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Michael Krull: Time for NATO to increase Putin’s pain

NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) remotely piloted aircraft flies from California to Italy in Nov. 2019. (Alan Radecki/Northrop Grumman/NATO)
March 17, 2022

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Echoing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told a special meeting of Congress that, “I have a need,” and talked about the values of democracy and freedom; values shared by Ukrainians, Americans, and our NATO allies.  He appealed to Congress and to President Biden for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine.  Many in the Biden Administration – especially President Biden – are reluctant to do so and fear a direct confrontation with Russian forces. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is clearly the aggressor.  He invaded a sovereign country.  He is violating international norms.  Russian forces are the ones killing innocent civilians by firing indiscriminately into Ukrainian cities. 

When it comes to Ukraine, our mission has evolved over the past three weeks from deterring Putin to now defending the values we share with our NATO allies and partners.  Our mission is not, as it seems is the Biden Administration’s position, to avoid offending Vladimir Putin. 

NATO is unified in a way it hasn’t been for decades – if ever.  Germany is finally spending on defense in a serious way.  Member nations along NATO’s Eastern flank – especially those who remember Soviet incursions: Prague, Budapest – know that Putin must be stopped.  His aggression cannot be rewarded. 

Russian military doctrine is to “escalate to de-escalate.”  We should adopt that same strategy in a limited way and not worry about Putin the Aggressor’s reaction. 

By closely coordinating with and providing Ukraine drones, anti-aircraft systems, enhanced ISR capabilities, and other largely defensive battlefield technologies, we can help to effectively establish a no-fly zone in Western Ukraine and perhaps in some of the areas further East now controlled by Russian forces.  This is a first step, and we should make it clear that we can escalate further; perhaps even with covert aid resulting from a Presidential Finding. 

The last three weeks have shown the Russian military is not as capable as feared.  It is past time for NATO to worry about what Putin will do in response to what he might perceive as escalatory steps. 

Much of what we see in international affairs is multi-layered and murky.  In the case of Ukraine, it is not.  NATO and the Western democracies are united and galvanized in defending our shared values against a brutal and unprovoked attack.  The world is watching – especially China, Iran, North Korea – but also those who share our values and yearn to be free.  If we do not stop Putin now, this sort of aggression will proliferate.   

Michael Krull is President & CEO of CRA, Inc., and an adjunct professor teaching politics and public policy at Georgetown University. He also participates as a lecturer for the Georgetown Global Education Institute, which brings senior government leaders from the Pacific Rim to the United States for short-term study tours.