The West’s response to Russia’s encroachment of Ukrainian sovereignty has distracted from the real threat, China, according to one former US presidential hopeful.
Mounting tensions across Russia’s border with Ukraine are stoking fears of an imminent military confrontation.
Approximately 100,000 Russian troops are deployed along the Ukrainian border, with some observers, including retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, expecting the military’s mobilisation to be a precursor to yet another invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory.
"The most likely scenario in my mind is a major military offensive in Ukraine," Vindman told US media.
"I hope I'm wrong, but that's what I see."
In an interview with NPR last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration remains committed to dialogue, but is prepared for escalation.
“There are two paths, and [Russia] can decide which path to follow,” he said.
“There is a path of diplomacy and dialogue, and we're committed to that. We believe that it's the best way forward. It's the most responsible way forward to deal with differences and the situation in eastern Ukraine.
“On the other hand, if they choose confrontation, if they choose aggression, we're fully prepared for it. We've spent weeks, indeed months now, working in very close co-ordination with allies and partners at the G-7, the EU, NATO to prepare for Russian aggression and to make very clear that there'll be massive consequences if that's the path they pursue.”
But according to former US presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan — who also served as White House communications director in the Reagan administration —Washington’s preoccupation with Moscow is a distraction.
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“There is not now and never has been a vital US interest in Ukraine to justify risking a war with Russia,” he writes.
Buchanan points to Washington’s historic handling of acts of Russian aggression towards Ukraine, noting the absence of real US intervention.
“Even as Ukraine was suffering in the Stalin-induced Holodomor, the terror-famine of 1932-33, President Franklin Roosevelt granted diplomatic recognition to the Bolshevik regime,” he continued.
“During four decades of Cold War, the US never regarded Moscow's control of Ukraine as any threat to the USA.”
The former Republican nominee for president commends President Joe Biden’s open dismissal of military action as an option in response to any Russian incursion or invasion of Ukraine.
He goes on to urge the administration to flatly reject Kyiv’s push for NATO membership.
“Ukraine is not going to be invited to join NATO and be given Article 5 US war guarantees that are the primary benefit of membership,” Buchanan ads.
Moscow is urging the US to provide formal assurances ruling out future NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia and the prohibition of offensive arms sales to neighbouring nations that could threaten Russian security.
Buchanan notes Russian President Vladimir Putin warning of an invasion and occupation of Ukraine if the demands are not met.
With a military confrontation with Russia ruled out as a possibility in the event of an invasion, Buchanan expects the United States to retaliate with severe sanctions, which could include cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
“Putin has lately issued a counterthreat,” he continues.
“If such severe sanctions are imposed on Russia, this will result in a ‘complete rupture of relations’ and be a blunder ‘which our descendants will later appreciate as a huge one’.
“Not long ago, a total severing of relations was the prelude to war.”
Buchanan claims despite Moscow’s provocation on the Ukrainian border, the US and its allies should try to view the crisis “through Putin's eyes”.
“The heart of Greater Russia as one ethnic, cultural and historic nation consists not only of Russia but also of Belarus and Ukraine. Yet, consider the political condition of that core nation today,” he writes.
“Ukraine has broken from Moscow and seeks its future in the West, the EU and NATO. Belarus, a nation of 10 million, just went through an election where only fraud guaranteed victory for its 67-year-old autocrat, Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for a quarter-century.
“Though an ally of Putin, Lukashenko is not the future.”
Putin himself, Buchanan adds, has been in power for two decades and is “bedevilled by rising democratic resistance in Russia”.
Meanwhile, the US has moved NATO across Germany into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states over the past 25 years, and is fostering an alliance between Georgia and Ukraine to contain Russia.
“Putin has to see himself as the ruler of a diminishing Russia, not a rising power,” Buchanan states.
“Time is not on Russia's side or Putin's side.
“His principal ally, China, has 10 times the population of Russia and an economy 10 times Putin's. Moreover, China harbors ancestral claims to Russian territory in the Far East, which, in 1969, caused a border clash between the two countries.”
According to Buchanan, Putin has sought to end the “long retreat of Russian power”, which “the eastward march of a NATO alliance created”, even if it risks war with Ukraine.
“Putin may see this as a now-or-never moment to halt the decades-long attrition of Russian territorial and national power,” he observes.
Buchanan urges Washington to channel similar approaches taken by previous administrations in the 20th century and reorient its focus.
“In the Cold War, President Dwight Eisenhower did not intervene militarily to save the Hungarian rebels who rose against Moscow in 1956. Nor did President John F. Kennedy act to stop the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Nor did President Lyndon B. Johnson intervene to prevent Moscow's crushing of the ‘Prague Spring’ in 1968. Nor did President Ronald Reagan act when Solidarity was crushed in Poland in 1981,” he notes.
“Historically, those presidents who refused to use force in Central or Eastern Europe, to avoid a war with Russia where US vital interests were not imperilled, were proven right.
“Time was on America's side in the Cold War. And, with Russia, time is still on America's side.”
The former White House communications director ends by flagging the much larger threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party, suggesting Russia could yet play a role in thwarting Beijing’s consolidation of power.
“Our great challenge in the 21st century is not Russia,” he writes.
“Indeed, in the long term, we want Russia on our side in the long struggle between the US and the West, and Communist China.
“What the US should do in this Ukrainian crisis is to avoid a war with Russia, avoid an escalation, and leave our adversary with an honourable avenue of retreat. Again, with Russia, time is on our side.”
News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media
Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.