J.d. Gordon, former Pentagon Spokesman in an interview for FOCUS News Agency
Focus: Do you think that the Ukraine - European Union association agreement proposed by the EU in November was a wise move or a mistake?
J.d. Gordon:Yes, it was designed to improve the economies of each side, similar to numerous other free trade agreements in which the E.U. has entered and those currently under negotiation. The free market system, backed by strong institutions, the rule of law, property rights, minimal government regulation and maximum transparency is the best way to create jobs and strengthen economies.
Focus: In your opinion, is it likely that with its action Russia's punishing the West for the refusal which Russia received to have a say in the new world order established after the Cold War?
J.d. Gordon:E.U. and NATO expansion into Eastern Europe has been perceived as a threat to Russia’s sphere of influence. Let’s recall that in a nationally televised speech before Russia’s Parliament in 2005, Vladimir Putin said the greatest “geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thus his actions to annex parts of Georgia and Ukraine can be seen as a way to reconstitute a greater Russia by regaining “lost” territory.
Focus: Do you think the riots in Eastern Ukraine are initiated by Russia with the purpose of annexation?
J.d. Gordon:Yes, by Russia itself, and pro-Russian elements within Ukraine.
Focus: Could the conflict spread in other neighboring countries where Russia has uncovered claims and if “yes” where is it more likely to happen?
J.d. Gordon:Yes, it’s quite possible. There are significant Russian-speaking populations in Belarus, and the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as northern Kazakhstan. Russia may not foment unrest in those areas this year, though I imagine that may happen in the years to come. It would certainly be more complicated in the Baltic States, since they are members of NATO.
Focus: Is NATO decision on situating surveillance aircraft and additional troops in Romania, Poland and the Baltic’s adequate?
J.d. Gordon:Not particularly. The NATO footprint in those areas is actually quite small. A couple dozen aircraft and a handful of ships in and around the Baltic Sea and Black Sea sends a message to Russia, but not a very powerful one.
Focus: What do you think would be the consequences of a possible national referendum on whether Ukraine to become a federation with extensive rights for the eastern part of the country?
J.d. Gordon:It could be a way for Kiev’s government to help prevent further embarrassment if the majority of Ukrainians decide it’s best to grant some measure of autonomy to the Russian-speaking majority eastern Ukraine, rather than Russia annexing it militarily similar to what happened in Crimea. Though what happens in eastern Ukraine is primarily in Moscow’s hands.
Focus: Is Ukraine threatened from a future civil war?
J.d. Gordon:Yes, it’s a possibility, though not a likely scenario. Most likely Russia will simply seize more areas of Ukraine without major combat operations. Ukraine saw what happened in Georgia, and don’t want a repeat scenario from a military standpoint.
Focus: How would you comment the decisions taken at the Geneva meeting between the foreign ministers of the U.S., Ukraine, Russia and the EU?
J.d. Gordon:In theory they are reasonable steps, though more difficult to achieve in reality. Pro-Russian forces scoffed at the idea to disarm and vacate occupied Ukrainian government buildings in 10 cities and towns. Since Russian Special Forces are operating in Ukraine, it doesn’t seem likely they will leave unless forced out.
Focus: President Barack Obama said he is skeptical about the agreements reached in Geneva. What actions should the U.S. and EU take in this situation, concerning the economic consequences and national security of the region?
J.d. Gordon:First, President Obama should remember that President Clinton signed the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, along with the U.K., Ukraine and Russia that promised to defend Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons.
Second, if Putin doesn’t honor the Budapest Memorandum, Obama should reverse course on the failed “Russian Reset” button and cancel the New START agreement. It was a terrible bargain for America to begin with, and merely emboldened Putin.
Third, he should hurt Putin where it hurts – in Russia’s pocket. Both by going after international bank accounts of Putin’s inner circle and canceling their U.S. Visas, and more importantly in the long run, helping Ukraine and the rest of Europe with lower energy costs through granting export licenses for surplus liquid natural gas that U.S. industry has accumulated due to innovative hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. fracking. That would lower the price of energy futures and offset Russia’s tough petro-diplomacy.
Fourth, President Obama should work with NATO allies to conduct large-scale military exercises with former Soviet Republics to have Putin think twice about invading. Air and naval exercises in and around the Baltic Sea and Black Sea would be a good start. A missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, which Obama had cancelled in 2009 to appease Russia, should be next.
Mr. Obama has plenty of options to push back on Russia’s increasing aggression. Though he’s got to start projecting strength, not weakness. It’s the only thing a KGB man like Putin respects.
Focus: Different sides are calling for a dialogue - are the different parts in Ukraine ready for such a dialogue and in what circumstances is one possible?
J.d. Gordon:The Kiev government is ready for dialogue, because they are at the mercy of Vladimir Putin who is doing whatever he wants. Pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine will do whatever they can to eventually join Russia.
Focus: What are the future scenarios in this conflict? What are the possibilities for resolving it?
J.d. Gordon: It is difficult to predict with certainty, though Moscow will likely rule over eastern Ukraine in the months or years ahead. Tough sanctions from the U.S. and E.U. can help avoid it, though they are underplaying their hand, while Russia overplays its hand.
It’s important to understand not just what Vladimir Putin is doing, but why.
Putin realizes that Russia is slowly fading… the population has been in decline from 148 million to 143 million over the past 20 years. Yet Russia’s Muslim population, from the south in places where separatist movements have thrived, like Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, is 20% of the country’s population, yet growing so quickly that Russia could be a Muslim-majority country by 2050 if demographic trends continue. It scares Putin to death, which is why he’s taking bold action in places like Georgia and Ukraine to offset those trends by taking in more Russians under Moscow’s wing.
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