This is World War III

Vladimir Putin has unleashed World War III. Conquering Ukraine is just his first step. Putin wants to destroy NATO and recreate the Soviet Empire, with its string of puppet regimes in Eastern Europe. Putin is driven by a deep hatred of the West and the United States. Putin believes that he is man of destiny, chosen to restore Russia to its former imperial glory.

This is 1939, and Ukraine is Poland. But this time, the Russians are the fascist invaders, and this time, the messianic, power-mad dictator has nuclear weapons at his disposal.

Americans have to understand that our country must go on a war footing. We must increase our military spending, and significantly. This is not another Cold War; the shooting has already started. We are in a hot war.

This is no time to worry about the price of gas. Instead, Americans should ponder these questions:

· How can the United States prevent Putin from defeating Ukraine?

· What can the US do to protect our NATO allies from a Russian attack?

· Would Putin use nuclear weapons to pacify Ukraine, if he met sustained resistance?

· Would Putin use his nuclear threats to cow NATO countries like Poland and the Baltics into submission?

· If the West does not stop Putin, would China invade Taiwan…and trigger a world-wide conflict?

This column will offer some thoughts on the first four questions, which are interrelated. But don’t forget the fifth one; we’ll tackle that issue in a subsequent column.

Sanctions will squeeze Russia badly but won’t stop Putin

The Biden Administration has done a brilliant job of mobilizing its allies to inflict massive, remarkably harsh sanctions on Russia. If those sanctions are sustained, they could cripple Russia’s economy. In the long-term, Putin might even fall from power, if the economy craters and Russia suffers heavy casualties in Ukraine.

But in the meantime, the sanctions won’t stop Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine. The Russian has been obsessed about regaining control of the country for decades — regardless of what Ukrainians think. Like Stalin, Hitler and other psychopaths, Putin does not care if civilian casualties pile up. Putin is prepared to destroy Ukraine to “save” it.

Putin can still fund his war machine

Unless Germany and other European nations stop importing Russian gas and oil — which is highly unlikely — Putin will have ample cash flow to fund his war machine. Last year, Russia generated about $120 billion in revenues from energy exports.

President Biden just banned all imports of Russian oil and gas. The UK will stop importing Russian oil year-end, though it will continue to buy Russian gas. Those are brave moves that will increase the economic pressure on Putin. However, the US and UK could take those steps relatively easily, because those products supply less than 5% of their energy needs.

Meanwhile, Germany depends on Russia for about a third of its oil and its gas. For Italy, the figure is 40%. Russia literally has these countries over a barrel…of oil. Most European nations cannot simply cut off their imports from Russia. It will take them years to reduce their dependence on Russia energy supplies.

Nevertheless, the sanctions might help to discourage Putin from moving directly against NATO members. Assuming Putin remains a rational actor (yes, that is a caveat), he should have realized by now that he has badly miscalculated how the West would react to the invasion.

Kharkiv Governor’s Palace — Getty Images/Anadolu Agency

Ukraine needs help fast

But right now, the US and NATO have to worry about the short-term. Over the last few months, the Biden administration has moved quickly to deliver weapons to Ukraine, but it has to do more. Specifically, the US and its NATO allies should equip Ukraine with more drones and anti-aircraft missiles. However, that is becoming more difficult. Since Russia controls the skies over Ukraine, the US will have to send weapons by train or truck, which is more cumbersome and slower than air transport.

The US should also quickly send large numbers of troops to eastern NATO members and increase its military presence in Germany. Russia has an army of 1 million soldiers, and if it conquers Ukraine, its troops may soon be stationed on the borders of several NATO countries.

The threat of nuclear strikes is real

To a remarkable extent, Putin has already dictated the ground rules for the war in Ukraine. In his view, it’s fine for Russian troops to invade Ukraine and bomb civilians and cities without any limits. But if other countries intervene to help the Ukrainians defend themselves, Putin has warned, they will “face consequences that they have never before experienced” — in other words, nuclear strikes.

Unfortunately, the West cannot afford to take Putin’s threats lightly. Russian military doctrine explicitly contemplates the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield. When Russian troops were practicing maneuvers in Belarus, shortly before they invaded Ukraine, they ended many exercises with a simulated tactical nuclear strike, just to remind NATO members of Russia’s capabilities.

Furthermore, Putin has referred several times in the last two weeks to Russia’s large nuclear arsenal.

Whether he is bluffing or not, Putin has intimidated the West. President Biden has emphatically ruled out sending U.S. forces into Ukraine, and other NATO countries have made similar statements. They are making such declarations partly because their voters do not support sending troops into Ukraine. However, Biden and other leaders also don’t want to risk entering a war with Russia because Putin might use his nuclear weapons.

Don’t bet on a Ukrainian guerrilla war

Many U.S. officials and former military officers have predicted that if Russia defeats the Ukrainian Army, Putin’s troops could become bogged down in a prolonged guerrilla war. They draw comparisons to the Russian debacle in Afghanistan during the 1980s. However, this may be wishful thinking that allows them to duck difficult decisions about taking stronger measures now to prevent a Russian takeover of Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers have fought heroically and brilliantly against the much larger Russian forces. But the odds are against them, particularly because the Ukrainians have almost no air force. If they did, imagine the damage they could have inflicted on the 40-mile-long Russian convoy north of Kyiv.

As their invasion has stalled, the Russians have become more and more brutal, shelling and bombing Ukrainian cities indiscriminately. They even bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday.

This is part of the Russians’ playbook. Instead of Afghanistan, the better analogy may be Syria, where Russian planes and missiles targeted civilians. These attacks demoralized the opposition and eventually allowed Bashar Al-Assad to “win” the civil war there. They also destroyed many Syrian cities, leaving them in ruins.

We should also remember that the Soviet Union ruled Ukraine and all of Eastern Europe for over 40 years, even though the locals hated the Russians. There was only one rebellion, the 1956 uprising in Hungary, which the Russians crushed mercilessly. That was the last armed challenge to Moscow’s rule in Eastern Europe.

Wiping out the resistance with nukes?

Here’s a terrible but, unfortunately, plausible scenario:

The Russians conquer Kyiv and Odesa, so they control the eastern half of Ukraine. The Ukrainian government regroups in L’viv, in the west, and mounts a spirited guerrilla campaign, which inflicts significant casualties on the Russians. An irritated Putin orders a tactical nuclear strike to pulverize a Ukrainian town. Nothing too big, perhaps 5,000–10,000 people, enough to make the point and show the futility of further resistance. And, as a bonus, the attack delivers a powerful warning to the US and its NATO allies to stop helping the Ukrainians.

Would the Ukrainian government dare to risk provoking a second strike, or would they surrender? Would NATO continue to arm a Ukrainian resistance after such a tragedy?

Why not give Ukraine fighter planes?

The US and its NATO allies don’t have much time to avoid such a grim scenario, so they have to move quickly and decisively. Unfortunately, they have just declined to provide some crucial military equipment to Ukraine.

After the invasion began, the Poles proposed an intriguing swap to the US. They offered to send their 28 Russian-made MiG-29 fighter planes to Ukraine, via a US airbase in Germany, if the US would replace that fleet with US-manufactured F-16 planes. That would attain two objectives: 1) replace some of the MiGs the Ukrainians have lost in combat and 2) upgrade the Polish air force’s fleet.

Polish officials and the Pentagon reportedly discussed the proposal for a week, behind closed doors, although last weekend Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly mentioned the possibility of Poland providing MiGs to Ukraine. Then on Tuesday, March 7, the Poles issued a public statement about the proposal and the US’ role in transferring the planes to Ukraine…without consulting the US. Angry and embarrassed, Pentagon officials rejected the idea publicly, and Poland soon backpedaled.

A missed opportunity

Both governments seemed very worried that such a direct show of support for Ukraine would anger Putin and might lead to severe repercussions. The Pentagon called the proposal “high risk” and said it would not “significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities”. Apparently there were some tricky logistical issues. Still, this is a time to be creative in re-deploying military assets and helping a democratic nation that is badly outgunned.

In any event, the Biden administration has already sent hundreds of millions of dollars of military weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank Javelin missiles, and it is rushing to send more. Those are lethal weapons, of course. Putin is no doubt furious that the Americans are supplying them, but that has not stopped the US. So why did our military reject a plan that could have helped the Ukrainians bolster their air defenses?

To an outside, civilian observer, this seems like a missed opportunity and an example of defeatist thinking. Putin must be pleased that the US is following his ground rules. Hopefully the US will at least send Ukraine large numbers of anti-aircraft missiles. They can be transported more discreetly than fighter planes, after all.

Biden’s red line

In his State of the Union speech, President Biden drew a sharp red line, saying, “We will defend every inch of NATO territory”. That was a very clear warning to Putin. Now Biden has to back up that declaration, by sending tens of thousands of troops to Europe.

This is crucial. President Biden cannot allow Putin to dismiss his words as another hollow US statement, like Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Four NATO members share a border with Ukraine: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. If Putin conquers Ukraine, he can station his troops and his missiles right next door. This is probably a key element of his strategic thinking and his rationale for invading Ukraine.

The three Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are NATO members and they border Russia. So if Ukraine falls, Russian troops could easily be massed next to seven NATO members.

Putin’s ultimate aim: destroying NATO

Under NATO’s Article 5, each member of NATO has a duty to defend any NATO ally that is attacked. If Putin crushes Ukraine, he might promptly move on to his second goal: destroying the NATO alliance.

Putin might test the US’s resolve by invading the Baltic nations, which are tiny. Or Putin could threaten Poland, the key nation on NATO’s eastern flank. Poland is not only a large country; it is also adjacent to Germany and Polish firms are closely integrated with German manufacturers. Poland is Germany’s Mexico, in that sense.

The U.S. has increased its presence in Poland to 7,000 troops, but that is not nearly enough. The US also should deploy intermediate-range conventional missiles in Poland and Romania.

Deploying missiles on NATO’s eastern borders will infuriate Putin, but he has only himself to blame.

The West does not have much time. World War III has started, and we have to shore up our defenses fast.

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A Wall Street Democrat. Security analyst (financial institutions), former lawyer and banker.

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Ryan O'Connell

Ryan O'Connell

A Wall Street Democrat. Security analyst (financial institutions), former lawyer and banker.

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