature of congressional oversight. Easing sanctions would undermine the mandate of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is tasked with developing and imposing costs on individuals, companies, and countries that threaten U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives.
The U.S. Senate has acted to halt Mnuchin’s move on sanctions. They should now act to impose stronger sanctions and ensure that obstacles are in place to prevent Trump’s efforts to withdraw the U.S. from NATO (the Graham-Menendez bill). Only by turning the economic screws on Russia, can the U.S. and the Western Alliance hope to undermine Putin’s geographic encroachment.
(Sara Corcoran is publisher of the National Courts Monitor and writes for CityWatch, Daily Koz, and other news outlets.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.