Goal Is to Make Further Aggression ‘Too Costly’ for Russia

The United States must provide Ukraine with defensive weapons — and $3 billion in military aid over three years — to oppose Russia’s invasion of the country and deter further Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, according to a new report.

The report, Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do, made several specific recommendations:

·       The US should provide $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine as soon as possible in 2015, followed by additional tranches of $1 billion in the next two fiscal years;

·       The provision of additional non-lethal assistance for Ukraine, including, counter-battery radars, drones, measures to combat enemy drones, secure communications capabilities, armored Humvees, and medical equipment; and

·       Other NATO members should also provide military assistance to Ukraine.

The report, which was produced by the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, comes at a time of an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine and as the Obama administration reportedly reconsiders its options for dealing with that crisis.

Russia is committing an “act of war” in Ukraine, Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution and one of the authors of the report, said at the report’s launch at the Atlantic Council on February 2.

Russian armed forces are involved in a “literal invasion” and “literal occupation” of eastern Ukraine, and “virtual annexation” of territory well beyond Crimea, said Talbott, a former Deputy Secretary of State.

“This is a major threat to the peace of Europe, to the peace of Eurasia, and therefore a threat to the interests of the United States and, I would say, a threat to the chances of a peaceful 21st century,” he added.

While the report does not call for putting US or NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine, Talbott said there is a need to have such forces in the Baltic States.

Besides Talbott, the other authors of the report are:

·       Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO;

·       Michele Flournoy, Chair, Center for a New American Security and former Under Secretary of Defense;

·       John Herbst, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and former US Ambassador to Ukraine;

·       Jan Lodal, Distinguished Fellow and former President of the Atlantic Council and former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense;

·       Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former US Ambassador to Ukraine;

·       James Stavridis, member of the Atlantic Council board, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe; and

·       Charles Wald, member of the Atlantic Council board and former Deputy Commander, US European Command.

Herbst described Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “revisionism” as the “greatest national security danger facing the planet today,” while Lodal said it has become clear that an approach that comprises purely nonlethal military assistance and economic sanctions is not enough to deter Putin.

“It became clear that we needed to up our military deterrence,” said Lodal.

Providing US military aid to Ukraine carries the risk of escalating the crisis between the West and Russia, a prospect alluded to by Fred Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council who moderated the discussion, and other members in the audience.

“The counter to that legitimate caveat is that for the West, led by the United States, not to up the ante in the deadly game that Putin is playing is to invite Putin to continue to believe that the West is soft, that the West is not going to stand up to him and he’ll just keep rolling,” said Talbott.

The Russian president’s “overall strategy is essentially a double game: talk across the table and kill on the ground in Ukraine,” he added.

The goal of providing defensive military aid to Ukraine’s armed forces is to raise the cost of aggression to Russia, said Pifer.

“It is not about giving the Ukrainian army enough to beat the Russian army. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

“The object here is to remove the inexpensive military option from Moscow’s toolkit. If the Ukrainians can do that with Western assistance and you have Western sanctions continue on Russia, we think that there is a very good chance that Moscow will then look for another way and that will be the path of negotiating a genuine settlement,” he added.

Several of the report’s authors traveled to Brussels and Ukraine on a fact-finding trip.

Documenting Russian meddling in Ukraine, Herbst said anywhere between 250 to 1,000 Russian military officers are in Ukraine helping the rebels; hundreds of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, and missiles have rolled into Ukraine since December; and Russian advisers have been working to strengthen command and control.

“This is an effort that was organized, financed, led, and in many cases staffed by citizens of the Russian Federation and there should be no confusion about that,” said Herbst.

Pifer said Ukrainian estimates of the number of Russian troops in Ukraine are significantly higher than what NATO estimates.

US policy currently provides only for nonlethal assistance to Ukraine. That policy should be changed to allow defensive lethal assistance, the report says.

It is important to get US assistance to Ukraine as soon as possible because there may be a significant uptick in the fighting in the spring, said Pifer.

The US and European Union have used economic sanctions in an effort to deter Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. While the sanctions have taken a toll on Russia’s economy they seem to have had little effect on the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.

“During the first seven or eight months in this crisis, Putin was trying to calibrate his actions to avoid sanctions. Ultimately he decided his objectives in Ukraine were worth taking sanctions,” said Herbst.

The European Union will decide in September whether to renew punishing sectoral sanctions on Russia.

“The critical objective for us is to maintain the sanctions to help the EU decide to renew them in September,” said Herbst.

It is equally important, both for withstanding Russian aggression and for Ukraine coming out in the right place, for the Ukrainian government to implement serious reform, he added.

Ashish Kumar Sen is an editor with the Atlantic Council.

Related Experts: Ashish Kumar Sen and John E. Herbst