The million-dollar question for Western heads of state right now is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is satisfied with annexing Crimea or whether that was just the first step in assembling a Soviet-like empire.
"Putin at the moment is probably thinking that he did something rather brilliant at a low cost," Douglas Feith, director of the Center for National Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute and former undersecretary of defense for policy for President George W. Bush, told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
"That is likely to embolden him to try to do more things which he thinks would be beneficial to him or which he would not have to pay a large cost," Feith said Monday.
If Feith is correct, the bonds of the NATO pact could be tested in the coming months and the United States could be forced to take military action. Putin annexed Crimea under the guise of returning ethnic Russians to Russian rule; countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania also have significant populations of ethnic Russians. Unlike Ukraine, however, those nations are NATO members.
"Under the terms of [the] NATO treaty, an attack on one member is considered an attack [on] all," Feith said. "So, there is an obligation on the part of all the NATO countries to defend a NATO country that gets attacked; it's an extremely serious obligation."
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Putin could be emboldened by what Feith characterized as a weak response from the U.S. and its allies to Russia's actions in Crimea, and Feith said Putin may now be determining whether Russia would face a similarly soft response if it moved to take territory from other neighbors.
"That's part of the reason that Putin might think, if he believes that he could attack one of the NATO countries and get away with it, he would believe that he could thereby destroy NATO without war," Feith said. "If he believes that, I think it increases the chances that he would do something like that."
The challenge for Western leaders and NATO allies now is to credibly convince Putin that any incursions into NATO member countries would lead to war, he said.
"That's a really frightening prospect. Nobody wants to have a war," Feith said. And yet, Feith said it is important not to underestimate Putin's intentions.
"I think Putin is interested in reassembling the Russian and Soviet Empire," he said.
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