How to deal with the Kremlin-created crisis in Europe

Editor’s note: Moscow’s buildup of troops on and near Ukraine’s borders and bellicose rhetoric have raised the prospect of a major conventional war in Europe. The phone call today between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin underscores the dangers of this Kremlin-manufactured crisis. Below is a statement by twenty-five distinguished experts and former senior officials offering their ideas on how to deter Moscow from escalating its current war of aggression against Ukraine and more broadly to discourage Moscow from future provocations. The statement represents the views of the signatories and not of their institutions.

Since President Biden’s virtual summit with President Putin on December 7, Russia has increased its troop presence on or near Ukraine’s borders. Having created this crisis, the Kremlin has demanded security guarantees for Russia that the United States and its allies cannot possibly provide. It has made provocative statements at high levels, including outlandish claims that US private military contractors intend to launch a chemical weapons attack in eastern Ukraine. Moscow wrongly asserts that NATO enlargement has created a military threat to Russia; the Alliance has fully abided by its commitments in the NATO-Russia Founding Act to refrain from deploying nuclear weapons or permanently stationing substantial combat forces on the territory of new member states, despite the fact that Russia has violated many of its own Founding Act commitments, as well as the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter, and the Budapest Memorandum.

In short, Moscow appears to be setting the stage for launching a major conventional assault on Ukraine, even though the United States and NATO have shown a willingness to sit down and discuss Kremlin concerns.

We believe the United States should, in closest consultation with its NATO allies and with Ukraine, take immediate steps to affect the Kremlin’s cost-benefit calculations before the Russian leadership opts for further military escalation. This means raising the costs that would ensue should the Russian military launch a new assault on Ukraine, building on the excellent set of measures the Biden administration has already laid out: enacting punishing sanctions on Moscow, sending major military supplies to Ukraine, and strengthening NATO’s force posture on its eastern flank.

The administration should continue its good work with the European Union and other partners to ensure agreement on the elements of a response to any Russian assault on Ukraine, regardless of the extent or form of Russia’s escalation. Such a response would include a package of major and painful sanctions that would be applied immediately if Russia assaults Ukraine. Ideally, the outline of these sanctions would be communicated now to Moscow, so that the Kremlin has a clear understanding of the magnitude of the economic hit it will face. In particular, Washington should consult with Berlin and secure German agreement that it would prevent Nord Stream 2 from going into operation in the event of a Russian attack, making clear that otherwise the administration will not again waive sanctions on the pipeline.

The most important thing that the West can do now is to enhance the deterrent strength of Ukraine’s armed forces by providing military assistance and equipment on an expedited basis. For the Kremlin, a large invasion of Ukraine works only if Russian forces are able to seize and hold Ukrainian territory without sustaining significant and constant casualties. Western countries should act now to equip Ukraine’s military and territorial defense units with additional capabilities that can impose such costs.

Western military officials should consult urgently with their Ukrainian counterparts as to what assistance and equipment the Ukrainian military needs and could most quickly integrate into its operations to bolster its defensive strength. Such assistance might include additional Javelin anti-armor missiles and Q36 counter-battery radar systems as well as Stinger and other anti-aircraft missiles. The Biden administration should also encourage NATO allies to do more to enhance Ukraine’s defensive capabilities, making clear that the entire NATO Alliance stands together in opposing Russian aggression.

We believe that NATO should act now to begin bolstering its military presence on its eastern flank and communicating to Moscow that Russia’s escalation would bring a substantial number of US and Allied forces and a permanent presence in the Baltic states and Black Sea region. NATO should also signal to Moscow that any additional deployments could be reconsidered if/when the current crisis abates.

The West should also widen its political counteroffensive to retake the initiative from Moscow as it tries to use the threat of force to intimidate Ukraine, Europe, and the United States into acquiescing to its demands, many of which are plainly unjustified and unacceptable. The Biden administration should seek a Group of Seven (G7) statement at the head of state level condemning Moscow’s threat of wider war against Ukraine and work with allies and partners to use other fora, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and possibly the United Nations, to highlight the unacceptability of Russian military action and coercive threats.

The Biden administration should consult with NATO, the European Union, Ukraine, and key allies such as Poland on extensive preparations for dealing with the humanitarian crisis that a major Russian invasion would create.

Finally, the United States and its allies should continue to make clear their readiness for dialogue with Russia, to include concerns of NATO and other parties about Russian military and other aggressive activities. They have indicated that some elements in the Russia-proposed US-Russia treaty and NATO-Russia agreement may offer a basis for discussion and possible negotiation. The United States and NATO should make clear to the Kremlin that it must de-escalate the threatening military situation around Ukraine before there can be any substantive negotiation, and any negotiation must involve all parties whose security interests will be affected. These issues cannot simply be resolved in a bilateral US-Russia channel. Moreover, any negotiation should be consistent with the principles agreed to by all NATO members, Russia, and Ukraine, such as those in the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris.

Signed,

Dr. Stephen Blank

Senior Fellow

Foreign Policy Research Institute

General Philip Breedlove, USAF ret.

17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe

Distinguished Professor, Sam Nunn School, Georgia Institute of Technology

Ian Brzezinski

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy

Senior Fellow

Atlantic Council

Debra Cagan

Former US State and Defense Department official

Distinguished Energy Fellow

Transatlantic Leadership Network

General Wesley K. Clark

US Army (ret.)

12th Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

Senior Fellow, UCLA Burkle Center

Dr. Larry Diamond

Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy

Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Stanford University

Ambassador Paula Dobriansky

Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs

Vice Chair, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security

Atlantic Council

Senior Fellow, Harvard University Belfer Center

Dr. Evelyn Farkas

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia

Ambassador Daniel Fried

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and US Ambassador to Poland

Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow

Atlantic Council

Dr. Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow

Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law

Director, Ford Dorsey Masters in International Policy

Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Stanford University

Melinda Haring

Deputy Director, Eurasia Center

Atlantic Council

John E. Herbst

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan

Senior Director, Eurasia Center

Atlantic Council

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges

Former Commander US Army Europe

Dr. Donald N. Jensen

Director, Russia and Strategic Stability

United States Institute of Peace

Dr. Andrea Kendall-Taylor

Former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia

Senior Fellow and Director, Transatlantic Security Program

Center for a New American Security

Ambassador John Kornblum

Former US Ambassador to Germany

Senior Adviser (Non-resident), Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program

Center for Strategic International Studies

Robert McConnell

Former Assistant Attorney General, US Department of Justice

Director External Relations, US-Ukraine’s Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN)

Ambassador Michael McFaul

Former US Ambassador to Russia

Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Stanford University

Ambassador Steven Pifer

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine

Willian Perry Fellow

Stanford University

Herman Pirchner, Jr.

President

American Foreign Policy Council

John Sipher

Former Officer and Chief of Station, CIA Clandestine Service

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center

Atlantic Council

Strobe Talbott

Former Deputy Secretary of State

Distinguished Fellow

The Brookings Institution

Ambassador William Taylor

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine

Vice President for Strategic Stability and Security

United States Institute of Peace

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow

Former US Ambassador to Russia

Former Deputy Secretary General of NATO

Distinguished Fellow, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Eurasia Center

Atlantic Council

Ambassador Kurt Volker

Former US Ambassador to NATO and US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations

Distinguished Fellow

Center for European Policy Analysis

Institutional affiliations are for purposes of identification only. This post was updated on 1/5/2022 to include an additional signatory.

Related Experts: John E. Herbst, John Sipher, Daniel Fried, Alexander Vershbow, Ian Brzezinski, and Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky

Image: Russian grenade launcher operators take part in combat drills at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia December 14, 2021. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov