Russia’s War Gets Closer to NATO

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A Ukrainian firefighter walks inside a large food products storage facility which was destroyed by an airstrike on the outskirts of Kyiv, March 13.



Photo:

Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Vladimir Putin

continues to escalate his bloody war in Ukraine, and he’s testing NATO more every day. The Russian is exploiting President Biden’s publicly stated declarations of what the U.S. won’t do to help Ukraine, and in the process he is bringing the war closer to NATO’s borders.

That’s the significance of Sunday’s bombing of a Ukrainian military training site a mere 10 miles from the Polish border. The strike killed 35 and injured more than 130. Until last month, U.S. National Guard soldiers had trained Ukrainians at the site.

The strike by eight missiles was far from the war’s front lines and the cities Russia is besieging in Ukraine’s north and east. It follows a warning a day earlier by Russia’s deputy foreign minister that Russia considers NATO military and other aid to Ukraine to be “legitimate targets.” Russia surely knew that it ran the risk of killing NATO soldiers if any were still at the training site.

The strikes show Mr. Putin is willing to take even greater risks to achieve his war aims as his plans for a lightning capture of Kyiv have failed. Russia’s recent claims that Ukrainians are using chemical and biological weapons is a typical Kremlin accusation before Russia does the same thing.

Russian forces have also increased their bombing of Ukrainian cities, including residential neighborhoods, public squares and hospitals. Mariupol on the Sea of Azov is being reduced to rubble and its people are short of food, water and warmth. The savagery may look medieval to shocked Western eyes, but it is meant to demoralize Ukrainians in the service of Mr. Putin’s political goal of persuading President

Volodymyr Zelensky

that he must accept a settlement on Russian terms.

Biden Administration officials keep saying that economic sanctions and Ukrainian resistance mean that Mr. Putin can’t achieve a strategic victory. But that depends on how you define victory. A Ukraine divided in two, with Russia in control of the east, and a rump, Western Ukraine cut off from the coast might look like a victory to Mr. Putin—especially if sanctions are removed in some cease-fire agreement.

The point is that Mr. Putin is taking every advantage of President Biden’s desire to avoid “escalation” at all costs. He hears Mr. Biden say his overriding goal is avoiding “World War III,” not stopping Mr. Putin in Ukraine. The Russian sees that his threats caused Mr. Biden to back away from a plan to send Polish fighter jets to Ukraine, even if flown by Ukrainian pilots.

His threats and Sunday’s military strike are intended to stop NATO from continuing to send military aid to Ukraine. He is betting the U.S. will do nothing if he starts blowing up trucks coming across the Polish border.

***

Mr. Biden has drawn his red line at defending “every inch” of NATO territory. On

CBS’s

“Face the Nation” on Sunday, White House national security adviser

Jake Sullivan

said, “if there is a military attack on NATO territory, it would cause the invocation of Article Five, and we would bring the full force of the NATO alliance to bear in responding to it.”

But what about a chemical attack inside Ukraine? Mr. Sullivan was much less definitive about that. How about a siege of cities that kills thousands? Like it or not, the Russian brutality that the West is tolerating in Ukraine is rewriting the rules of what countries can get away with in the 21st century. Mr. Putin can do what he likes as long as he keeps within the outlines of Ukrainian territory.

No one wants a broader war. But as Russia escalates, Mr. Biden and NATO had better be prepared to fight one. A reckless or desperate Mr. Putin may give them no choice.

Wonder Land: The world, led by NATO, should guarantee Lviv’s status as a “free city,” just as the western powers did for West Berlin in 1948. Images: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the March 14, 2022, print edition.

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