Ukraine on the Brink

A warning to the West about making bad deals with rogue regimes.

YOOOOAdvocates of the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran need look no further than Ukraine to see what the consequences of a bad deal with a rogue state can be.

Back in February, the leaders of France, Germany and Russia pressured a desperate Ukrainian president into signing an agreement that made no mention of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, guaranteed a “special status” (read: Russian-controlled) eastern Ukraine, and froze in place the current front lines.  This meant that all Russia’s ill-gotten gains would be held by President Putin.  In return, Ukraine’s President Poroshenko got a sorely-needed $17.5 billion aid package from the West’s International Monetary Fund.  Monitoring compliance would be left to Europe’s OSCE.

As expected, even this bad deal was only a way-station for further land grabs by the Russians.  Since February, the “separatists” have given all signs of preparing a major offensive.  The US says that Russian air defense units have newly been moved in to their highest level since October.  Russian troop levels have been increased near Kharkov, the second-largest city.  The Russians have begun attacking with the supposedly banned Grad rocket launchers the Black Sea port of Mariupol, which has strategic importance--a separatist takeover would create a land bridge between mainland Russia and its new prize, Crimea.  The Russians have blocked OSCE inspectors from key sites, and a new campaign of cyber-attacks on Ukrainian government computers seems to be under way.

President Obama should take a play out of Canada’s book and join Prime Minister Stephen Harper—the moral leader of the Anglosphere--in a far more staunch support of the beleaguered nation.

This week Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said his country stands with Ukraine in the face of Russia's "aggressive militarism and expansionism," as he announced another $14 million aid package.  Canada has already committed $400 million in aid.  “Russia's actions in Ukraine call for a robust and sustained response by Canada….This is why our government continues to take strong action," he said, noting Canada's contribution of military aid, non-lethal equipment, and sanctions.

The United States, in turn, needs to beef up Ukraine’s military capabilities with substantial lethal aid, and now.  Such a proclamation would help deter President Putin from launching his looming, expected “separatist” offensive at a time when Ukraine’s own military is back on its heels.  And if deterrence fails, and Russia fully breaches the February cease-fire, a substantial package of lethal aid would encourage Ukraine to keep in the fight and give it the tools to do so.

We must also increase our intelligence sharing  with Kiev, insist on multi-national inspectors to verify compliance with the February deal (not just the under-resourced OSCE), and impose further sanctions against Russia for each escalation it undertakes.  There must be a tit-for-tat punishment for every breach, in order for deterrence to work.

Some argue that the US has no interest in protecting the sovereignty of Ukraine.  But our country has already committed itself to Ukraine’s sovereignty, both diplomatically and in the aid we’ve extended to the beleaguered nation.  It is not simply a question of moral or humanitarian interests, although since Putin began his grab for territory a year ago, more than 6,000 people have died and a million have been ejected from their homes.

American national security is heavily involved.  The President of Russia is, it must be said, an American adversary.  Other adversaries around the world carefully look to America for signs of weakness, and when weakness is perceived, foreign provocation invariably occurs.  Iran, for example, is watching.

Christopher S. Carson is a lawyer in private practice in Milwaukee and holds a master’s in National Security Studies from Georgetown University.

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