Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Fearless Neighbors

By David G. Young

Miami Beach, FL, January 24, 2023 --  

A new willingness to send powerful weapons to Ukraine proves that Europe's fear of Russia is nearing an end.

When Western military leaders gathered at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base last week, disputes about supplying tanks to Ukraine stole all the headlines.  Both the United Kingdom and Poland have announced plans to ship tanks — a few British made Challenger 2 tanks, and in the case of Poland some German-made Leopard 2s.1  But both Germany and the US are only grudgingly getting onboard to do the same, while engaging in lots of finger pointing along the way.

Yet this NATO bickering is hardly good news for Russia.  The debate at Ramstein Air Base is a sea change from discussions that prevailed when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began 11 months ago.  Back then, NATO leaders  were reluctant to send any weapons at all to Ukraine for fear of escalating the war to spill over its borders into Poland and the Baltic republics.  

When America offered to evacuate Ukrainian President Zelenskyy  from Kiev, he famously quipped, "I need ammunition, not a ride."  And just a few weeks later, America sandbagged a Polish plan to send its obsolete MiG fighters to Ukraine.  Fear of Russian power dominated all.

Then times changed.  Western-provided ammunition soon came, along with increasingly powerful offensive systems like American-made HIMARS rocket artillery.

With these weapons and a large dose of grit, Ukraine stopped a better-armed nation over three  times its size from overrunning it capital, held back the front line, and ultimately liberated significant amounts of conquered territory.  A bleeding Russia has suffered well over 100,000 casualties — far more than in the war in Afghanistan, according to America’s top general.2

As a result, NATO simply no longer fears Russia’s conventional military.  The fact that Ukrainians armed with Soviet-era equipment and a limited supply of Western weapons can hold Russia at bay proves that NATO would have no trouble doing the same.

Russian leaders including former Prime Mjjiater Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister  Sergei Lavrov have loudly warned of dire consequences for nations who send Ukraine tanks.  But those same warnings have been made by Russian leaders many times before with zero consequences.  

So it now appears likely that America and Germany will join Poland and the UK in sending their main battle tanks to Ukraine.3  Those old Polish MiG fighters, once out of the question, will probably make their way, too -- unless Ukraine decides it doesn’t want them anymore.

The problem for Russia is that short of popping off a nuke (something that would alienate their few tepid sympathizers like China) they simply don’t have the capability to make good on their threats to the West without opening themselves up to humiliating defeat by superior powers.

The fact that Western fearlessness enables tank exports is only the least of it.

Remember that NATO was founded in 1949 based on the fear of Russia. It existed for the expressed purpose of  protecting Western Europe from being easily crushed by Russia’s overwhelming military might.  Even after the Cold War, NATO refused to admit a post-Soviet Russia due to the continued need to deter its giant military.  

Just three years ago, Netflix was airing new episodes of a Norwegian TV series called “Occupied” about a near-future Russian military takeover of  the country.  At the time, the plot line sounded plausible.  No longer.

Today’s Russia is till a threat, especially to nations in its border.  But it is now clear that it is a manageable threat.  Small NATO countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are buying HIMARS from America because they now know they can use them to fend off Russia by themselves — something that seemed impossible before without direct American intervention.

The difference is huge.  No longer must Russia’s neighbors kowtow to its bullying behavior.  Russia’s Ukrainian debacle shows that it can be ignored, isolated and — if necessary — fought off to a standstill.  

Sadly, this doesn’t mean that the war in Ukraine will soon be over.   A large country like Russia can inflict plenty of pain in its smaller neighbors for long periods of time, even if it cannot hope to achieve military victory.  Stopping such violently futile acts requires new attitudes inside Russia itself — something that Western tanks may not be sufficient to change.

Related Web Columns:

The Harder They Come, September 20, 2022

The Bridge to Odessa, June 28, 2022

Lessons from the Front, May 31, 2022

Shattered Contract, April 5, 2022

Ukraine's Grim Fate, March 8, 2022

Double Nightmare, January 25, 2022

Putin's Disaster, December 21, 2021

Ukraine's Long Path, October 21, 2017

Under Control? April 8, 2014

An Amicable Divorce, February 25, 2014


1. BBC News, The U.K. Pledges Tanks to Ukraine as Russian Missiles Target Multiple Cities, January 14, 2023

2. ABC News, Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russian casualties in Ukraine above 100,000: US, January 24, 2023

3. New York Times, U.S. Moves Closer to Sending Tanks to Ukraine; Germany Says It Will Decide Soon, January 24, 2023