by Alexei Bayer*
The Russian government always denied that it had anything to do with the Wagner Group. Putin’s propaganda machine claimed that the colonial wars conducted in Africa (and even efforts to keep Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in power) were nothing but private enterprise.
But then, when Wagner took part in Russia’s war in Ukraine, it was openly getting arms and ammunition from the Russian Ministry of Defense. And, following Wagner’s attempted coup in June, Putin finally acknowledged that his government financed this “private” army.
NATO remains wary of entering the war
In view of the recent wave of attacks on civilian targets in Odessa, the question of how to stop the nation that has collectively become a war criminal becomes more pressing.
With Belarus dictator Lukashenko effectively threatening Poland by saying that Wagner “wants to visit Warsaw and Rzeszow,” it would be great to respond to these threats by forming a “Western Wagner.”
The war in Ukraine has gone on for nearly a year and a half, and the impact on the country has been devastating.
An unknown number of Ukrainians – certainly running into many tens of thousands – have been killed or maimed. Nearly a quarter of the population are refugees abroad. Industry and agriculture have been severely damaged.
While NATO remains wary of entering the war in Ukraine directly, the Wagner Group offers an excellent model on how to defeat Russia quickly – and without legally engaging the Western Alliance.
How much longer?
As the war drags on indefinitely the situation will become catastrophic. Many more Ukrainian young men and women will die at the front. Numerous refugee families will find new homes, start assimilating and will decide not to return to their ruined country.
And the Ukrainian economy and infrastructure will reel from barbaric Russian acts of the kind that destroyed the Kakhovka dam.
On the right side of history, but…
Ukrainians know that they are fighting to uphold the basic values of civilization, democracy and freedom and are defending the rest of the world (Eastern Europe in particular) from Russian aggression.
Many people in the West agree – and this is why Kyiv has been getting massive military and economic assistance from some fifty countries and international institutions.
But as Ukraine is degraded by an open-ended conflict – and as its future as a thriving nation grows ever murkier with every new day of combat – Ukrainians may start wondering why they have to make all the sacrifices for the common good and sustain all the irreparable losses.
Sapping Ukraine’s vitality
If things go on the way they have, Ukraine’s strength will be inevitably sapped. Ukrainians may eventually turn against the West because the contrast between the devastation of their own country and peace and prosperity in the rest of Europe will be stark.
Not only could NATO lose a valuable ally strategically located in the center of Europe, but Ukraine may find other allies and supporters in a world where new economic and military actors are emerging and are positioning themselves as rivals to the U.S.-led Western alliance. China, in particular, comes to mind.
NATO: No direct confrontation with Russia
Naturally, NATO has no stomach for a direct confrontation with Russia. No one wants to risk a nuclear war, which has been a legitimate reason why all Western nations, including strongest supporters of Ukraine, have said that they are not going to engage Russian troops directly.
Yet, there has always been a way to go around this self-imposed taboo and to end the war in Ukraine promptly. And it is Vladimir Putin himself who showed NATO how to do it.
Borrow a page from Putin’s book
NATO should borrow a page from Putin’s book. Several NATO members – e.g., the United States, the UK, Canada and Poland – should band together and set up a “private” army, something like the Sibelius Group, to honor Finland, the new member of the alliance.
Unlike Wagner, which fought a land war and stormed Ukrainian positions in Bakhmut, the Western “private” army will not need any infantry units on the ground. It will only need squadrons of pilots flying advanced U.S. aircraft and artillery units operating long range rocket launchers and air defense systems. Legally these units will not be connected either to NATO or to any individual nation.
This stratagem – entirely borrowed from Putin – would show Ukrainians that the West is willing to stand with them on the battlefield, not just in press conferences. It would also convince frontline states on NATO’s eastern frontier that the alliance will come to their defense in all circumstances – something that some people in Eastern Europe are still doubting.
Kick Russia out of Ukraine in a matter of months
Most importantly, it is a way to kick Russia out of Ukraine in a matter of months (not years) to minimize Ukrainian military and civilian casualties and reduce the damage to the country’s economy and social structure.
The NATO summit in Vilnius was hailed as a triumph as the expanded 32-member alliance demonstrated unprecedented unity and strength. Yet, a high point all too often becomes a turning point, marking the start of a decline. Without a quick Ukrainian victory, this may prove to be NATO’s future as well.
Going after the Black Sea fleet, the pride of Russia’s admirals, and the strategic bomber location will do much to neuter Russia.
*Senior Editor, The Globalist
**first published in: Theglobalist.com