Why Putin Hasn’t Been Deterred

January 27, 2022 Updated: February 1, 2022


Americans want an autonomous Ukraine to survive. They hope the West can stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strangulation of both Ukraine and NATO. Yet Americans don’t want their troops to venture across the world to Europe’s backyard in order to fight nuclear Russia to ensure that Ukraine stays independent.

Most Americans oppose the notion that Russia can simply dictate the future of Ukraine. Yet Americans also grudgingly accept that Ukraine was often historically part of Russia. During World War II, it was the bloody scene of joint Russian–Ukrainian sacrifices—more than 5 million killed—that defeated the Nazi German invasion.

Americans publicly support NATO. Yet most Americas privately worry that NATO has become diplomatically impotent and a military mirage—a modern League of Nations.

NATO members have a collective gross domestic profit (GDP) that’s seven times larger than Russia’s. Their aggregate population is 1 billion. Yet the majority won’t spend enough on defense to deter their weaker enemies.

The second-largest NATO member, Turkey, is closer with Russia than it is with the United States. Its people poll anti-American.

Germany is NATO’s richest European member and the power behind the EU. Yet Germany will soon be dependent on imported Russian natural gas for much of its energy needs.

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of Germans voiced a desire for more cooperation with Russia. Most Americans poll the exact opposite.

Worse, 60 percent of Germans oppose going to the aid of any NATO country in a time of war. More than 70 percent of Germans term their country’s relationship with the United States as “bad.”

We can translate all of these disturbing results in the following manner: The German and Turkish people like or trust Russia more than they do their own NATO patron, the United States.

They wouldn’t support participating in any NATO joint military effort, even against an invading Russia—even, or especially, if spearheaded by an unpopular United States.

So, assume that NATO’s key two members are either indifferent to the fate of nearby Ukraine or sympathetic to Russia’s professed grievances—or both.

Indeed, most Americans fear that if Ukraine ever became a NATO member, Putin might be even more eager to test its sovereignty.

He assumes that not all NATO members would intervene to help in the event of an attack on Ukraine, as required by their mutual defense obligations under Article 5. If they didn’t, he could then both absorb Ukraine and unravel the NATO alliance all at once.

There are more complications in the Ukrainian mess.

President Joe Biden, in wacky statements, has confirmed Putin’s assumption that the United States is currently divided, confused, weakened, and poorly led.

Putin knows that the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appear more worried about “white privilege” and climate change than they are about enhancing military readiness to deter enemies such as himself.

He sees polls that show that only 45 percent of Americans have confidence in their new politicized military. He further assumes that the flight from Afghanistan has made the United States both less feared by enemies and less trusted by allies.

The prior failed U.S. policy of Russian “reset,” the appeasement of Putin’s aggressions during the President Barack Obama years, together with the concocted hoax of “Russian collusion,” have all variously emboldened—and angered—the Russian president.

He knows that President Donald Trump is no longer in office. So he assumes that with Trump gone, U.S. deterrence against Russia has also vanished.

Trump’s now rejected agenda was to increase U.S. and NATO defenses and pump oil and gas to crash the global price of Russia’s chief source of foreign exchange.

Putin was once furious that Trump unilaterally left an asymmetrical U.S.–Russia missile accord. Trump ordered lethal force to be used against large numbers of Russian mercenaries who attacked a U.S. installation in Syria. He sold offensive weapons to Ukraine. He acted forcibly in taking out terrorist enemies such as Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani, the Islamicist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and ISIS itself.

With Trump gone, Russia assumes that the appeasement years of the Obama–Biden administration are back again. As in 2014, once more Putin is moving against his neighbors.

Finally, there’s the unfortunate role of recent Ukrainian government officials. Some were deeply involved in greenlighting the Biden family grifting and profiteering to ensure massive U.S. foreign aid.

Some Ukrainian expatriates and current government members worked with the American left to ensure the first impeachment of Trump.

Now Ukrainians are exasperated that their prior intrusions into domestic U.S. politics have backfired with the disastrous Biden presidency—and his apparent de facto acceptance of an inevitable Russian annexation.

Where does this entire mess leave the United States?

In trouble.

Putin is undermining a sovereign nation and fissuring NATO, and if successful, he might continue the Ukraine slow-squeeze model in the Baltic states and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, China smiles, hoping the Ukraine blueprint can be used against Taiwan.

Exasperated Americans fear that Putin will be deterred neither by sanctions nor by arms sales, but only by his own sense of cost-to-benefit self-interest.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Victor Davis Hanson is a conservative commentator, classicist, and military historian. He is a professor emeritus of classics at California State University, a senior fellow in classics and military history at Stanford University, a fellow of Hillsdale College, and a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Hanson has written 16 books, including “The Western Way of War,” “Fields Without Dreams,” and “The Case for Trump.”