Image of Moscow and Washington via Quora.com


                                                    June 20, 2017

 

          Published by the BESA [Begin-Sadat] Center for Strategic Studies,

                                  Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Israel


                      Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 135


The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies is an independent, non-partisan think tank conducting policy-relevant research on Middle Eastern and global strategic affairs, particularly as they relate to the national security and foreign policy of Israel and regional peace and stability. It is named in memory of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, whose efforts in pursuing peace lay the cornerstone for conflict resolution in the Middle East.

 
Executive Summary 

 Behind the ongoing media frenzy, America seems deeply divided over whether to pursue a hard line with Russia or to cooperate with it. With Donald Trump favoring the latter course, Moscow “voted” for him in the 2016 elections. But the Kremlin’s cybernetic interference in the election has led to ongoing Russo-gate and efforts by President Trump’s foes to paint him as a Manchurian candidate.  As Trump replaces Obama’s misconceived policy of strategic patience with proactive strategic savvy, the question of US future policies remains open. Seeking answers requires a fundamental reexamination of Washington’s 21st century Middle East wars, where at every turn Russian-American relations formed the hidden context.


The story began in 2001-2002, when new presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin formed a successful partnership during the post 9/11 war against Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan – only to see it unravel over the course of the two superpowers’ interventions in the Middle East and Russia’s interference in Georgia and Ukraine.

 Personality has played a key role in the vicissitudes of US-Russian relations. Contrary to his common image as a KGB “stone cold killer,” Putin has shown himself to be “a cold calculator of Russian national interests” (to use Henry Kissinger’s words), a Christian autocrat who, like the tsars earlier, uses terror selectively against enemies of the state. By contrast, Presidents Bush and Obama were primarily ideologically 8 I Washington and Moscow: Confrontation or Cooperation? driven in their Middle East wars, seeking democratic regime change for people living under oppressive dictatorships. Unfortunately, the fall of dictatorships in Iraq and Libya generated jihadist chaos and political disintegration and worsened Washington’s relations with Moscow, which felt misled into supporting the Libyan intervention. The result was the intensification of Russian support for Bashar Assad’s beleaguered regime in Syria.

 In 2013, when Obama reneged on his chemical weapon red line in Syria, Putin got a first-hand indication of what “strategic patience” really meant. Thus, when Moscow’s corrupt client, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown by popular revolt, Putin responded with the 2014 bloodless invasion of Crimea. A year later he saved Assad with an unprecedented military intervention.

 Given this less than exemplary record of US foreign policy, one can only hope that President Trump and his seasoned national security team can establish fruitful deal-making with Putin. Should Russo-gate lead to impeachment, however, American power will be dangerously weakened (as happened with Richard Nixon). This would significantly increase the likelihood of future confrontation with Moscow

 


“It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war who can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.” – Sun Tzu 
 
INTRODUCTION

 On April 6, 2017, US President Donald J. Trump took the unprecedented step of launching a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base in retaliation for Bashar Assad’s use of poison gas against civilians, including children and infants. 

The strike came after a small US task force landed in eastern Syria with the stated goal of smashing Islamic State (ISIS). Until that point, Moscow believed Trump was amenable to leaving Assad temporarily in place, unlike his predecessor, whose nominal priority was regime change. After the missile strike, the Russians were left to wonder what Trump’s foreign policy really was.

 Trump’s action was not just a response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. It must be situated within the domestic controversy over Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, including the theft and release of Democratic Party emails, and connections between the Trump campaign and Russian entities. The fierce post-election debate over Syria is also linked to the unprecedentedly harsh debate over whether America’s policies towards Russia and Syria should involve confrontation or cooperation. The missile strike did not answer that question for either Moscow or Washington, but in March 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that American strategic patience was over with regard to both North Korea and Iran.1 On May 19, 2017, Trump’s Secretary of Defense, Ret. General James Mattis, declared a new strategy aimed at eliminating ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. How will the new strategy affect Washington’s relationship with Moscow in the Middle East as well as the continuous conflict in Ukraine? Answering this question requires a fundamental reexamination of US foreign policy over the past two decades, where at every turn Russian-American relations formed the hidden context.


 

The Clinton and Bush years 

 
At the turn of this century, new elected Russian president Vladimir Putin genuinely sought to enlist US support for a second Chechen war. Terrorism was the hook.

 President Bill Clinton and his principal Russian hand, Strobe Talbott, met Putin in September 1999 at a summit in New Zealand. Clinton would recall how avidly Putin thanked him for supporting Russia, despite rising international criticism of the Chechen bloodshed. But when the US president urged humanitarian measures, Putin drew a map on a napkin, detailing how recent actions in Dagestan represented not just a resumption of the war, but “the beginning of an invasion of Russia.” Nor was it just “Chechen bandits” who were involved, “but the forces of international Islamic terrorism.”2

 Putin knew about the al-Qaeda attacks against US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in the fall of 1998, which had killed 224 people. Thirteen days after the attacks, Washington had launched retaliatory cruise missiles at al-Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. Putin’s problem, however, was that al-Qaeda was not fully on America’s radar. Saddam Hussein was still perceived as the main threat. With bipartisan support, Clinton had signed the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, authorizing regime change.


 Talbott saw Putin masterfully calculating Russia’s national interests and articulating them to his American “partners.” Henry Kissinger, too, viewed Putin as “a cold calculator of Russia’s national interests,” a character out of Dostoevsky with “a great sense of connection, an inward connection, to Russian history.”3  To read the rest click here.  


                Washington and Moscow:             Confrontation or Cooperation?


                 Jiri Valenta and Leni Friedman Valenta

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Trump and General John Kelly (Homeland Security.

​​​                       ​     WHAT WOULD REAGAN DO ON TERRORISM, NORTH KOREA AND RUSSIA?


                                                              Jiri and Leni Friedman Valenta


​                                                BESA Perspectives, No. 755, February 28, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: “Intra-state strategic competition [with Russia and China], not terrorism, is the primary concern of US national security,” posits the DOD 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). But how justified is this focus shift from the ongoing fight against Islamist terrorism? And can Moscow and Beijing’s interest in defeating this common enemy be harnessed to this fight? Exploring President Reagan’s policies to terrorism and intra-state competition can provide some useful clues.

With the destruction of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the US and its allies won an important battle, but not the global war. Many ISIS survivors have deployed elsewhere – from Yemen, to Sinai, to Libya – while the vacuum left by the organization’s downfall is being rapidly filled by al-Qaeda and its affiliates.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations control some 70 percent of the country’s territory, hardly the consolidation of US “gains in Afghanistan” claimed by the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).

Meanwhile, the survival of North Korea’s WMD arsenal, and its continued defiance of the international community, bolster the anti-US network of terrorist rogue regimes – above all Iran and its Hezbollah proxy. To countries near US shores, like Nicaragua and Grenada before the 1983 US Invasion, Pyongyang committed the largest military resources after Moscow. In Syria, it helped the Assad regime build a nuclear reactor, only to have it destroyed by Israel in September 2007.

Given this lasting terrorist threat, and the growing geopolitical challenges from Russia and China, President Donald Trump might benefit from consulting the statecraft of the late president, Ronald Reagan.

As the eminent historian and former Reagan adviser Richard Pipes explained, the president “instinctively understood what all great statesmen do, what matters and what does not, what is right and what wrong for his country. This quality cannot be taught; like perfect pitch one is born with it.” History appears to have borne this out.

In 1986, US intelligence viewed Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi as the terrorist linchpin in both the Middle East and Western Europe, even supporting the IRA. On April 6, Libyan agents bombed a West Berlin discotheque, frequented by US servicemen. The large casualties firmed Reagan’s decision to respond with massive force (two navy aircraft carriers, 100 fighters and bombers), against the calls by NATO allies for more negotiations and sanctions. Some NATO members even denied the US Air Force overfly rights.

Going it alone, Reagan launched a surprise attack on Libyan military targets and command centers – Operation El Dorado Canyon – aimed at taking out Qaddafi and his military leadership. The dictator survived, but he never recovered from the attack that humiliated him and destroyed his air defenses. For some time he found solace in R&D of WMD. Yet even this last hope sputtered in 2001 with receipt of an ultimatum from President George W. Bush. In December 2003, fearful of following in the footsteps of the freshly deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi gave up his WMD program.

Thereafter, as a secular leader, Qaddafi began to work with the US against Libya’s al-Qaeda Islamists. However, these moves did not protect him from a 2011 NATO intervention, orchestrated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Qaddafi’s subsequent murder by U.S.-armed Libyan rebels, and Saddam’s earlier execution, stiffened Pyongyang’s belief that it must never give up its WMD – the guarantee of the regime’s survival.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has recently hinted at a viable US military North Korea option that “would not leave Seoul at risk of devastating retaliatory strikes.” Undoubtedly, Pyongyang will be a riskier and much more demanding operation than Reagan’s El Dorado. Yet Kim Jong-Un is not suicidal. If his own life and the lives of his family, as well as his comfortable retirement, can be guaranteed, might not he give up his WMD in the face of an imminent massive strike?

Kim must not be allowed to perfect his delivery systems, threaten the US and its allies with his missiles, and bolster worldwide terrorism by his brazen example. Dangerous though it is, a Reaganesque decapitation of the totalitarian Pyongyang regime can prevent worse catastrophe later, including subsequent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

The 2018 NDS aptly pointed to Russia’s military interventions in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine, as well as to China’s creating man-made islands as military outposts in the Pacific. All these were serious affronts to existing world order. But how likely are new Putin interventions, say in NATO’s Baltic states? As posited by Czech president Milos Zeman, who knows Putin well, they are most unlikely: “Putin is not suicidal.”

Trump surely knows that Reagan, like him, embarked on a massive military buildup, aimed at deterring Russia’s geopolitical ambitions. And, like Reagan, he aims eventually at a discreet opening to Moscow. To the chagrin of his hardliners, Reagan wrote personal letters to three consecutive, dying Russian leaders. Finally, with healthy Gorbachev, he found the path to genuine partnership. “Some of the N.S.C. Staff are too hard line & don’t think any approach should be made to the Soviets,” Reagan recorded in his diary on April 6, 1983, amidst this process. “I think I’m hardliner & never will appease but I do want to try & let them see there is a better world if they’ll show by deed they want to go along with the free world” (emphasis in the original).

Trump must be aware that economic stagnation wrought by the Western sanctions has made a new nuclear arms race prohibitively costly for Moscow, but also for the US. He also knows that Russia suffers terrorist attacks by Islamists from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Yet the president has an Achilles heel that Reagan did not have: his inability to admit any serious misjudgments. For over a year, he repeatedly dismissed Russia’s interference in the US elections as a hoax.

As the evidence now seems incontrovertible, he could learn from Reagan’s handling of his major scandal – the 1986 Iran-Contragate. Initially, the president denied that the US had illegally supplied arms to rogue state Iran for releasing American hostages. After a period of denials, however, Reagan, unlike Nixon in Watergate, owned up to the truth. With the recent indictment of 13 Russians and a few Russian institutions for election rigging, Trump must find Reagan’s inner strength to stop denying the undeniable.

Taking the long view, however, the administration should realize that neither the US, nor Russia, nor China can likely prevail alone in the global war on Islamic terrorism. To win in Afghanistan and stabilize Syria, Washington must sooner or later explore new opportunities for limited partnership with Moscow and Beijing. Should these powers demonstrate real seriousness of intention – the administration must seize the moment.

The decisive factor in the coming months, however, will be Trump’s success or failure in cutting the North Korean Gordian knot. Only then can he demonstrate if he possesses the “imponderable” quality of political judgment that Ronald Reagan had.

Dr Jiri Valenta is a non-residential Senior Research Associate with BESA. He and his wife, Leni, are the Institute of Post-Communist Studies and Terrorism’s principals, in Miami (jvlv.net) for the last decade. Jiri is coauthor (with Norman Podhoretz and William Maynes) of “Terrorism, Reagan’s Response” (University of Miami, 1986).

​​RUSSIA; CONFLICT & COOPERATION

Secretary of State Mike Pompeos.

​Pictured: A United States Air Force Reserve cargo plane delivers humanitarian aid, intended for the people of Venezuela, in Cucuta, Colombia, a mile and a half from the Venezuelan border, on February 22, 2019. The USAF reservists were greeted by Colombian President Ivan Duquemarquez and Vice President Marta Lucia-Ramirez. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. Wayne Capps)


   How the Trump Administration Should Counter Putin's Policies                                        in  Ukraine and Venezuela

                                                                                     By Jiri Valenta

                                                           February 25, 2019 

              https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/13795/trump-putin-ukraine-venezuela



If Nicolás Maduro is removed from office in Venezuela, Putin might act as he did when a popular revolution overthrew Yanukovych in Ukraine, in 2014: with a surprise invasion of the Crimea. This time, Putin may launch a surprise naval and land attack on Mariupol, set up a land bridge from Crimea to Russia and continue intensifying his attempt to strangle Ukraine's economy in order to subjugate Ukraine to Russia. Trump needs to take immediate preemptive measures to prevent Putin from doing that by increasing naval aid to Kiev.

So far, Putin seems to have been counting on a lack of American resolve regarding Venezuela, and has just succeeded in getting China to support him.

If America abdicates its role in Venezuela, you can bet Russia will eventually build intelligence facilities there. Russia has also been providing Nicaragua with "sophisticated weaponry," including "T-72 tanks, war boats, warplanes, and powerful bombs."

Above all, President Trump must continue as he is doing now, to work towards liberating the Venezuelan people. Any hesitation will be counterproductive.

Pictured: A United States Air Force Reserve cargo plane delivers humanitarian aid, intended for the people of Venezuela, in Cucuta, Colombia, a mile and a half from the Venezuelan border, on February 22, 2019. The USAF reservists were greeted by Colombian President Ivan Duquemarquez and Vice President Marta Lucia-Ramirez. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. Wayne Capps)

America is facing two dangerous crises. In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, the illegitimate winner of a reportedly sham election, has, with his socialist policies, created a catastrophic situation. The struggle in Venezuela between his challenger, Juan Guaidó, and him is reaching a crescendo. Millions of Venezuelans, suffering under his radical regime, have been flooding neighboring Brazil and Colombia. Yet, with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Maduro is clinging to power, as Fidel Castro did in the early 1960s with the aid of Nikita Khrushchev.

Putin, seeking to rescue his beleaguered client, Maduro, as well as his considerable investments in Venezuelan oil and gold, recently deployed two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela. In addition, hundreds of "private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia" are reportedly deployed in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan crisis is also linked to a second dangerous crisis in eastern Ukraine. There, even as U.S. ships recently sailed through the Black Sea, Putin is undertaking a new destabilization policy directed at the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Why Mariupol? Putin's main objective seems be to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the EU. His strategy is also likely designed to weaken Ukraine, which depends on the export of coal, steel and grain through Mariupol, which is the key export port for the whole Donbas region.

Putin seems to have become militarily involved in Venezuela partly to assure that Ukraine, the most geopolitically significant country on its western borders, will not follow the path of the Baltic NATO countries. He apparently desires Ukraine to become a weak nation that will eventually reach some sort of economic cooperation with Russia. A believer in warfare by proxies on land -- separatists, "volunteers," Chechens and Special Forces -- Putin is now using the Russian Navy and special forces by sea, economically to strangle the prominent, strategically important industrial city of Mariupol. A railroad hub and the key port on the Azov Sea, Mariupol could also serve as a land bridge to the Crimea.

Even if Russia may not have a master plan, it does appear to have strategic objectives: building a network of naval and air force facilities as in Syria, or renewing them as in Crimea and in occupied Abkhazia. Russia would love again to possess the port in Mariupol to dominate the Azov Sea.


Facing both crises -- in Venezuela and Ukraine -- what does Trump need to know and what can he do?

Putin's Evolving Strategy and Venezuelan and Ukrainian Crises


First, the Russian president has never desired to recover the whole Soviet or Czarist empires. Rather, for more than a decade, he has concentrated on some strategically important slices of countries that were part of the former empire, primarily those with a sizable population of Russian-speakers, Orthodox believers or Shiite supporters of Christians. More importantly, as opposed to expensive full occupations of landlocked countries by former Russian Premiers Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, including Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Afghanistan, Putin's aims seem different. He appears to be seeking littoral slices of countries with assets he considers strategically important for Russia. The slices Putin seems to favor are those linked to the South by strategic waterways and endowed with energy resources. Now, with ISIS helpfully cleaned out of Syria by the United States, Russia has a warm water port on the Mediterranean, gas fields, and, ever since President Obama effectively abandoned Syria, the opportunity for Russia to displace or control any leaders there, such as Bashar al-Assad.

Putin also appears to wish to re-acquire ports, coastlines, waterways and littoral lands lost to Russia during the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Examples include Georgia's Abkhazia, in 2008, with its Black Sea coastline, and in 2014, Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the site of his Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Putin has also been enlarging naval facilities in Syria's port of Tartus, in the eastern Mediterranean, and has settled comfortably in an airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia.

How can Russia, a country with a GNP roughly equaling that of the Netherlands -- but that has been called a large "gas station" producing oil and transfers of energy and arms -- engage effectively in strategic competition with the United States, the largest technological and economic powerhouse?

The answer is that, as Russia, along with China, might have the nuclear capability seriously to damage the U.S., Putin appears to assume that America will not want to engage in a large, nuclear confrontation with it.

Putin's military strategists, given his lean circumstances since he came to power, seem to have pushed forward with the only military program that made sense: building a lethal, non-carrier-oriented naval fleet and killer special forces in each armed service with the objective of threatening -- and prevailing in -- local conflicts. They have also focused on the evolution of hybrid war scenarios to obtain land in countries that are not NATO members. Ukraine, Georgia, Syria and perhaps, in the future, Venezuela, are all examples. The key vital national-security focus for Russia, however, is still Ukraine, with its crucial geopolitical position and technological and agricultural potential.

Building a new U.S. base in Poland is critical for the U.S. to ensure the security of NATO countries, Poland and the Baltics. Meanwhile, the vulnerability of Mariupol on the Azov Sea and in the east was exposed by the Russian navy's attack on three Ukrainian ships on November 25, 2018, in which some Ukrainian sailors were wounded and 24 captured and imprisoned. Russia claims they infringed on internal waters that others claim are international.

Putin's Unsurprising Aversion to Regime Change

Putin has, learned a few lessons from the overthrow of two of his clients. The first was Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Persuaded at the time by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russia abstained at the UN rather than veto a NATO "humanitarian" intervention against the Libyan dictator. Putin, however, not only lost valuable contracts; he was also possibly shaken by the humiliating and feckless murder in Tripoli of Gaddafi by U.S.- armed "moderate" rebels, after Gaddafi had complied with all US requests.

The second lesson came when the corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 by a popular uprising in Kiev. Putin responded with a quick invasion of Crimea. To him, retaking Crimea with Sevastopol, the traditional home base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, must have seemed essential for linking his naval deployment between the Black Sea and Syria in the eastern Mediterranean. 


Putin then -- after first organizing a multilateral defense against former U.S. President Barack Obama's 2013 planned "red line" intervention in Syria -- went for direct intervention by military force from 2015 to 2018. The reason was purportedly to preserve the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but undoubtedly to expand even further Russian influence in the region -- the traditional goal of Russian rulers.

Putin's Strategy of Linkages

What has not been understood in the West is that Putin has linked the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, by taking advantage of Russia's peculiar geography. A canal between the rivers of the Volga and Don allows Putin to move elements of his Black Sea Fleet to the Caspian Sea and his Caspian Sea Flotilla to the Black Sea, when necessary, to be used in either conflict -- Syria or Ukraine.

The ongoing disputes in both Syria and Ukraine -- combined with the negotiations Minsk I and Minsk II in which he came out the winner -- have enabled Putin to manage both conflicts to America's disadvantage. Forays into the city of Mariupol by Russian proxies had already begun in 2014, as in other east Ukrainian cities, such as Donetsk, Lugansk and Kramatorsk.

Most Western observers and residents of Mariupol had apparently anticipated at that time, that the siege of this strategically important city would take place in 2015. (However, Andrey Kortunov, the President of the Russian International Affairs Council [RIAC] of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2015, put in doubt any ongoing offensive in Mariupol. He said, "So far the chances are that we can only expect that there will be no escalation at the beginning of the fall, which many are talking about.") . Instead, to everyone's surprise, Putin froze the Mariupol conflict and redeployed some of his forces to intervene in Syria. His objective there was ostensibly to defend his client, Assad, from a U.S.-supported, rebel uprising, but possibly more to defend Russia's newfound interests there -- Russia's upgraded navy and air force facilities in Tartus and Latakia, as well as future energy investment and energy transfer (pipelines) in Syria.

Putin's intervention helped to consolidate Assad's victory in late 2018 and Russia's entrenchment in Syria. With President Trump's announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, however, Putin quickly defrosted the conflict in eastern Ukraine and returned with his new strategy: seemingly the economic strangulation of Mariupol to weaken Ukraine by means of his navy on the Azov Sea.

How?

Since 2015, even while engaged in Syria, Putin had ordered building a bridge over the Kerch Strait, the bottleneck passage from the Black Sea into its tributary, the Azov Sea. The 18-kilometer-long bridge links Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. The bridge is so low, however -- 115 feet from the water -- that tall Ukrainian commercial ships cannot pass under it to the Black Sea. Many analysts (here, hereand here) view the construction of the too low bridge as not a result of poor engineering or stupidity. (The bridge, however, might be short-lived, due to seismic movements in the Kerch Strait.)

For years, during Obama's tenure and ever since Trump took office, Putin has skillfully fielded all U.S. attempts to arm Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles. Initially, it appeared that Trump was persuaded by Putin that Ukraine was not an area important enough for U.S. engagement. After negotiating with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, however, Trump, in an about-face approved the saleto Ukraine of 210 Javelin missiles and 37 launchers.

Ukraine's possession of the U.S.-made missiles has had a tremendous psychological impact on the Russian tank crews in Donbas, who reportedly now refuse to deploy and shell Ukrainian positions.

How Should the U.S. Proceed?

Prior to the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was viewed by Russia's Khrushchev as weak. Today, the Kremlin views Trump as weakened by "Russiagate" and the possibility -- lustily reported by the media for two years -- of his either resigning or facing impeachment, as President Richard Nixon did in 1974.

There is little Putin can do to save Maduro's regime in Venezuela; the cards are stacked in America's favor.

In Venezuela, there is a legitimate leader, Juan Guaidó, while Maduro's policies have alienated not only most of his people, but evidently most of his neighbors as well. Maduro is reportedly thought little of by leftists in South America and Europe.

The large amounts of humanitarian aid that Maduro is refusing to the Venezuelan people, should, of course, be allowed into Venezuela.

The U.S. should try to avoid bloodshed by continuing to offer Maduro and his key supporters safe passage out of the country.

So far, Putin seems to have been counting on a lack of American resolve regarding Venezuela; he has just succeeded in getting China to support him.

If Maduro is removed from office, Putin might act as he did when a popular revolution overthrew Yanukovych in Ukraine, in 2014: with a surprise invasion of the Crimea. This time, Putin may launch a surprise naval and land attack on Mariupol, set up a land bridge from Crimea to Russia and continue intensifying his attempt to strangle Ukraine's economy, in order to subjugate Ukraine to Russia. Trump needs to take immediate preemptive measures to prevent Putin from doing that, by increasing naval aid to Kiev.

Although the U.S. and Britain have recently conducted naval drills in the Black Sea, that action alone is insufficient. While strictly following the international convention on deployment of foreign ships through the Turkish Straits in the Black Sea, more naval power needs to be brought into play. The Ukrainian Navy could be allowed to borrow dozens of small vessels from NATO countries, while the U.S. undertakes a rapid program of helping to rebuild and enlarge the minuscule Ukrainian Navy.

If America abdicates its role in Venezuela, you can bet Russia will eventually build intelligence facilities there. Russia has also been providing Nicaragua with "sophisticated weaponry," including "T-72 tanks, war boats, warplanes, and powerful bombs."

Above all, President Trump must continue as he is doing now, to work towards liberating the Venezuelan people. Any hesitation will be counterproductive.

Dr. Jiri Valenta is a non-resident member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and formerly served at the Brookings Institution and the Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. He is also a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

© 2019 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.