The next U.S. president will have to be consistent with how they treat Russia and ensure American allies commit to whatever policies are in place, a panel of Russian experts agreed on Thursday.
Speaking at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C., think tank, Judy Ansley, a former deputy national security adviser, said, “We have to show strength.”
Evelyn Frakas, a former deputy secretary of defense, said, the primary goal of Vladimir Putin and his closest supporters is to keep themselves in charge by playing a role as a great power internationally.
The reason for this switch in tactics is they “can no longer deliver on the economic deal they promised when they took power” more than 15 years ago. Continued lower prices for energy and the impact of strong Western sanctions for Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has had a dramatic impact on weakening Russia’s economy.
She said NATO has taken steps recently to shore up its land forces but more needs to be done in its air and maritime components to counter Russian moves along its borders. She and two other panelists also called for the sending of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine to defeat the separatists in eastern Ukraine and to protect Moldova from Moscow’s ambitions.
The United States and NATO must “hold Russia accountable” for its actions such as downing a Malaysian jetliner over Ukraine, Frakas said. Ansley added, Russian leaders need to understand “there will be consequences for their actions” and the United States and NATO “will take those steps.”
The most prosperous and stable time in recent history came after World War II with the creation of NATO to counter the Soviet Union, John Herbst, of the council’s Eurasian Center, said. What Putin is doing in eastern Europe “is a vital threat to our interests” and “stopping him is very much in our capability.”
He said the conflict in eastern Ukraine is not a civil war but a war that “is led, financed, staffed by Moscow.” Adding, “I don’t think we have any option” but to provide Kiev with lethal defensive arms and increase sanctions on Russia.
Herbst and others noted that Russia has since the late 18th century laid territorial claims on these bordering nations. To him “NATO enlargement [to include Georgia and Ukraine] makes sense” because “we see imperialist Russian tendencies to today” that need to be met.
William Kruger of the Charles Koch Institute said the new administration needs to draw a line between what is in the nation’s primary interest and what it peripheral to it. He was opposed to expanding NATO. The question comes down to is adding Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance “good for our security.” Later, in answer to a question, he said, “take off the table NATO expansion.”
“I don’t think we should lower our values” as to what is acceptable behavior, Ansley said. “Our only mistake is not responding strongly enough” to Russia’s actions in the Baltic states, the Caucasus region and Syria. The consequences of doing nothing are: “I think it only emboldens Putin.”
Even with Russia’s new assertions of being a super power again, “We’re the most powerful country in the world,” Kruger said and the United States needs to balance engagement and restraint.