Inaction in Ukraine Sets a Dangerous Precedent

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The U.S. and Europe have been slow and hesitant in countering Vladimir Putin’s outrageous land grab in Ukraine. If allowed to stand, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its ability to wrest the eastern part of the country from Kiev’s control will set a dangerous precedent that will encourage aggression by China and other states. A more serious counter to Russia’s actions is necessary. For a start the U.S. and Europe need to beef up sanctions on Russia to bar all Russian companies from doing business in dollar-denominated transactions. Countries such as the UK, Switzerland, and Cyprus, where billions in ill-gained Russian loot has been stored, should also freeze the accounts of Putin and his oligarch supporters. France should make clear that it will never deliver either of the two amphibious assault ships that Russia has commissioned from French shipyards (so far only one of them is on temporary hold). The U.S. should also lift its ban on oil and gas exports to allow more oil and gas to reach European markets in order to make up for disruptions in Russian supplies. In addition, the U.S. needs to beef up its military presence among NATO states in Eastern Europe. At a minimum one Brigade Combat Team needs to be stationed in each of the Baltic Republics and Poland along with significant airpower to signal to Russia that further land grabs will not be tolerated. The U.S. should also provide Ukraine with the intelligence support, weapons (especially anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles), and training it needs to defend itself without fear of further provoking Putin. Finally the U.S. should declare that it is suspending further cuts to the defense budget to enable us to field armed forces capable of responding to provocations by Russia or other international predators. Even these steps would probably not succeed in making Russia disgorge Ukraine, but at least they would inflict such a steep price for Putin’s actions that others (read: China) would hesitate before following his lawless example.