A New Normalcy or a New Cold War?

Faulty link to original post, please use this to read full text.

Unsolicited Translations

This is a translation of Niklas Wiklund’s (Lieutenant-Commander in the Swedish Armed Forces, aka @Twitt_Skipper) Swedish blogpost on 12 October 2014 Ny normalbild eller ett nytt kallt krig?
James Mashiri‘s Finnish translation was very helpful considering my poor Swedish: Uusi normaalitila vai uusi kylmä sota?

—-

Skipper gives this opening to his post:
The purpose of this text is to be an eye-opener to those who have not yet understood the serious and broad shifts in the security landscape whose main author is Russia. There are many who continue to live in ignorance and look for everlasting peace, even though we are hearing daily reports on events that are connected – directly or in a roundabout way – to the our safety in the northern Europe.

The situation in our neighborhood and the relations between Russia and the West have so fundamentally changed that we must describe this…

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Russia, a military strategic and defence economic view

The Russian Federation Armed Forces are transforming from an army of masses to an army of excellence in the next ten years. After this Russia will develop capabilities to conduct modern warfare with power projection and long range strike capabilities. Russia will fuel this reform with all available economic means as it gives the State the tools needed to secure access to diminishing resources in the next four decades.

A ”little green man.” Photo: Unknown, 2014.

Reformist realism

In the post Cold War timeline up until the Ukraine crisis, I find three periods discernible. Firstly, we have the 90s —— following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and resulting in a defunct Russian state. Call it reformist realism. This period following the end of the Cold War was characterized by a defensive Russian military doctrine aiming only to maintain what was left of Russia and discourage breakaway states from further contributing to the dissolution of the Russian Federation. This Russian realism was backed by the United States and Europe, as the remaining nuclear weapons and nuclear materiel of the Soviet Union were considered a threat in any other than adequate Russian control. The sorry state of Russia resulted in a ”diplomacy first” practice relying heavily on the norms of international justice and the international political system. This increased engagement and involvement with the international community, though at times strained – , was warmly welcomed and supported by the European Union and its member states.

A stable, democratic and thriving Russia is of a crucial significance for lasting peace on the continent.

Swedish Govt Defence Proposal 2000

Russia is striving towards an economic reform and an organized and democratic society […] Russia is seeking its role as an actor in international relations and security policy.

Finnish Govt Security and Defence policy white paper, 2001.

The ”reformist Russia” was welcomed as a player aiming for a diplomatic rôle. In 2002 Nato founded the Nato-Russia council, the European Union engaged in several broad development projects and Finland was happy to facilitate, support and participate without reservations.

Cartoon of a Russian bear with a bottle of vodka sitting at the Nato table
Nato and Russia. The Nato-Russia council was founded in 2002. Cf. Wikipedia

Some states made early foresights and drastic conclusions of the state of current affairs and the foreseeable future. Sweden abandoned conscription in 2009.

Foto av svenska soldater som framrycker över fält i grupp.
Soldater Revinge 2013. Foto: Jorchr – Eget arbete (CC BY-SA 3.0). Källa: Wikipedia.

An invasion, aiming to occupy Sweden, does not seem possible over the next ten years, provided that we have a basic defense capability.

Swedish Govt Defence Proposal 2000

Retake

The next period is what I’d like to call the retake. It begun in 2007 with the fielding of strategic systems with initial operational capability. To understand this retake, its slow pace and mixed political signals, we need to look at the huge budget, maintenance, training and unit production deficit of the functionally corrupt Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Military spending as % of GDP for USA, Russia, France, UK, China and Germany.

The decline in the defence budget was reversed in 2007. By that time years of use, wear, tear and disrepair along with nonexistent maintenance had taken its toll on much of the fielded equipment. The first order of things was to modernize the strategic systems vital to Russia’s ability to deter its enemies. The first budget surge brought investments in the most capable strategic systems, such as strategic aviation, ballistic missile air defence, submarines and surface vessels.

Beginning 2007, Russia took up strategic aviation flights with modernized Cold War airframes, such as the Tu-22M Backfire, the Tu-95 Bear and the Tu-160 Blackjack. In 2009 Russia had modernized much of its amphibious and airborne assault capabilities and demonstrated this in the Zapad 2009 exercise.

The clearest sign of the retake was the Georgian war. In Georgia Russia fielded some new and modernized combat systems, e.g. the mobile theater ballistic missile system 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone).

During the retake, Russia kept an appeasing stance towards the West. In the hubris of Russian democratization, the EU fed money to Russian schools, social and health services and allowed the Russian Federation to focus on building military capabilities.

The acme of this hubris was reached in 2010, when US, UK, Polish and French armed forces’ detachments marched in the Victory Day parade on Red Square with German Chancellor Angela Merkel watching the marchpast beside Russian Federation president Dmitriy Medvedev.

Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2010. Moscow.
Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2010. Moscow.

Today at this solemn parade, the soldiers of Russia, the states of the CIS and the anti-Hitler coalition march together […] Only together can we counter present-day threats. Only as good neighbors can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world and that the lives of future generations will be free and happy.

Dmitryi Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation.

The Georgian War was explained and accepted by many as an anomaly in Russian politics.

Today

2013 was the year of drills and exercises, with the scheduled exercises maintaining capabilities and the snap drills testing the readiness of units on all levels. This current period has been labeled by some as an era of Russian ”revanchism” and ”revisionism.” I will hold a bit before assigning a fitting label.

In July 2013, the president of the Russian Federation ordered a surprise readiness drill that was the largest military exercise in 37 years, involving 160 000 troops from all over Russia on exercise in the Eastern Military District. These Russian snap drills have one chief purpose. It is to verify that the Armed Forces are at the prescribed level of readiness for combat utilization. Russia intends to build and maintain an readily applicable instrument of conventional warfare.

Victory Day Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2014.
Victory Day Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2014.

The Soviet people’s iron will, fearlessness and steadfast courage saved Europe from enslavement.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation

The future

The cost of this military build-up is huge. This year Russia spends almost 65 billion US dollars on defence. The increase from last year is more than 20 percent. While only making up a reasonable less than 4 % of GDP this amounts to over 20 percent of state spending. Another 17 percent is spent on national security and law enforcement, totaling a security spending of 37 %.

The Armed Forces modernization programme totals 723 billion USD in the next ten years. This amount has been increased each year since 2012.

Spending on education, social care and healthcare has fallen.

The Russian purpose of the military power build-up becomes clear when applying a geoeconomic view.In the short and long terms Ukraine is about control, access and trade. This holds true for all CIS states and their neighbours — aligned or non-aligned alike. In the medium-term Russia needs to be able to assert itself in two or more geographically distinct theatres – the West, i.e. Europe and parts of the Middle east – and in the East with China and the United States as opposing players.

As the climate change opens up the Arctic for transit and exploitation, Russia intends to assume control of those lines of communication and natural resources.

These ambitions set the need for an ability to pursue a new type of contacless warfare with drones and networked strike, command and control capabilities. The current modernization programme only enhances ”traditional” conventional capabilities. During the next decade Russia will begin a new cycle of modernization that will be even more costly.

The outlook for the cornerstones of a democratic, safe and secure society – education, social care and healthcare – is grim.

//James


Needless to say, all things expressed above represent my personal views.

Russia and Ukraine: From sanctions to deterrence –– or war

Guest post by Aleksi Roinila. 7 August 2014. (Edited 7 Aug 8.17 pm GMT)

Aleksi RoinilaThe United States and the EU have a chance to stop further escalation in Ukraine and to avoid having to resort to military force themselves further down the line – but only if they act swiftly and resolutely enough. Sanctions that hit the Russian economy will only hinder Putin if they are turned from after-the-fact punishments to an actual deterrence, writes Aleksi Roinila.

Aleksi is a Master of Social Sciences from the University of Tampere and has studied Strategy and Defence at the Finnish National Defence University, International Relations at Aberystwyth University, and served as an analyst with the Finnish Defence Forces in the ISAF and KFOR operations for nearly three years.

Vladimir Putin. Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin. Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Russia is currently preparing the invasion and occupation of Eastern Ukraine. It has stationed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, some of which have for months been equipped with the insignias and markings of Russia’s “peacekeeping forces”. Russia will attempt to justify its invasion of Ukraine by mimicking the precedent set by the Kosovo War of 1999: It will cite the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ukraine – a crisis which it has itself both created and fabricated – pleading the UN Security Council to authorize a “humanitarian” intervention. Once it fails in acquiring a UN mandate, it will invoke the Kosovo precedent and invade anyway, under the guise of “peacekeeping”. The first phase of this operation is already being executed: Russia called the UNSC to an emergency session on Tuesday. The second phase, an open war against Ukrainian armed forces, may begin within hours, days or weeks, depending on the state of Russia’s own political, military and propaganda preparations and the tactical situation on the ground in Ukraine: the Russian separatist army in Eastern Ukraine is on the verge of collapse, and the window of opportunity for Putin to save them is rapidly closing. Given that the humanitarian crisis of Eastern Ukraine – the only available source of any legitimacy for an intervention – is over as soon as the separatists fold, Putin may have to act sooner rather than later.

Contrary to Russia’s best spin-doctoring to claim otherwise, in reality there are no grounds for invoking the Kosovo precedent in Ukraine. Unlike in Kosovo, where Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia tried to violently crush the autonomy of the country’s Albanian-majority province, there is no humanitarian crisis or ethnic conflict in Ukraine apart from the ‘shadow war’ started by none other than Russia itself. And unlike in Kosovo, where the NATO Allied Force and Kosovo Force operations enjoyed broad support from the international community – including from non-NATO members such as Sweden and Finland – no UN member state apart from Russia has yet supported a Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Russia is unfazed by the prospect of inflicting civilian casualties

It is true that Ukrainian civilians have been killed and injured in the crossfire between the separatists and Ukrainian armed forces. The separatists’ resistance stiffened considerably after Russia equipped them with surface-to-air missiles, multiple-rocket launchers and other heavy weaponry. When the Ukrainian forces still kept closing in on the last rebel strongholds, Russia launched artillery strikes across the border on Ukrainian troops. To overcome such resistance the fledgling Ukrainian armed forces have had to resort to heavy weaponry of their own, to include artillery, rocket and air strikes. The Ukrainian armed forces lack the GPS-guided precision munitions that we have become accustomed to seeing in the 21st century wars waged by the United States and its allies; munitions that would allow them to hit targets in or in close proximity to built-up areas with limited collateral damage.

Russia is well aware of this limitation, and so are the separatists, and they do not shy away from using it to their advantage.  Russia is unfazed by the prospect of inflicting civilian casualties even when it is directly responsible for causing them, as was the case with the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 some three weeks ago. If Russia would truly care about the suffering of civilians as its propaganda suggests, it would have withdrawn its support from the separatists immediately after the downing of the MH17, at the very latest. If protection of civilians were a priority, Russia would have found no difficulty cooperating with the OSCE and the Ukrainian government to see peace restored and humanitarian aid delivered to the war zones of Donetsk and Luhansk. Instead, Russia’s reaction has been completely the opposite: Moscow has only increased its materiel and direct armed support to the separatists after the downing of MH17.

Ukraine became a proving ground for [Putin’s] strategy even before the invasion of Crimea.

Russia’s indifference towards civilian casualties should not come as a surprise to anyone, however. Russia’s complete disregard of the fates of Ukrainian civilians is entirely consistent with Russia’s previous wars in Moldova, Chechnya and Georgia, as well as with its ever-increasing violent oppression of its own citizens. With both its ongoing ‘shadow war’ in Eastern Ukraine and its no-holds-barred propaganda campaign, launched since before its invasion of Crimea, Russia has tried to manufacture a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and to foster a conflict between Ukraine’s different language groups. Its aim has likely been from the start to use both to either justify a possible later military intervention, now drawing near, or to create a situation where it can achieve its objectives through negotiations rather than military force: Whichever the method, Russia’s most likely intention is to secure its continued influence over Ukrainian domestic and foreign policy and to force Ukraine to recognize the annexation of Crimea in return for peace in the East.

It is unlikely that Russia would seek to annex the East Ukrainian oblasts into Russia-proper as it did with Crimea. Instead, it likely considers it more beneficial to see the eastern provinces gain a measure of “autonomy” from the central government in Kiev, whether officially or through Russian occupation, thereby ensuring that Eastern Ukraine becomes a Russian vassal in a fashion similar to South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova. Unless Russia can make Ukraine and the Western powers to agree to a formal peace agreement to that effect, it is likely to be content with simply ‘freezing’ the conflict – with or without direct occupation. Any one of these outcomes guarantees that Ukraine cannot function as an independent, sovereign state, and cannot therefore defy Russia’s dominance of its “near abroad” by getting too close with either the European union or NATO.

While a plan to invade Eastern Ukraine may have been on the table from the start, it seems highly likely that Putin nevertheless hoped that his objectives in Ukraine could be met without an open invasion of Ukraine. However, Russia overestimated the willingness of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population to stand up in open revolt to Kiev led by Kremlin’s thugs, while simultaneously underestimating the morale and battle-readiness of the Ukrainian armed forces. Already on the path to defeat several weeks ago, Russia’s “special war” strategy was finally dealt a self-inflicted lethal blow with the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: The separatists can no longer win or even hope to stabilize the situation in Eastern Ukraine without direct and overt Russian intervention. However, despite the separatists’ looming defeat Russia’s objectives in Ukraine haven’t yet escaped its reach.

Having succeeded first in manufacturing a one-part real, one-part imaginary humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and then in convincing its own public at home, as well some portion of the Western audience, that the crisis is not of its own doing, Russia can now invoke both the Kosovo precedent and the UN-approved “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine as a “humanitarian intervention”. In addition to serving its primary geopolitical objectives, the operation will also serve Russia’s domestic, ultra-nationalist and anti-Western propaganda-drive by “saving” the Russian-speaking population of Eastern Ukraine. Putin has made “protecting” the ‘Sudeten Russians’ living beyond the borders of Mother Russia a cornerstone of his expansionist, nationalist ideology, and Ukraine became a proving ground for his strategy even before the invasion of Crimea. Unless the European Union and the United States succeed in stopping Putin with measures strong and clear enough to deter Russia’s aggression, Putin will win a propaganda victory in Ukraine matched only by the victory given to Adolf Hitler with the Münich Agreement of 1938 which, together with the subsequent invasion and occupation of the actual Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, sealed Hitler’s rule at the helm of the Third Reich. After such a victory no economic sanctions will hold Putin back.

The West is left with either accepting the situation, intervening militarily, or a prolonged trade-war

For now, though, the United States and the EU still have a chance to stop further escalation in Ukraine and to avoid having to resort to military force themselves further down the line – but only if they act swiftly and resolutely enough. Sanctions that hit the Russian economy will only hinder Putin if they are turned from after-the-fact punishments to an actual deterrence. Like a nuclear deterrent, an economic deterrent is only effective if its contents are known in advance, their effect is sufficiently immediate and powerful, and they will be triggered automatically should Putin invade Ukraine. To function as an effective deterrent, the sanctions must, if triggered, be so prohibitively expensive for Russia that Putin’s backers cannot even begin to contemplate accepting them.

The EU, struggling with its own economic woes, is understandably wary of enacting sanctions that would be hard-hitting enough to actually act as a deterrent. But both the European and the American leaders must re-learn the vital lesson of the Cold War that a successful deterrence is cheaper than any after-the-fact sanction imposed upon Russia to this date. Sanctions decided upon and enacted only after Russia’s transgressions do nothing to stop further aggression – as they haven’t – but end up being far more expensive to both their target and their source than a successful deterrence.

If the European Union and the United States fail to create a sufficiently strong deterrence against Russia in the next hours or days, the result will very likely be an open invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces. If that happens, Eastern Ukraine and Crimea will fall under a permanent Russian occupation – no amount of sanctions will force Putin to back down from positions already occupied. The West is left with either accepting the situation, intervening militarily, or a prolonged trade-war costly to all sides. A trade-war will not change the situation in Ukraine nor will it make Putin to change course after having just won one of his greatest victories in Ukraine. It would be folly to expect that after seizing his objectives in Ukraine, Putin would simply return to a peaceful and constructive cooperation with the West. Russia’s propaganda war against the West and its liberal values has already become a self-reinforcing phenomenon, requiring Putin to take new action both at home and abroad. Should Russia succeed in Ukraine, one can only guess which country Putin will target next. However, countries in the highest risk category include with certainty at least Moldova, Georgia and Belarus – should anyone rock the boat in the latter, as happened in Ukraine this spring. The threat hangs over all of Russia’s neighbors, however – including the Baltic States and Finland. Russia has already launched preparatory propaganda campaigns against all of them.

//Aleksi Roinila


You can follow Aleksi (@aleroi) on Twitter.

On Ukraine, Russia, and untimely ceasefires

Guest post by Aleksi Roinila. 29 July 2014.

Aleksi RoinilaPutin will not back down unless the West makes the price of further aggression so high that not even his closest supporters are willing to risk paying it, writes Aleksi Roinila, a political science graduate student at the University of Tampere. Aleksi has studied Strategy and Defence at the Finnish National Defence University, International Relations at Aberystwyth University, and served as an analyst with the Finnish Defence Forces in the ISAF and KFOR operations for nearly three years.

"Game changer?"
”Game changer?”

When Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, some hastily predicted that it would be the beginning of the end for both the Russian separatist forces in Ukraine and Putin’s aggressive and adventurous foreign policy against his neighbors. An article on Foreign Policy released a day after the crash predicted that “Putin will almost certainly have to back away from the insurgency”. In the days that followed, however, that development started to seem less and less likely. Instead, the macabre reality is that the murder of 298 civilians over Ukrainian airspace is turning into an unqualified victory for the very people who committed the atrocity.

Like any schoolyard bully, Putin will not stop as long as he keeps getting what he wants

The initial response to the downing of MH17 from both the United States and the European Union was so docile that Russia only proceeded to escalate the conflict by increasing its support to its proxy-soldiers in Eastern Ukraine. This escalation has already reached a point where Russian artillery has started firing across the border on Ukrainian positions. Instead of an immediate show of strong support to Ukraine and demanding Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, the West responded by making tepid suggestions about a ceasefire and demanding an “impartial international investigation”, both of which Russia enthusiastically agreed with. In fact, Russia has been the greatest proponent of both an immediate ceasefire as well as an “investigation” of the MH17 “crash”.

While both demands sound entirely reasonable to any peace-loving and rational human being on the face of it, Russia has a sinister motive for supporting them; They only serve to further Russia’s political and military aims in Ukraine.

Why a ceasefire now would be a bad idea

A ceasefire before the surrender or defeat of the Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine would allow Russia to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and to solidify its de facto control of Eastern Ukraine, permanently dividing Ukraine’s territory. Meanwhile the demands for “a thorough investigation” into the downing of MH17 only lend credibility to Russia’s outrageous propaganda that seeks to muddy the waters around otherwise already well-established facts. While investigating all of the details of the incident is certainly necessary and worthwhile, we should not allow our need for closure to be used as an excuse for stopping Ukraine from restoring its territorial sovereignty or to deflect blame from Russia.

Forcing Ukraine to agree to a cease-fire with the separatists now would condemn East Ukraine to the same fate as Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia before it – to a perpetual limbo of frozen conflict and Russian occupation, with no resolution to the conflict in sight. It would also effectively reward the Russian separatist proxies of Donetsk and Luhansk, and Russia itself, for the murder of nearly 300 civilians aboard the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17; Instead of becoming the disaster for the rebels that some pundits predicted in the immediate aftermath of the downing, it would turn the incident into a decisive victory that saves the rebels from an otherwise inevitable defeat at the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces, all the while saving Putin’s aggressive foreign policy from a humiliating defeat at home.

Hitting Russian state-owned banks does not stop Russian tanks from crossing into Ukraine

A ceasefire would reaffirm any doubters within Putin’s inner circle that Putin’s high-stakes gamble has been a stroke of genius rather than a disaster-in-waiting – just as the Münich treaty of 1938 silenced the doubters of Adolf Hitler after he successfully gambled that neither France nor the UK dare go to war with him over Czechoslovakia. But despite the bloody lessons of the last century, an untimely ceasefire is exactly what Washington and the European powers may yet end up forcing upon Ukraine.

While the new sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and the European Union today have finally revealed a West more willing to act in the face of Putin’s aggression, the West still remains as hesitant as ever to directly confront it in any concrete terms; The sanctions don’t lift a finger to Russia’s gas economy and France is still set to deliver a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship to the Russian Navy. While slowly awakening from its slumber, the West is still paralyzed by the very reasonable fear of further escalation. But while wishing to avoid unnecessary conflict and bloodshed is certainly a highly desirable characteristic in any individual, the leaders of the West have become blind to the cold Machiavellian calculus that Putin is betting all his chips on (although this hasn’t escaped from the European press); He knows he cannot afford, let alone win, a wider war, nor is his military likely to agree to him openly risking one. But as long as the West is more concerned about their short-term economic interest than about long-term stability in Europe, Putin knows he can bluff the West into an agreement on his terms.

A political maskirovka

This may indeed be what Russia has planned all along. It likely isn’t interested in annexing Eastern Ukraine or even seeing the region officially seceding from Ukraine. Rather, it may have instigated the trouble in Ukraine’s East solely to move attention away from its annexation of Crimea, its primary prize, and to subsequently use its ability to “mediate” a cease-fire with the rebels in the East to make Kiev agree to a “compromise” over Crimea. This strategy has already proven wildly successful: No longer is the discussion in Washington or Brussels about returning Crimea to Ukraine and ending the Russian occupation there. No longer are Europe’s leaders arguing that Russia should avoid new sanctions only if it returns Crimea to Ukraine. Instead, with the unrest that Russia has stirred up in eastern Ukraine, Russian control of the Crimean peninsula has become a fait accompli that few in the West dare even question – all of this mere months after Russian forces invaded the peninsula.

Of course, the idea of Europe or the U.S. allowing Russia to act as a “mediator” in a conflict it has itself instigated would be an absurd proposition – but only if it hadn’t already happened before. In Syria, Russia armed Assad’s regime and protected it in the UN Security Council before mediating an ad-hoc disarmament deal between Assad and the United States, all to avoid U.S. military action against Assad’s regime in the wake of his use of chemical weapons against his own people. There, too, Russia achieved everything it wanted: Assad remained in power and could continue his massacre of Syrian civilians unabated, ultimately without even giving up all of his chemical weapons as promised. The only thing the United States got in return for handing Russia its greatest diplomatic victory since the post-Georgian-War “reset” was a less-than-graceful exit from a conflict it really didn’t want to get involved with.

No amount of appeasement will convince Putin to stop

Now, less than a year later, Russia is applying the lessons of Syria in Ukraine, confident that the West will back away from any real confrontation for another empty “peace in our time” proclamation. And while the West will undoubtedly celebrate its Chamberlain moment, having forced a ceasefire on Ukraine, Putin will celebrate victory and plan his next conquest. For it is not only Ukraine that he is interested in – he intends to upend and redefine the political landscape of Europe, all the while waging an all-out ideological war on Western culture, civilization and the paradigm of universal human rights and political freedoms they stand for. Every dictatorship needs enemies. For Putin, it seems, the chosen archenemies are sexual minorities and Western liberalism.

This is no idle observation that has no relevance in the supposedly pragmatist and realist realm of foreign policy. The expansionist, ultranationalist propaganda that Putin has unleashed to control his own people, and to legitimize his war in Ukraine, has severe consequences for his freedom of movement when it comes to negotiating with the West: He can no longer back down in Ukraine without at least a manufactured victory over the West, and he will not back down unless the West makes the price of further aggression so high that not even his closest supporters are willing to risk paying it.

What to expect

So far the threat of economic sanctions has done nothing to force Putin to back down. If anything, West’s initial passivity and half-hearted threats after the MH17 incident only encouraged him to double down on Ukraine while he still held the initiative. He interpreted the impotent threats of European and American heads-of-state not as a sign of their resolve to resist Russian expansionism, but as a sign of their collective weakness – and quite rightly so. Today’s new sanctions, while for the first time something that Putin cannot simply laugh off, are not enough to change his perception. Hitting Russian state-owned banks does not stop Russian tanks from crossing into Ukraine, and Putin has plenty of time to finish his campaign in Ukraine before the Russian economy starts to feel the hurt of the sanctions. Viewed from the Kremlin, the West still hasn’t committed to anything that could actually stop Russia from realizing its goals in Ukraine and elsewhere. And, like any schoolyard bully, Putin will not stop as long as he keeps getting what he wants.

With the use of military force making such a dramatic return to the European continent after a long hiatus, everyone is understandably wary of needlessly escalating the conflict. And with the centennial of the start of the Great War upon us, this year may make it tempting to draw poetic and fearful parallels between the war in Ukraine and the summer of 1914. No one wants a rerun of the guns of August. But we should also bear in mind that only two decades after the faithful events of 1914 it was endless appeasement of another aggressive dictator — not a firm resolve to resist him — that brought about even greater suffering and death.

What we are witnessing in Ukraine is not a re-enactment of the events that led to the Great War a hundred years ago. If the appeasement continues, however, this year may well prove to be the replay of a much more faithful year in European history – that of 1938. Though Putin’s position at Russia’s helm may already seem strong, his very survival as the New Czar may depend on which path the West chooses to take in Ukraine. Putin’s path is already set, but whether his ambitions are ultimately emboldened or thwarted, Ukraine is for him what the Münich Agreement and the Anschluss were for his ideological predecessor. No amount of appeasement will convince Putin to stop.

//Aleksi Roinila


You can follow Aleksi (@aleroi) on Twitter.