In Putin’s war of evil against good against Ukraine, the forces of good prevailed in NATO this week
Frederick Kempe is the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council.
It’s a story of evil versus good.
This is the story of a despot’s ruthless attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine, on the historic but nonetheless insufficient rallying of democratic states to save the country.
At noon on Monday in the industrial city of Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, sitting serenely on the Dnipro River, around 1,000 men, women and children wandered through the Amstor shopping center, trying to enjoy a little of normality in the midst of a brutal war.
Some 300 kilometers and a few thousand meters above our heads, Russian bombers flying over Russia’s Kursk region probably Tupolev Tu-22M3s, launched at least two nuclear-capable Kh-22 2,000-pound medium-range cruise missiles, developed in the 1960s to destroy aircraft carriers. A air raid siren cried, and Ukrainians, well trained in the fifth month of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war, rushed to safety.
Around the same time, at the luxury hideaway Schloss Elmau in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, leaders of the Group of Seven, representing the world’s largest democracies, gathered around conference tables in a bid to add to their far-reaching sanctions against Putin and Russia. They options debated to stifle finances fueling Putin’s warnotably by capping the price of oil sales to Russia, which could reduce $1 billion dollars that the world pays Russia every day for energy.
As they struggled to move forward, one of the missiles slammed into the mall. CCTV video captured a bucolic day, with wispy clouds adorning the otherwise blue sky, then the huge fireball of the explosion and the rolling up of a gigantic plume of black smoke. Shards of glass and debris flew past the camera.
A day later, as Ukrainian authorities tallied the death toll – at least 20 dead and 59 injured in a war where Putin’s army has already killed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians — NATO leaders met for the summit that brought me to Madrid. They worried about the timing of Putin’s mall strike, knowing it was aimed at them as much as at Ukraine.
“Talk as much as you want,” Putin seemed to tell them. “Sign whatever documents you want. I will outlive you and your spoiled corporations with my war of attrition, restoring Imperial Russia and sealing my place in history even as your decadent West continues its decadence. “
Putin could be sure that despite historical Agreements in Madrid this week and even though arms deliveries from the United States and its partners are increasing in number and quality, no one was yet ready to provide the heavier, longer-range precision armament it could have prevented the mall strike and so many others, and could allow an urgent counter-offensive.
Despite this, NATO has achieved a level of unity not seen in more than 30 years.
After a marathon hour-long negotiating session between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, the parties reached to an agreement that paved the way for Finland and Sweden. join NATO and put an end, in the case of Sweden, to two centuries of neutrality.
The next day NATO leaders would sign a new strategic concept, highlighting Russia as their most current danger but including China for the first time as a matter of common concern. The leaders of Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand attended a NATO summit for the first time as partners and guests.
The Chinese language of NATO signaled that the alliance understood that it faced a global and interdependent challenge. Given that 30 countries had to sign the textmany of them still have China as their number one trading partner, that’s a powerful read.
“The declared ambitions and coercive policies of the People’s Republic of China challenge our interests, our security and our values,” he said. Later he continued: “The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, strategic minerals and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and strengthen its influence. It strives to overthrow the rules-based international order. , including in the space, cyber and maritime domains.”
There was much celebratory talk among the allies about their increased unity and deepened focus, including the President Jo Biden statement that NATO was sending an “unequivocal message” to Putin.
Among other agreements, NATO has acted to strengthen its eastern and southern flanks, and the US military will send a corps headquarters in Poland and more troops in the Baltic States and Romania. NATO pledged to increase its high-readiness forces from 40,000 to 300,000, even as Sweden and Finland added significant new military weight.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares announcement the summit as potentially as important as Yalta (heaven help us) or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
To NATO Public Forum which the Atlantic Council co-hosted on the edge of the summit, I asked French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on how she would classify the historic moment.
“History will tell,” she said.
No one should miss Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s message to G-7 leaders this week that they must provide him with the means for a counter-offensive to repel Russian troops before winter sets in and the Ukraine’s allies do not lose interest in the face of growing economic headwinds.
“Russia is fighting two wars right now,” writes Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal. “A hot war with Ukraine whose costs are measured in death and destruction, and a cold war with the West whose costs are measured in economic hardship and inflation.”
Putin might retreat over time in the face of a more determined West and a better-armed Ukraine, writes Ip, but he is betting he can “inflict enough short-term costs on Western consumers that political support for Ukraine will wane.” ‘collapses’.
I leave Madrid encouraged by a growing consensus among European and Asian democracies that a Ukrainian defeat would be disastrous for Europe and the world order as other despots calculate their own opportunities.
Yet I leave as discouraged that despite all the progress this week, military support and sanctions still fall short of the historic stakes.
In this struggle between a determined despot and rallied democracies, the forces of good have had a great week. If they don’t build on it, and quickly, it won’t be enough.