The West fears the expansionist intentions of Vladimir Putin. This is how the international community will respond to the threat posed by Russia.
LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández
The world is in suspense over the tension that exists today between Russia and NATO. The focus of this problem is Ukraine, the nation strongly linked to Russian history and now approaching Europe.
But what is the goal that Vladimir Putin wants to achieve?
The Russian president, like several nationalists, sees the hegemonic past of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire itself as a longing. Its geographical expansion and its influence have always been a dream that they see in a golden past and that they would like to repeat again.
In the first place, the Russian expansionist intention encompasses the entire Russophonic world. All those people not only speak Russian but also have an ethnic and cultural relationship with the country. These communities are located throughout the border.
This dream has not been unique and proper to Putin. Imperialist and Pan-Slav nostalgia has traversed Russian history since imperial times. Later, during the Soviet Union and its global positioning and its eventual fall. Now it is Putin who wants to bring glory back to Siberia and knows that his power lies in patience and perseverance. To the nostalgia and resentment for the fall of the Soviet Union (not as an economy, but as a superpower), is added the internal insecurity due to the economic decline and the industrial and technological advance of its neighbors in the West and now in China and India.
This intention tasted its first shot of greatness not many years ago with the annexation of Crimea, a small peninsula with a Russian ethnic majority, but which had belonged to Ukraine since the time of the USSR. However, and through a civil war in which the international community accused Russia of militarily supporting the separatist rebels, they managed to annex this important piece of land. At the time they saw their expansionist thirst quenched, but the world fears that they will again see in Ukraine or in another part of the world, a free way to repeat what worked for them at the time.
Many fear that, despite the fact that Russia has only intentions to recover territories inhabited by Russophone communities (where Russian is spoken and they are culturally and historically linked to the country), this would add up to more than 20 countries, almost all along the border. Countries like Ukraine, Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are the ones that are most suspicious of their neighbor.
What can the West do?
The options are few since it is the first nuclear power in the world, the second military, and the largest country on the planet. Additionally, it is the country with the natural gas reserves that supply Europe in the middle of winter, which is a pressure card that Putin knows how to use at the right times.
Now the unusual deployment of troops that Putin has ordered to the border with Ukraine, puts everyone on alert who questions how the response of other countries should be.
What does Putin demand?
Obviously, the Kremlin is increasingly cornered when there are several NATO member countries on its borders and they generate mistrust. This is why Russia put its cards on the table and revealed its demands.
The Russian government calls for strict limits on the activities carried out by NATO in neighboring countries such as the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Poland. Additionally, he hopes to have the power to veto the decisions that the military body makes at certain times and that from now on the entry of Georgia and Ukraine into the group is prohibited.
So what is left for the West and NATO to do?
The options go, within a range of alternatives. From the laxest to the most radical.
The most submissive option is to fully accept all the Kremlin's requests and thus wait for Putin to do his part. However, it has already been seen that when the Russian giant smells fear or blood, it advances without fear. This act could be seen by Putin as a weakness of his enemy and would embolden him to act.
The defensive option, but the one that would most worry and stress Russia, would be a massive inclusion of countries within NATO. At the moment Ukraine, Finland, Georgia announce their entry into this military organization. However, here Putin would see the most latent threat and this could also lead him to act so as not to show weakness.
However, a more coherent option that can de-escalate the conflict is to find a common zone, an area where Russia and NATO find achievements and concessions. For example, one option would be to rule out Russia's meddling and its veto power in NATO, not restrict joint actions in already member countries, but commit that neither Ukraine nor Poland will join the military organization. For his part, Putin must guarantee non-interference in these two bordering countries and block any type of support or financing on his part to separatist groups within both nations. Likewise, there may be commitments to lift or impose sanctions when someone fails to comply with the agreements.
It will be the decision of Putin and his government if they accept this type of agreement. Likewise, they must find the necessary methods so that both sides can have a minimum of confidence that both parties are complying. In the end, Russia, Europe, and the United States will have to continue working for a long time and mutual trust will be necessary. Likewise, understand that if Europe and the United States want to maintain a sphere of influence in several countries, Russia will also do so, not only in Eastern Europe or the Caucasus but also in Central Asia.
As John McLaughlin once said in a column for the New York Times in 2017, the goal should not be to see a weak and finished Russia like the end of the Soviet Union. When the beast feels cornered and weak is when it becomes more aggressive.