Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has softened his rhetoric on Ukraine, it should not be interpreted as backing down, says former Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West.
"The bottom line, the most important thing, is we cannot try to portray Putin in a light that we want to understand. We have to see him for who he is. We have to understand, really, what is his long-term strategic goal.
"If you understand his long-term strategic goal, don't pay attention to the little things, the information that he's putting out there. Understand the moves that he's making," West told Newsmax TV's John Bachman on "America's Forum" Tuesday.
"It's just the beginning, because Russia without Ukraine is just a small little country, but Russia with Ukraine is truly going back to what Putin wants to restore. He said that the most disappointing thing for him in the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. This without a doubt is not going to be the end. There's going to be an expansion."
West represented Florida's 22nd Congressional District from 2011 to 2013, serving on the House Armed Services Committee and the Small Business Committee.
He said he has his doubts on the effectiveness of imposing U.S. economic sanctions on Russia, explaining, "First of all, you have to understand if you are going to go into these economic sanctions by yourself. I don't know if Europe is going to be really ready to do something like this because of all those natural gas pipelines and the energy that they draw from Russia and definitely the pipelines that come out of Ukraine."
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West, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, advocated a more robust response instead.
"Let's start looking at expanding NATO to some of these other countries, especially the Baltic countries, which are really going to be concerned. We can start looking at some military-to-military exercises. We can bring in small units into some other countries to show that we are looking at a power projection, a force presence that is there," he said.
"And maybe even John Kerry can talk to the leadership, the interim government there in Ukraine, and ask 'Would you like to have some small Special Forces-type of units to work with your soldiers with training and things of that nature?' You've got to show some type of seriousness and not just this thing about economic sanctions."
West went on to criticize the Obama administration's reluctance to use force when it comes to legitimate U.S. interests.
"Well, it's a huge lack of assertiveness, really, when you go back to looking at what the Special Forces mission is, called FID, Foreign Internal Defense. I mean, that's a viable training mission that they have. This is not being provocative. This is something where we say, 'hey, we're looking to have this type of security agreement,'" he argued.
"Right now, when you hear a president continue to talk about 'we're examining, we're looking, we're assessing, we're analyzing, and if Congress really wants to do something, Congress is going to do this.' You're the commander in chief, you're the president of the United States of America, and you're the one that we're looking to take action."
Asked about the apparent rapprochement between Russia and China, with the Kremlin saying Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the situation in Ukraine by telephone and their positions are close, West replied, "It's very simple. In the Middle East, they have a simple maxim of, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If Russia and China can come together against the United States of America to point that we're extremely weak, they're going to come together. What you now need to think about is, will China expand into the South China Sea?"
As for reports that a colonel from the Russian army reached out to a colonel of the Ukrainian army and urged him to defect, West said, "This is psychological operations. This is the whole 'be a part of what we're doing, be a part of the resurgence of Mother Russia, our great empire, and we can come back together and have pride and you can have greater opportunities and maybe even greater opportunities to command and control larger units.'"
"This whole thing — we saw it happen back with Adolf Hitler with the Sudetenland, we're going to go ahead and protect ethnic Germans. The same thing happened with Putin in 2008. We're going to go in and protect ethnic Russians in Georgia. This is part of that strategic design. This has been a well laid-out plan. Military to military, those are the type of things you're going to see happening," he said.
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