- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network.
With Russia seizing the last remaining Ukrainian military base in Crimea and massing troops along Ukraine’s eastern border, a top Ukrainian official warned that the chances of war with Russia were growing higher.
Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, said his government was "very much concerned" about the Russian troop deployments and told that the chances of war were "becoming higher." Appearing on This Week, the foreign minister said Kiev’s fragile pro-Western government preferred to use diplomatic means to settle its dispute with Moscow, but was also prepared to use other means "to defend their homeland."
The comments come amid growing concern that Russian strongman Vladimir Putin may try to follow his conquest and annexation of Crimea with a move into eastern Ukraine as well. The United States and its allies have warned Putin not to proceed into the region, but similar language — and sanctions against members of the Russian president’s inner circle — failed to prevent him from absorbing Crimea. Moscow finished its takeover of the peninsula this weekend when it seized the final Ukrainian military base and evicted the last remaining troops.
In an interview last week, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Foreign Policy that the military alliance was increasingly worried about a Russian move into eastern Ukraine.
"Our concern is that Russia won’t stop here," he said. "There is a clear risk that Russia will go beyond Crimea and the next goal will be the eastern provinces of Ukraine."
That concern was echoed Sunday by Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, who said on CNN that it’s "likely that what they’re trying to do is intimidate the Ukrainians," but that it is also "possible that they’re preparing to move in."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who recently traveled to Kiev, told David Gregory on Meet the Press that Russia already has a clandestine presence in Ukraine’s east.
Putin has "intelligence officials spread out all over the country causing problems in Ukraine," Rogers said, suggesting that they could be preparing the ground for a Russian invasion.
Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that the United States may need to provide Kiev with military aid to deter further Russian land-grabs.
"You can do noncombatant-military aid in a way that allows them to defend themselves," he said. "And that’s all they want. No direct military intervention. They don’t want U.S. boots on the ground, neither do I…. We’re talking about small arms to they can protect themselves. Maybe medical supplies, radio equipment, things that they can use to protect themselves, defensive-posture weapon systems."
That aid would be paired with the punitive targeted sanctions the United States put in place against Russian oligarchs this week. Former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz stressed that sanctions that draw attention to Russian corruption would be key.
"[Putin’s] vulnerability is everyone in Russia knows that he is corrupt and they hate it," Wolfowitz said on Fox News Sunday this morning. "He doesn’t like it when one of his close friends who I think is the 16th richest man in the world is put on the Treasury list and Treasury list notes that some of that money is going to Putin. That’s his vulnerability. I think that’s what has to be pushed."
"Look, we’re not going to get him out of Crimea with anything we can do, but we can make him pay a very high price for it," he said.
That’s the message the United States should send, Rogers said. With military aid and sanctions, "now you’ve got something that says, ‘Mr. Putin, we’re done with you expanding into other countries.’"