Russia’s unacceptable demands to the United States and NATO make a new invasion into Ukraine more likely. It is time the allies agreed on urgent action to deter war.

As stunning as it may be in the 21st Century, Russia has resorted to a policy of extortion in order to assert its dominion over neighboring countries, writes former US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker in Europe’s Edge. For months, Russia has built up substantial military forces in and around Ukrainian territory. In Crimea, in Donbas, in Russia’s southern and western military districts, and in Belarus, Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops, equipment, logistical, and even mobile medical facilities, giving President Vladimir Putin the ability to invade further into Ukraine at a moment’s notice.

On December 17, Russia publicly released its list of demands – the implicit price for Putin not to attack Ukraine and bring the war to Europe. These include several elements which Russia knew in advance would be firmly rejected by the US and NATO – not just demands about the future, like a prohibition on more Central and East European (CEE) countries joining NATO, a commitment not to engage in military training and exercising with former Soviet states, and a commitment not to bring NATO forces into Central or East European territories or waters which Russia seeks to dominate, but much, much more. The clear message is that NATO should withdraw its forces from the Baltic states, revoke its membership pledge to Ukraine and Georgia, and maybe even remove US nuclear weaponry from the continent.

As always with Russia, the question one must ask is not what Russia is saying, but rather, why are they saying it?

One explanation is that Putin believes the United States and its NATO allies lack the will to stop Russia. Therefore, why not proceed? After the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the announced American intention to pull out of Iraq, the fraught domestic politics of all major Western countries, from the US to Germany, and from the UK to France to Italy and Poland, Putin must believe that the West simply lacks the stomach or the domestic political backing to exercise power in defense of freedom in Europe’s East.

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