Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion stipulates that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unfortunately, this irrefutable law of physics is often disregarded by the West’s inconsistent reactions to the aggressive and destructive actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies, namely the Belarusian pariah Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Perhaps the best examples include the following:
The odd combination of concurrent Western sanctions against Russia for invading Crimea and portions of eastern Ukraine, and Western support for the Kremlin’s Nord Stream 2 project that will provide billions of dollars to the Kremlin and substantially outweigh the financial burden of these sanctions; deepen Europe’s energy dependence on the Kremlin that has already used gas as a political weapon; and render Ukraine even more vulnerable to further and worse Russian military aggression; and the recent easing of U.S. sanctions against those involved in the construction of this controversial gas pipeline between Russia and Germany after the White House issued a statement, on April 15, that the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia to “demonstrate the administration’s resolve in responding to and deterring the full scope of Russia’s harmful foreign activities,” which included an affirmation that “the Transatlantic community stands united in supporting Ukraine against unilateral Russian provocations along the Line of Contact in eastern Ukraine, in occupied Crimea, and along Ukraine’s borders, as well as agreeing on the need for Russia to immediately cease its military buildup and inflammatory rhetoric.”
Such perplexing Western reactions to the consistently belligerent actions of the Kremlin appear to result from a deep-seated fear of provoking the toxic Russian tsar, and the misguided belief that a policy of appeasement will somehow maintain a fragile status quo in the world.
The current one-sided attempts of rapprochement by the West with the Kremlin lulling Western leaders into a false sense of security are eerily reminiscent of the West’s game-plan for dealing with another belligerent tyrant on September 30, 1938, when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Neville Chamberlain returned home after signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler, and stated to his people the following:
“I believe it is peace for our time. […]
Now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.”
Less than a year later, on September 1, 1939, the United Kingdom woke up to the horrors of World War II as the Nazis crossed into Poland and, two days later, on September 3, 1939, that same U.K. prime minister declared war on Nazi Germany.
Today’s kleptocratic dictators interpret the West’s inconsistent reactions to their unmistakably clear violations of the international order just as Hitler did – as signs of weakness that only embolden them to go further.
This led, on May 23, to a Belarusian fighter jet intercepting a Ryanair plane on flight FR4978 from Greece to Lithuania and forcing it to land in Minsk and the subsequent arrest of a passenger, Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist and opposition activist.
Predictably, the West condemned Lukashenka’s brazen state-sanctioned hijacking of a commercial flight between two European Union states, while Mr. Putin met his Belarusian underling on May 28 in Sochi to publicly support him and qualify Western reaction as an outburst of emotions. Nothing better exemplifies the clear moral chasm dividing the West and the Kremlin.
Western leaders can either continue to react inconsistently to the future and foreseeably destructive actions that will be taken by the Kremlin and its cronies, or the West can take visionary and consistent actions of their own to pre-empt aggression, and ensure respect of the fundamental principles of justice and international law.
These visionary and consistent actions start with the following actions: cancelling the Kremlin’s Nord Stream 2 project; granting a NATO Membership Action Plan to Ukraine during the NATO Summit on June 14 in Brussels; and giving notice, during the Biden-Putin meeting on June 16 in Geneva, that Russia will be banned from SWIFT if it does not de-occupy Ukraine within a fixed period of time by the West.
It is only by decisively taking the geopolitical agenda into its own hands that the West will shift relations with its adversaries to a more predictably secure paradigm where the principles of Newton’s Third Law of Motion will be taken into account in the geopolitical arena.