As Russia's relations with the U.S. and Europe have deteriorated following Moscow's aggression in Ukraine, fly-bys of European neighbors by Russian aircraft have taken on new urgency. How should the West think about these provocative flights in light of understanding Russia's nuclear threat?
The ruble's fragility presents an opportunity for American and European diplomats to offer Putin a deal that de-escalates the war in Ukraine, provides Russia sanctions relief, and revitalizes Moscow's economic ties with the West.
Few expect that Moscow will cede Crimea or end its opposition to NATO expansion anytime soon. But Russia can still begin to reverse its strategic decline. Expanding opportunities for Russia's people, reforming the economy, and improving relations with neighbors are the way forward.
Germany and America are leading Western policy in addressing the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The basic strategy is to support Ukraine and pressure Moscow to halt aggression, while leaving the door open to diplomacy. Sustaining Western unity is essential, but may not be easy to achieve.
“Frozen conflicts” describe places where fighting took place and has come to an end, yet no overall political solution, such as a peace treaty, has been reached. Ukraine is likely to host such conflicts for some time. Georgia's experience offers lessons for Ukraine.
Russia faces major challenges, some self-inflicted. Freedoms vital to the creation of a modern civil society are declining. Dominant, state-controlled energy and aerospace companies are losing ground, weakening a strained economy.
The conflict in Ukraine calls for capable diplomacy, open channels of communication, and clear strategies. At least the latter two appear to be absent, but they can be developed in time. Ending the conflict, however, calls for clear mutual intent to solve problems, build trust, and move forward.
Moscow may have overreached, as it appears ill-prepared to come up with the necessary funds to cover Crimea-related costs. Infrastructure improvements, development aid, government operations, and other costs will be a multi-billion drain — as much as $4.5 billion per year — on Russia's already strained budget.
If Putin sought advice about what NATO is thinking, his Russian Western Front Military commander might say that given its current political indecisiveness and lack of military readiness, NATO lacks the capability to launch a credible intervention, but they should watch for changes in the alliance posture.
Despite uncertainty about Russian military plans and the outcome of Ukrainian operations against pro-Russian separatists, it's not too soon to consider how to lay the foundations for a negotiated solution. If Moscow were unwilling to reach a fair settlement, the West would have options to increase its leverage.
An international initiative that does not appear to emanate from NATO or the EU could help bring Russia to the table, in part by accepting that Moscow, too, has a role. An international peacekeeping force could open the way for a negotiated end to the conflict.
President Obama can take action now to ensure the September NATO summit in Wales underscores transatlantic resolve and capability in the face of Russian aggression and provide the strong, decisive U.S. leadership NATO needs in this time of crisis.
Despite the latest sanctions on Russia, the European Union will need to do more to achieve its objectives in Ukraine. In addition to much tougher economic sanctions, NATO could help Ukrainians by providing military assistance, weapons, training, and intelligence, and deploying air and naval forces closer to the conflict.
Putin's stubbornness on Ukraine has attracted international scorn, threatened Russia's already shaky economy, and focused NATO on countering potential Russian aggression. It's also sparked anti-Russian and pro-NATO sentiments in Central and Eastern Europe. The tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 only intensifies these sentiments.
It's relatively rare that commercial aircraft are targeted with weapons built primarily to attack military aircraft, but there are a range of potential threats from such weapons. Given that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was reportedly at 33,000 feet when contact was lost, it seems impossible that the attack could have occurred using a shoulder-fired missile.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was reportedly shot down yesterday near the Russia-Ukraine border. But like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished in March, what happened to MH17 is shrouded in mystery.
Because the United States has relied so heavily on force, we tend to equate it with power. Some results can only be achieved through force, but coercion can be an effective substitute. A superpower, by definition, has many options to have its way without always needing to send troops into battle—a smart superpower will use those options.
If the attention to the challenge posed by Russia dwindles as the immediate crisis in Ukraine fades out of the headlines, the problem will only get worse and more costly. A $1 billion investment will not solve the problem itself, but it's an important step in the right direction.