Russia and its leader need to be dealt with through strength, not weakness, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview with the German publication Der Spiegel
this week, and it will ultimately depend on President Vladimir Putin whether there will be war or peace.
"I am glad that it appears the parties have arrived at another cease-fire agreement," said Panetta, referring to an agreement reached on Thursday
. "But my fear is that, like the last one, it will only be temporary unless the West is willing to enforce it with both economic and military support to the Ukrainians.
"It's pretty obvious that his intent is to try to spread Russian influence, particularly over the former Soviet Union. He is clearly trying to prevent the countries of the former Soviet Union from joining NATO and working with the European Union."
And while there was a time when Putin was open for negotiations, "he has now turned more aggressive, and that's very dangerous because what he's doing is clearly planting the seeds of a new Cold War," Panetta continued.
It's up to the United States and other Western countries to understand Putin's intentions and "do everything possible to try to make clear to him that he is not going to get a blank check in terms of what he decides to do.
"They understand strength, and if they feel that their opponents are weak, they will take advantage of it. He feels he's gotten away with it so far, and that all he has to do is basically play the same game. It's a cat and mouse game of sorts."
Putin and Russia have lied about their activities in Ukraine, he insisted, and have "clearly violated the cease-fire agreements that have been made."
When it comes to delivering arms to Ukraine, Panetta insisted that it's "very important to make clear that NATO will be fully supported with military aid, whatever support they need, and that they should have a presence in those countries neighboring Russia to make very clear that NATO will draw up a line together on any further aggression."
Panetta said he would also continue to have military exercises and put missile defense back on the table, because "they don't like missile defense."
He also said he would have provided arms to Ukraine early to send Russia a message that "they will have a higher price to pay" if the aggressions continue.
However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many Germans don't want arms delivered to Ukraine, pointed out Der Spiegel, but Panetta said that does not make Merkel naive.
"But I also think it's important for her to recognize that if she gets nowhere with her diplomatic efforts then there really is no other alternative but to take stronger steps," said Panetta. "Soft power hasn't worked so far, and I think when you are dealing with somebody like Putin, the only thing he understands is hard power."
The West has also missed opportunities when it comes to Russia, admitted Panetta, including missing the opportunity to have a continuing dialogue on diplomatic and military issues.
Further, NATO's eastern expansion also threatened Putin, said Panetta, and "we should have kind of leaned more towards bringing them into the family of nations as opposed to keeping them isolated and feeling like we were ganging up on them because that's the Russian mentality, that everybody is ganging up on them."
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