Vladimir Putin just ripped a page from NATO’s playbook, and guess who isn't happy about it?

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Nearly every day, we’ve been bombarded with predictions of when — not if — Russia would invade Ukraine, either World War II-style or completely invisibly, depending on which versions of this fantasy you happen to come across. Instead, the U.S. and its extraterritorial military coalition, NATO, ended up with one of their own classic plays used against them by Russian President Vladimir Putin. So now what?

Well, for a start, how about simmering down and dialing back the unproductive rhetoric? Although it’s more likely that the opposite will occur, at least publicly, because foreign policy is apparently now dominated by public chest beating, threats, and finger pointing rather than quiet diplomacy. With everyone busy yapping and focused on winning hearts and minds in support of the home team against Russia on this umpteenth issue, is anyone genuinely interested in finding a solution for actual long-term security in Europe? And yes, if you ask most citizens here in Europe (and not the elected activists in Brussels), “European security” – both military and economic – actually does include Russia. So, let’s calmly review where we are now.

Unbeknownst to many Americans, two Ukrainian regions along the border with Russia that had voted for their own independence from Kyiv via referendum in 2014 — Donetsk and Luhansk — have long been subjected to ongoing fighting that pits the people of these regions against the army of the central government in Kyiv, resulting in thousands of deaths. How did it all begin? It began in 2013, with American, European, and NATO allies seeking to overthrow the country’s leadership with the Euromaidan coup in the wake of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign off on a cooperation agreement with the European Union. So, when seeking to identify the “original sin” for who’s responsible for the Ukraine problem, start there — with Ukrainians not wanting anything to do with a western-backed overthrow of their central government and the result thereof.

Under the pretext of helping Kyiv, western governments have since been funding, training, and equipping with lethal weapons the Ukrainian army and proxy fighters embedded into the country’s military, seemingly to goad Russia into invading these regions and then crying to the world that Moscow invaded Ukraine. And if you believed various reports from the last few days, you’d think that Putin was backed into a corner and would have no choice but to put up with the growing military threat along the Russian border or else invade to quash it. Instead, he did neither.

Rather, on February 21, Putin signed an executive order recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk as the republics they had previously proclaimed themselves to be, along with treaties of “friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance”. The mere possibility of Russian defense assistance to these republics changes the playing field for NATO forces, because there is no NATO country that wants its own citizens to actually go fight and die for Kyiv. And it’s arguable whether even Ukrainian forces would be as willing to continue to pick on the people of these regions if there was an exponentially increased risk of coming face to face with Russian military support, as will now be the case.

Putin’s pen strokes effectively shift the balance of power back to diplomacy and drastically muddy the waters for war hawks looking for clear and favorable optics against Russia and to grease the skids for greater NATO military encroachment on its border. The move shifts the dial toward peace, at least for now, if only because perhaps the people of these regions may get a reprieve from nonstop shelling by Kyiv.

And it sends all parties back to the negotiating table whereas the arrogance of sheer NATO military might may have previously served as a deterrent for doing so. And for those U.S. and western officials now crying about international law violations over Ukraine’s territorial integrity — that’s rich. Why isn’t any country’s territorial integrity ever an obstacle to U.S. or NATO ambitions when it’s deemed to be standing in the way? Hypocritically, just earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić demanding that his country recognize Kosovo independence — a region that was flooded with military assistance by NATO during the Bill Clinton administration in 1998-99 in an ultimately successful effort to permanently fracture Yugoslavia in order to complicate and frustrate Russia’s influence in the Balkans — hence the term “Balkanization”. Blinken wrote that the U.S. encourages “comprehensive normalization of relations centered on mutual recognition with Kosovo, which will foster greater security and stability in the region.” Apparently Blinken doesn’t want to accord the same recognition when the beneficiary or sponsor of territorial independence is Russia.

Now that the fog of war has just thickened, here’s hoping that it has a cooling effect on the hysterical loudmouth hotheads and paves the way for diplomatic, mutually respectful engagement.