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This is not an issue with NATO membership, if only to say that Putin doesn't want Ukraine to have any friends that will stand up for it. Ukraine wants in, and Putin took Crimea and built a bridge, so it is understandable that Ukraine is anxious for membership to happen, and Putin is not. He wants to be able to eff Ukraine, and it does not have anything to do with fear of Ukraine, but rather fear of NATO.
If he takes Ukraine, it puts HIM up against NATO countries that he can menace to his heart's content. He will STILL have a border with genuine NATO countries. The only reason he hasn't completely ringed Ukraine with troops and equipment is precisely because those NATO countries say no, and they have friends that can back them up if need be.
Perhaps Ukraine doesn't have the votes as we are talking here tonight. They wanted in before, and the process is long and slow. But, then, what is the logic of Putin stating that one of his cardinal demands on the Ukraine crisis is to keep them out of NATO? Surely this means that he knows that at some point Ukraine will have the votes for the protection it obviously needs.
If he weren't sitting there poised to invade as soon as his excuse is worded correctly, then he wouldn't have the problem he now has of NATO countries and others supplying Ukraine with weaponry and resources. That tends to happen when people don't want a takeover of Europe. It has only been, what, 77 years or so, since the end of WWII, so their memory is long and hard against anything like that happening again in a do over--same shit, different aggressor--and it may not matter if Ukraine is a member or not. They may have friends anyway.
I'm all in favor of sanctioning Russia swiftly, hard and convincingly, if it can make him stay out of Ukraine. It doesn't have to be this way, except that we have a history now of his election meddling, corruption, and previous invasion of Crimea. He's not a friendly guy to anyone situated in a country that he wants.
You have to ask yourself what 2014 and Crimea means to this situation. There was no NATO and long border complained of at that time. There was the excuse that there were Russian citizens who wanted to be annexed. As if...
Let me repeat, after a bloody and vicious WW, the fact that some countries favored taking Russia out does not mean that anyone wants to do that today. But, Russia has ill intent and has not done anything to change its persona.
And, I don't really understand your comment that Belarus and Russia would have no choice but to invade. For what reason? The fact that joining NATO would prevent them from invading? There is always a choice--peace or war--and I think that Belarus will eventually understand what they have given up.
I'm a former 98G, my friend, and I respect your service. We just disagree about what's going on here. I think we are walking right up to the door of WWIII, and it will be Putin's fault. Russian citizens don't want that, American citizens don't want that, but apparently Belarus and Putin do.
And after all that work he did with Trump, he is probably disappointed that he can't get us to back down. He should declare his exercises over, pack up and go away from the border.