President Barack Obama's former ambassador to Moscow says the key to preventing Vladimir Putin from advancing his imperialistic ambitions further into Europe is by strengthening the states bordering Russia.
Michael A. McFaul, who spent five years as an ambassador and special assistant to the president at the National Security Council, warned in an op-ed piece in Sunday's New York Times
that the "Kremlin has both the intention and capacity to undermine governments," using fear of its military, as well as financial and energy resources as leverage.
But, McFaul said, unlike past conflicts with communist and fascist Russia, Putinism appeals to few outside the country's borders, and his autocracy can be overcome through calculated policy steps.
The first steps are insuring that Ukraine succeeds "as a democracy, a market economy and a state," and other exposed border states like Moldova and Georgia receive "urgent bolstering."
"Those states firmly on our side must be assured and protected," McFaul wrote. "NATO has moved quickly already, but these efforts must be sustained through greater placement of military hardware in the front-line states, more training and integration of forces, and new efforts to reduce NATO countries' dependence on Russian energy."
Obama has ruled out the intervention of American military
in this dispute between Russia and Ukraine, saying nobody wants to "trigger an actual war with Russia."
While McFaul acknowledged that Russia's military power is "a shadow of Soviet might" and that "new global conflict is unlikely," it is still potent enough
to "threaten Russian border states."
"Europeans must bolster their defenses, and Western governments and companies must stop assisting Russia's military modernization," McFaul urged.
According to McFaul, Putin's Russia "has no real allies" and needs to remain that way. Making sure that China keeps its distance "is especially important, as is fostering the independence of states in Central Asia and the Caucasus."
Other measures suggested by McFaul include excluding Russia from the Group of 8, sanctioning of "propagandists, state-owned enterprises, Kremlin-tied bankers that act as instruments of Mr. Putin's coercive power," and supporting people and companies "seeking to take assets out of Russia or emigrate."
McFaul said the task at hand will not be easy, primarily because the United States no longer operates from a position of moral authority, as it did battling Communism in the 20th century. He also said that while, after two wars, the United States has understandably tried to disengage from world affairs, we "cannot swing too far."
"As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, 'What about Iraq?'" McFaul wrote. "Some current practices of American democracy also do not inspire observers abroad. To win this new conflict, we must restore the United States as a model."
McFaul added that he does not know how long this will take, but he remains confident that "a sober, realistic strategy … will help to shorten the tragic era we just entered."
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