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    Editorials
    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Russian threat is real for G-7, NATO

    This appeared in The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune

    By definition, meetings of global leaders are important even if they're not always consequential.

    Last week's G-7 and NATO summits were substantive, particularly in producing a more clear-eyed view of Russia. Whether the decisions and declarations made are enough to turn the tide for Ukraine in its existential fight against Russia's invasion remains to be seen. Still, the commitment of enduring support was critical.

    At the G-7 summit in Germany that began the week, leaders from the seven largest industrial democracies (the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada) agreed to continue providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

    "We are committed to helping Ukraine to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to defend itself, and to choose its own future," the leaders said in a statement. "It is up to Ukraine to decide on a future peace settlement, free from external pressure or influence. We will continue to coordinate efforts to meet Ukraine's urgent requirements for military and defense equipment."

    One of those necessary requests was an advanced missile defense system, which the Biden administration indicated it would supply as part of recently passed legislation authorizing another $40 billion to aid Ukraine. The need was already apparent but amplified by Russia hitting the capital Kyiv with missile strikes on Sunday and a crowded shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing at least 18 and wounding scores more. The mall "had no strategic value," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on social media. "Only the attempt of people to live a normal life, which so angers the occupiers."

    In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin "doesn't care where his army is attacking sites in Ukraine; they don't distinguish between military and civilian sites," Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, told an editorial writer. Putin, Haring said, "thinks in terms of history, and he wants to make a big impact. Casualty rates don't matter to him."

    They matter to Zelenskyy, of course, and to Ukrainians and civilized people everywhere. The only way to reduce the grim death toll is to stiffen Ukraine's resistance with more capabilities. NATO committed to doing just that, and the G-7 announced plans to ban imports of Russian gold and cap its oil prices. The gold import ban will be relatively straightforward, but the still-developing mechanisms to limit the profit Putin enjoys from the world's energy crisis are more in the consideration phase.

    More concrete conclusions could be found at the subsequent NATO summit in Spain. Turkey lifted its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, resulting in an alliance expansion that is the opposite of one of Putin's purported goals of his full-scale invasion in February.

    President Joe Biden also announced an increased troop presence in Europe and said for the first time the U.S. would have a permanent presence in Poland with the U.S. Army V Corps forward command, designed to improve interoperability along NATO's eastern front. The U.S. will also boost its rotational deployment of forces in the Baltics and Romania. And NATO leaders released a new "Strategic Concept" that, among other updates, moves Russia from a potential partner to the "most significant and direct threat" the alliance faces.

    The allied unity expressed at the G-7 summit was "pitch-perfect," Haring said. "They said very, very clearly that 'we've got your back, Ukraine, as long as it takes.'" But she cautioned that Putin will not cease Russia's efforts in eastern Ukraine and may again try for a broader conquest. "Time is not on Ukraine's side. If you want Ukraine to win, if you want to minimize deaths, Washington has to stop braking" its arms shipments.

    With the U.S. commitment to the missile defense system, Biden sent the proper signal, but he must accelerate sending other desperately needed materiel to Ukraine. Although NATO's newfound sense of mission will probably deter Putin from expanding his aggression to member countries, Ukraine is a critical test that the West must not fail. 

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