Below is my 2014 interview with Poland's largest news website: Onet. (Original Polish article is here.)
Q: Mr. Templin, the situation in Ukraine is very tense. This is the greatest threat to peace in Europe since the democratic revolution in 1989, and a great challenge for Western politicians. But what does the crisis in Ukraine looks like from the point of view of a military veteran - a person not involved in the political decision-making?
A: Thank you for talking with me, Przemyslaw. I agree that Russian intervention in Ukraine is one of the greatest threats to peace in Europe since the Revolutions of 1989, which as you know, began with Poland’s rejection of Communism, and others in Europe joined that rejection. I think that for many Americans, the fall of the Berlin Wall was particularly symbolic—for American veterans, it symbolized a great victory in the Cold War, leading to Soviet dissolution. Now we are in danger of Russia controlling other countries again.
Q: Mr. Templin, how do you assess the reaction of Western countries, especially the United States, to the Russian aggressive steps towards Ukraine? Is the reaction adequate in your opinion?
A: First, I think it’s important for the West to understand that President Putin is hungry for control—we’ve seen that in his attitude towards ruling his own country and his attitude towards surrounding countries. I believe his goal is long-term and far-reaching, which is certainly of concern for Poland and many other countries. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that direct U.S. military action is not a real option, and that some of the current sanctions and planned sanctions may have some short-term effects, but they will not be effective in the long term for stopping Putin. The West needs a long-term plan, and additional military presence in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is smart. Gates also says we should become more militarily involved with Poland, and I agree. In addition, I think his advice for America and Europe to press hard for a southern pipeline to send gas to “Europe outside of Russia and Ukrainian territorial space” is a wise long-term strategy for fighting the spread of Putin control.
Q: Is Ukraine threatened by Russian direct military intervention in your opinion?
A: Yes. Taking control of Crimea was a big win for Putin. I don’t know how we can take it away from him, or why he would let it go. The Crimea is Putin’s now. And he will not stop there. I think Russia is engaging in covert military actions in Ukraine and Putin would like to expand those actions.
Q: Republicans in Congress have criticized President Barack Obama's policy towards Russia, claiming that this policy is "indecisive" and "weak". Did the U.S. authorities make a mistake trying to build partnership relations with Russia, referred earlier to as the "reset"?
A: U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” President Reagan used this attitude well in dealing with the Soviet Union—he dealt aggressively with the Soviet Union but had the capacity for warmth. During Reagan’s time, the world was also helped by the attitude of Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev: glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). I think Reagan’s show of warmth for Gorbachev was not a mistake, and later efforts towards a “reset” were not a mistake; however, I think President Barrack Obama is mistaken in “speaking loudly and carrying a small stick” especially in regards to Putin, who seeks power more than glasnost or perestroika.
Q: Should the crisis in Ukraine and aggressive Russian policy induce the United States to increase its military presence in Europe? Previously, we had to deal with withdrawing American troops from Germany for example. Should this policy change now?
A: Again, I think additional military presence in that region is smart. And we also need to become more militarily involved with Poland.
Q: Does Russia's policy towards Eastern Europe threaten to undermine U.S. leadership on a global scale?
A: Leadership requires more action and less reaction. Set a long-term plan and stay with it. An important part of Reagan’s plan included the Strategic Defense Initiative. President Obama needs a major long-term plan in Eastern Europe. He also needs such a plan in Asia, dealing with China. Both Russia and China have been emboldened by the perceived leadership weaknesses of Obama.
Q: Poland is not a military superpower but gave its support to the new authorities of Ukraine and led to the involvement of the European Union in the process of building democracy in Ukraine. How do you assess the action taken by Poland in the on-going crisis in Ukraine?
A: I think Poland has done an amazing job domestically and as a member of the European Union and NATO. You have truly fought the negative effects of Russian rule, most recently in Ukraine, but you shouldn’t have to fight alone. Obama needs to do more.
Q: Should permanent bases for American ground forces be built in Poland in your opinion? So far in Poland we have American F-16 fighter jets and small contingent of ground forces. Should American bases be built also in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, such as the Baltic States and Romania?
A: I think NATO commanders, with more leadership from the U.S., are best equipped to answer the specifics of military presence, but I agree that increased military presence, “a big stick”, is needed in that region. I believe this is also true in Asia with regard to China.
Q: What, in your opinion, would be the best military support, which the United States could provide for Poland? What military resources would be necessary to "contain" Russia?
A: An increased U.S. military presence is needed in Poland, but President Obama needs to show more leadership through NATO in order to create an effective presence. And this must be coordinated with a long-term plan that will break Putin’s back, for example, a southern gas pipeline to countries in that region.
Q: Poland and the United States are strategic allies. Therefore, shouldn't Poland and the United States strengthen bilateral military relations (in addition to their relations within NATO)? How such relationships could be strengthened?
A: Poland has been one of the strongest European supporters of the U.S., but unfortunately Obama has shown ignorance about Poland’s situation during World War II, broken his promise to include Poland in the Visa Waiver Program, and displayed weakness in regards to Russian aggression in Ukraine. With such missteps, it’s difficult to strengthen relations. Now I think what is most needed is new leadership in the White House, a new commander-in-chief. Until that happens, I hope Putin is unable to gain new ground in Ukraine and elsewhere. Poland deserves better; the world deserves better.
[Photo courtesy of Aleksey Yermolov]