The Russian-backed insurgent forces have been suffering one defeat after another this summer. The Ukraine government’s forces have closed in on their strongholds in the southeastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, inflicting significant losses. But Putin’s investment – both personal and political – demands that he not let Ukraine remain free.
Putin would be a fascinating study for a psychological profile. According to The Man Without a Face, by Russian-American writer Masha Gessen, which is nearly such a study, Putin was raised in near-poverty in a tough neighborhood. From an early age, he was a bare-knuckle brawler. At about age 16, Putin went to the KGB building in Leningrad and tried to join. He was told to go to law school or join the military. From then on, his life became a gradual but somehow guaranteed success.
He was a mediocre student but was able to get into Leningrad State University, a very exclusive school, perhaps because the KGB made it happen. He joined the KGB formally and gradually rose in the Soviet pecking order. The Soviet Union fell, but Putin kept rising. His loyalty to the KGB was consistent and so was its loyalty to him.
Putin’s conduct since becoming Russia's president reveals his ruthlessness and eagerness to return the nation to the position of strength the Soviet Union once held. His worldview may have best been summarized in a 2005 speech to top Russian politicians in which he said, "Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Now, Ukraine is feeling the full effect of that belief.
Putin has pushed a Russian supply convoy into Ukraine despite the Kiev government’s objections. Whatever its cargo, part or all of it must have been aimed at resupplying the Russian insurgents. Another such convoy is reportedly on the way. Only days ago, Russian troops and artillery moved across the Ukraine border and fired on Ukrainian forces. Though these moves have been condemned by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, no NATO member, including the United States, has done anything to slow the Russian advance.
President Obama’s economic sanctions against Russia for its Ukraine incursion haven’t changed Russia’s conduct toward Ukraine at all. Putin’s recent ban on importing American food – and the declaration that four McDonald’s restaurants may be closed in Moscow for trumped-up health code violations – are clearly harder on Russian society than Obama’s sanctions are. Putin’s response to the sanctions shows he is determined to flout Obama’s actions regardless of the impact on Russian citizens.
And that is not, by far, the worst. Russia has, for example, violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by testing a medium-range nuclear-capable cruise missile. The Obama administration, after taking criticism from Congress, admitted that the testing was a treaty violation. In response, Russia did what the Soviets always did in such circumstances: It denied the facts. Obama made much of his “reset” of America’s relationship with Russia when it was announced, but the effect of Putin’s actions is to reset the reset entirely on his terms.
Russia, meaning Putin, is entirely unrestrained. Other former Soviet satellites such as Belarus are, like Ukraine, not NATO members and are just as vulnerable to Putin’s expansionist ambitions. It is long past time for the United States to send military aid to help Ukraine resist Putin’s advance. It is also long past time for Obama to speak out in clear terms in support of Ukraine’s freedom and independence. The clock is ticking, and the dominoes will soon begin falling.Jed Babbin served as a deputy under secretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research. He is the author of The BDS War Against Israel, with Herbert London.