During the last year millions of Ukrainians have been displaced from their country, tens of thousands of innocent civilians, children, women and men, have been killed and numerous cities in Ukraine have been razed. Nothing like this has happened in Europe since Hitler in the 40s.
Europe and the US previously vowed that they would not allow this sort of carnage to happen in Europe again - yet here we are!
The Russian threat was never taken as seriously as it should have been. As a result many policy mistakes were made by western democracies that served to embolden Putin to believe NATO and the US were weak and would not respond to Russian aggression in a firm and categorical manner.
Sadly, the western democracies always believed that increased trade and improved economic conditions would change a dictator’s inner instincts. Wrong. History has shown that there is no changing or appeasing dictators like Hitler or Putin.
Sadly, there is but one solution. The question is whether the western democracies will have the resolve and intestinal fortitude to put an end to Putin.
Russian imperialism from 1949 until today
NATO was formed in 1949 to protect Europe from the new threat that emerged after WWll - the growing Russian imperialist threat to freedom and democracy.
Notwithstanding NATO, the Russian communist regime controlled Eastern Europe with an iron fist for some fifty years and destroyed generations of freedom loving people across Eastern Europe. The Russian communists supported other communist countries around the world and spread their doctrine of fear, misery and poverty.
Notwithstanding the fall of the Iron Curtain in December of 1989 not all formerly communist countries managed to escape the communist misery with North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua being the best examples of the countries that still suffer communist ills.
Additionally, many countries around the world suffer from Russian disinformation, propaganda and efforts to re-subjugate them to a new form of Russian imperialism. From Europe to Syria to Cuba to South and Central America to Africa the new Russian imperialism is undermining democracy, freedom and economic growth and prosperity.
The Russian peril has largely been ignored so far and not taken as seriously as it should have been by most. Former President Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign scoffed at Mitt Romney when Romney identified Russia as one of the greatest threats to freedom and democracy.
None of the European countries, other than the Baltic States, Poland and a few Eastern European countries appreciated the growing Russian peril. Russian propaganda, disinformation and dubious financial investments, if not outright payoffs, has made Europe, led principally by Germany and France, embark on disastrous energy and political policies.
How Europe became hostage to Russian gas
Many energy sources, such as coal, oil and nuclear, other than Russian oil and gas, have been abandoned by the Europeans at the strident urging of environmental NGOs, many of whom are backed by Russian funds.
Gerhard Schroder, the former chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005, an outspoken ally of Putin’s, became a lobbyist for various Russian companies and involved in the leadership of Rosneft, Nord Stream and Gazprom, where he became chairman. Gazprom is Russia’s biggest gas producer and distributor. Schroder supports Russia in the war in Ukraine and was forced to resign from his Russian company positions only after intense political pressure in Germany and after the German Bundestag stripped him of all of his benefits as a former chancellor.
Much of Europe became hostage to Russian oil and gas. Russia created many new oligarchs within and without with its new found financial influence and dependence on its oil and gas. Gas pipelines transporting Russian gas traverse Europe from the north, like Nordstream, and from the south through Turkey and Greece like Turkstream to supply the European energy thirst at prices and conditions set by Moscow.
European energy conversion to renewable green energy, although a step in the right direction, is nowhere substantial enough, nor in many cases the appropriate solution to replace hydrocarbon energy sources.
Oil and gas are essential not only as energy sources for production of certain items such as steel, but are necessary for the production of, and part of, virtually everything we use in our day to day lives, from clothing to plastics to the fertilizer used to grow our food and all the other myriad of items we use.
The new Axis of Evil: Moscow-Beijing-Teheran
The war in Ukraine is not just a war, but an existential contest, a test of wills, between the current day axis of evil, Moscow - Beijing - Teheran and their lesser allies, and western democracies.
There have been a variety of policy failures prior to 2020 that have encouraged the Axis of Evil to continue on its dictatorial path.
In December 1994, after Ukraine became independent, the Budapest Memorandum was signed after intense pressure from the Clinton Administration and the payment of some $2 billion by the US. The Budapest Memorandum provided that Ukraine acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and it either destroy or give up its nuclear weapons to Russia. As part of the agreement the US, the UK and Russia gave assurances of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Belarus and Kazakhstan signed virtually identical agreements.
The first major challenge to the Budapest Memorandum came in early 2014, although Russian false flag and hybrid incursions into Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus started before that.
In February and March 2014 Russia invaded and wrongfully annexed Crimea. The response from the US and the UK, which had assured the border integrity of Ukraine was tepid. Humanitarian aid was sent and sanctions, with more holes than Swiss cheese, were imposed. Russia suffered little and learned very quickly how to successfully navigate the sanctions with its Axis of Evil partners and other countries that just wanted to benefit from Russian business.
During 2013 until the middle of 2015 the US and the major European powers were also involved with the negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA. During this period various sanctions against Iran were lifted or modified in Iran’s favor and Iranian funds previously frozen were returned in return for what many claim were Iranian empty promises. This further tepid response by the US and its allies to a global existential threat further encouraged Russian aggression.
War is the consequence, not the cause of rising energy prices
At the end of 2020 the US was the largest energy producer in the world. It also had the capacity to continue growing clean gas and oil production to keep up with the increased global energy demand of a post-Covid world. Significantly, at this time US pollution emissions were far better than Paris accord guidelines by virtue of the use of more natural gas.
However, in early 2021 the Biden administration essentially stopped all pipeline construction in the US, limited exploration for oil and gas on federal lands, stopped expansion of oil refineries and passed many regulations that impeded energy production. As a fairly quick consequence energy prices rose and inflationary pressures grew dramatically.
Oil and gas prices now are more than double and inflation rates in the US and Europe are over 6% with some European countries over 10% with some countries around the world are seeing stunning rates of over 50%.
The rates of inflation around the world is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, global concerns. It all started with the unnecessary increase in the cost of oil and gas due to limited US production.
Many have said the war in Ukraine is the cause of the rise in energy costs. To the contrary, the war is a consequence of higher energy costs which led Putin to believe he could blackmail the European Union, NATO and the US into again abandoning Ukraine as they did with the invasion of Crimea in 2014, by limiting oil and gas supplies.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan encouraged Russia
In August of 2021 the US and its allies completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The withdrawal received many criticisms from US allies and from within the US not just for its policy, but also for its implementation.
In the final days and hours of the withdrawal many Afghans and US citizens were left behind to find their own way out of Afghanistan in the face of advancing Taliban forces. Additionally, it was reported that over $80 billion of US munitions, arms, military vehicles, tanks and aircraft of various descriptions were abandoned.
As a result of the cutoff by US forces to the Afghan defense forces of air support, intelligence and military support the Afghan military collapsed and the Taliban took over Afghanistan. This messy abandonment of Afghanistan further encouraged Russian action.
In September of 2014 at the NATO summit in Newport, Wales the NATO countries pledged to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and at least 20% of that amount going to new armaments.
Sadly, again ignoring the growing Russian threat only a handful of NATO members are meeting their pledge - Greece, the Baltic States, the UK, the US, Poland and Romania. The other major NATO members have never met the 2% pledge and Germany has never even come close.
This gross abdication of responsibility and misapprehension of the Russian peril accounts for the current unprepared state of NATO to repel the one threat they were created to protect against - that coming from Russian imperialist desires! It also encouraged Russian aggression.
Words and promises don't win wars
So here we are in March 2023. There is a lot of talk of supporting Ukraine until the end, but the end is not defined - is it when Russia removes all of its troops from Ukraine or some other peace agreement is reached? Many world leaders followed Boris Johnson’s surprise visit to Kyiv and visited President Zelensky in Kyiv. President Biden recently visited Kyiv. President Biden’s unmitigated support, military and financial, for Ukraine, Moldova and NATO members against Russian aggression sent a strong message.
However, words and financial pledges do not win wars. There is currently a global munitions and military equipment shortage. The US and its NATO partners are still on peacetime production schedules. The money pledged has not been converted to additional military production. Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, have both publicly called on NATO members to increase munition and military equipment production.
The majority of munitions and military equipment given Ukraine so far come from excess stockpiles. The US and other NATO members have not given Ukraine the weapons it needs to win the war - it has given Ukraine only the weapons needed to survive and keep fighting for its freedom. To win Ukraine needs state of the art weapons to strike Russian supply lines and strategic targets whether in Ukraine or Russia.
Ukraine must have the sophisticated tools to effectively drive the Russians out of Ukraine and protect its civilian population from death and injury from Russian drones, cruise missiles and bombs. Incredibly, NATO has failed to provide airplanes or air cover, like no fly zones, to protect the innocent civilians of Ukraine from being slaughtered. Hospitals, schools, churches and railroad centers and other civilian meeting places have been the deliberate targets of the Russian criminals. The slaughter continues on a daily basis as world leaders continue to wring their hands and wonder what if!
The nuclear threat should not dictate the policy of the free world
Western sanctions although seemingly quite onerous have been insufficient. The Russian economy has only decreased by 2%. Russia has created a $700 billion reserve fund and has learned how to evade sanctions with the help of the Axis of Evil and other greedy countries that ignore sanctions and do business with the Russians.
Russian propaganda, disinformation and financial support to various countries and individuals is working. More and more people are questioning the war and the expenditure of so much money to help a country and its people remain free. Many have advanced the fear of nuclear war as a reason to let Putin have his way.
The Russian nuclear threat argument although a serious concern should not dictate the policy of the free world and allowed to be used as a blackmail tool. If it is countenanced as such the free world is lost as it will always be blackmailed by a criminal like Putin and Xi Jinping and the Mullahs of Iran.
This is the time for decisive action by the US. President Kennedy did it during the Cuban missile crisis and the US must do it now.
The NATO alliance and the European Union is already showing cracks in its allegedly united front. Austria and Hungary are openly making statements supporting the Russians and engaging in other pro Russian activities. The French, Germans and others are already trying to put forth peace discussions that would appease Putin and allow him to save face by keeping some parts of Ukraine.
The Europeans tried appeasement with Hitler and the inevitable still happened and millions perished. Let us learn from history and try to save lives.
It is time to deliver the military equipment needed by Ukraine to win
Russian disinformation, propaganda and energy blackmail has already had destabilizing effects in Europe. Moscow’s proxies have influenced some countries accession to Schengen, have blocked Ukraine access to transport grain and other materials through the Black Sea and recently created a false controversy in dredging a Danube river delta canal in Ukraine to expedite access to the Black Sea.
Russian propaganda and influence must be shutdown and each European country, especially the NATO members must each unequivocally condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and state that such invasion will not stand today, tomorrow or ever. However, to date few countries have made such statements. Many also fail to appreciate that there is no moral equivalent between Russia led by the criminal Putin and western democracies.
We must put US and NATO members military production lines on an emergency footing and provide Ukraine with the tools it needs to win. China, Iran and other evil doers are watching our actions and will take advantage if they perceive weakness or vacillation.
I encourage President Biden not to only say the right things as he has been doing with Ukraine, but follow up with swift action and deliver the military equipment needed by Ukraine to win. The perception of US and NATO weakness emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine - now it is time to show resolve with action, not just words or financial pledges, to end this war and preserve western democracy and freedom.
It is not that we can not afford to help Ukraine win, we can not afford to let Ukraine lose.
Adrian Zuckerman is the former US Ambassador to Romania.
* The opinions of the authors invited to publish in this column do not necessarily represent the point of view of Newsweek Romania.