Dec. 5-It's easy to have missed this, what with the pandemic and inflation and infrastructure and a string of verdicts in racially tinged trials, but there is a potential war between NATO and Russia developing.
That's kind of a big deal.
Ukraine was once part of the now dissolved Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has never tried to hide his desire to rebuild the Soviet empire, and Ukraine is key to that ambition. He has already annexed the Crimean peninsula (a status the United States does not recognize) and he bankrolled and supported a "separatist" movement that has stripped a swatch of eastern Ukraine from the control of the Kyiv government.
In October Putin started massing troops on the border, and U.S. intelligence believes this is a different movement than past ones; for one thing, much of the activity came at night in an apparent attempt to conceal it.
On Tuesday, at a meeting of NATO's foreign ministers in Latvia, the alliance's secretary general said NATO must prepare for a possible invasion. Last week, Ukraine's president publicly warned that Moscow was plotting a coup.
This may all prove to be another in Putin's series of mind games with the West. But there is no doubt that he covets Ukraine - preferably annexed to Russia, but at the very least as a puppet state akin to Belarus.
Russia has for centuries insisted on a buffer zone in eastern Europe, putting physical distance between it and such western powers as Germany and France. It irks Putin that Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states are now NATO members; he declared this week that NATO troops and armaments in Ukraine would be a "red line" Moscow cannot tolerate. In his view, Europe is creeping ever closer to the Russian motherland.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, although it wants to be, so NATO (and by extension the U.S.) is not obligated to come to its defense. But NATO has repeatedly said it is committed to defending Ukraine's sovereignty, and an independent, west-oriented Ukraine is anathema to Putin.
Would NATO intervene militarily if Putin invades Ukraine? We doubt it. But the United States and its allies must make it clear to Moscow that such a move would come at a very heavy price - and that message has to have enough behind it to be credible.