5 steps to help Ukraine, end the crisis and restore some stability in Eastern Europe
Beginning with Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in early 2014, Russia has continued to destabilize Ukraine by fomenting rebellion and spreading the conflict into other regions of the country.
By Lt. Danny Kuriluk, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist
Beginning with Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in early 2014, Russia has continued to destabilize Ukraine by fomenting rebellion and spreading the conflict into other regions of the country. The international community failed to prevent the situation, and has failed to stop its escalation. If Putin cements rebel gains in Ukraine, it will further damage the national interests of the U.S., and continue the degradation of international norms relating to sovereignty and intervention.
Ukraine has an obligation to protect its own people. Due to Russia’s overwhelming military advantage, Ukraine has asked the west for help in fulfilling this obligation. In order to maintain the legitimacy of the United Nations and NATO, the U.S. must work with Europe to take steps to counter Russia’s actions.
A strategy that satisfies the “right intention” criterion will avoid direct confrontation with Russia, enable Ukraine to have full control of its territory, allow for reconciliation of the combatants, and provide peaceful self-determination for the people of Crimea and the separatist provinces. The following strategy comprises five components that the U.S. must begin coordinating and executing simultaneously.
Component 1: Level the Playing Field
The quickest way to enable Ukraine to defend itself requires the U.S. to partner with allied nations to enact an arms and medical supplies program to help strengthen the country’s defensive and humanitarian capabilities. America’s current aid is not sufficient to enable Ukraine to counter the new forces that Russia is massing along the border. Instead, the U.S. should appropriate money to regional allies that utilize Warsaw Pact weapons to enable defensive assistance to quickly reach the Ukrainian forces, and avoid the time, skill, and integration issues of directly sending American weapons or trying to train Ukrainian troops. This component will raise the costs of Russian intervention and help Ukraine stem its losses — hopefully either convincing Russia to reassess its strategy, or provide the west with time to implement a more robust response. Coupled with increasingly harsh sanctions, specifically SWIFT sanctions, it will increase the pressure domestically and internationally on Putin, and aid Ukraine’s defense while preventing the U.S. from becoming too involved in another foreign adventure.
Component 2: Mobilize International and Domestic Support
Utilizing the media and NGOs to publicize Russia’s complicity in human rights abuses, cease fire violations, and other abhorrent acts (like the targeting of Malaysian Air Flight 17) will build the domestic and international support required to mount a successful counter intervention. The conflict is too far away from everyday life, and the government needs to do a better job of publicizing why it is in America’s interest to act.
With the right campaign, the U.S. can build a domestic consensus because this strategy is geared towards countering the aggressive actions of a belligerent foreign power, rather then trying to force regime change. This component will help to win the propaganda fight that comes with any international conflict.
Component 3: Build a Coalition
The U.S. must coordinate OSCE peacekeepers backed by a robust NATO force to rapidly enter the conflict zone and protect the peacekeepers if conditions continue to deteriorate. An OSCE peacekeeping force counters Russian fears of NATO expansion along its borders, and prevents accusations of an occupying force entering Ukraine. It will also help enforce the current cease-fires, provide civilian security, and, should Russia decide end its intervention, provide the enduring security required to begin rebuilding the devastated areas and implement demobilization of the rebels.
Utilizing only OSCE peacekeepers without a robust force nearby could spur Russia into enacting a blitzkrieg-type strategy aimed at cementing gains should the peacekeeping mission fail. Prepositioning a robust and comprehensive NATO force outside the contested regions and separate from the OSCE peacekeepers can deter Russia from taking more aggressive action.
The most successful interventions, for example in Kenya, have occurred through the cooperation of regional actors as opposed to a far-off power imposing its will. Utilizing the OSCE, supported by NATO, provides a European solution for a European problem—but still backed by the full strength of the United States.
Component 4: Clean Up the Mess
Professor Michael Ignatieff once said, “Every intervention is political”. This counter intervention is no different. The U.S. and Europe cannot enact a comprehensive strategy, without addressing the most important step of any intervention. A post-conflict solution must provide for demobilization and reconciliation of the combatants, as well as creating the economic growth necessary to sustain peace.
The Ukrainian government will face the challenge of demobilizing, not only, the Russian-backed separatists, but also the irregular Ukrainian soldiers that have filled the gaps created by the weak Ukrainian army. The South African reconciliation proves that although it is a painful and difficult process, amnesty provides the greatest hope to reintegrate the fighters back into society. Furthermore, Ukraine should work with the EU and the U.S. to develop autonomy agreements that recognize the diverse character of the regions, along with economic incentives and loans to help repair and develop the destroyed provinces. These facts should help convince the rebels to adhere to the ceasefire and accept the OSCE peacekeepers — eliminating the need for the fifth component.
Component 5: Set and Enforce a Clear Red Line
There is no guarantee that the first four components will convince Russia to end its Ukrainian adventure. To prevent Russia from taking advantage of the ambiguity inherent during a peacekeeping situation and cease-fire, the U.S. should set a date and declare that any non-Ukrainian heavy weaponry located within Ukraine’s territorial limits will be destroyed after that date.
Setting a deadline, and coordinating the forces necessary to enforce it, will convey Europe’s resolve to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty to Mr. Putin, and push the rebels to the negotiating table. Although it will require massive amounts of coordination, and likely encounter heavy opposition, this red line is necessary to provide credibility to the previous components. The U.S. and Europe must make it clear that they are not trying to defeat the rebels. Instead, this component is necessary in order to eliminate their ability to prolong or escalate their conflict. Although the president has experienced trouble with red lines in the past, this one is should be much easier to enforce than the red line he set for Syria.
This plan is not perfect and will require deft timing, coordination, and negotiation in order to overcome the inherent risk and be successful. However, Putin has embarrassed the West as he seized another country’s territory, and forced the U.S. and Europe to default on its obligation to protect Ukraine in exchange for relinquishing nuclear weapons. Russia’s actions have far greater geo-political implications outside of the region, and the time has come to take stand in the name of democracy and international standards of conduct.
Lt. Kuriluk has served as a P-3 Instructor Pilot and Mission Commander over the course of three deployments spread across six continents. He recently finished his stint as the Navy’s two-year Politico-Military Masters Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and is beginning work at the Navy’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment.
Photo credit: Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images