American and European stock markets have been jumpy for weeks as they contemplate possible armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Inside Ukraine, certainly, Kiev's forces have been pushing back separatists supported by Moscow , and they've been surprisingly successful in the eyes of many, perhaps including Moscow, and have thus increased fears of a more direct Russian intervention. But while rumors of clashes last week contributed to the latest burst of market volatility, evidence of actual hostilities between national armies is scarce.
Ironically, while Western capital markets remain attentive to Ukraine's future, President
The stakes remain extraordinarily high for the United States, Russia and Europe. Ukraine's size, potential economic strength and strategic location make it a big prize for Russian President
Despite the attention received by Putin's apparent propaganda gambit of an "aid convoy" for Ukraine, and the speculation about whether the trucks were actually ferrying weapons to the separatists, Russia's Plan A is not to acquire more Ukrainian territory by force. Instead, Putin wants Kiev's government to be compliant with Russian interests and demands, to not drift too far from Moscow economically or politically.
Despite the subsequent
But just because Putin isn't interested in formally acquiring more territory, it doesn't mean he isn't arming, financing and probably directing the pro-Russia separatists. His aim is to raise the specter of partition but not to actually precipitate it unless, in his view, it becomes the only feasible way to protect Russia's frontier interests. Putin must know that if he seizes more territory, the rump Ukraine would inevitably join
So why did Putin annex Crimea? It certainly didn't solve his Ukraine problem, because it altered Ukraine's electoral balance to Russia's disadvantage. On the other hand, it was hugely popular in Russia, thus strengthening Putin at home. Unfortunately, the West's pathetically inadequate response to Crimea's annexation undoubtedly convinced Putin that, if it came to that, he could get away with hiving off more Ukrainian territory, at an acceptably low cost, even if that represents a less-attractive Plan B.
Although the hour is very late, the U.S. still has time to respond unequivocally, staking out a position of strength. Dismembering Ukraine against its wishes is unacceptable. Washington should supply Kiev with weapons and other assistance, while also reviving President
By so doing, the U.S. would eliminate the zone of ambiguity between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia that Putin is exploiting, even if Obama's flaccid leadership has tragically lost Crimea for good. Precisely by establishing the kind of effective deterrence that has convinced Russia not to use military force against NATO since its creation, we can prevent future outbreaks of Russian aggressiveness, as yet unanswered in today's crisis, elsewhere along its borders.
And there is more than just Russia to consider. China, making territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, nuclear-weapons proliferators like North Korea and Iran, regional troublemakers like Venezuela, and terrorists and their state sponsors worldwide all see the same pattern. A weak America does not lead to a more peaceful world, but to exactly the opposite.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.