For a conservative who believes in Rule of Law, the Ukrainian Crisis presents a choice between several bad alternatives.
What Putin is doing to destabilize and potentially annex a second part of Ukraine is clearly a violation of international law, and is unacceptable behavior. Viewed from that static perspective, the clear answer is to arm the Ukrainians with weapons, and assist them to defend their people and their territory. It makes sense.
But, like a chess match, one has to look beyond just the next move, and that is where I have to urge serious restraint.
Here is an email from my friend and former colleague, Darrell Stanaford, who has lived and worked continuously in Russia for over twenty years. He is a graduate of West Point and was a scout platoon leader in the First Gulf War. So he is no pacifist. And he is fluent in Russian, having been active in business, as well as with AmCham, and the Urban Land Institute in Moscow for two decades. Darrell writes:
Very dangerous time now as lots of American ‘experts’ and many in Congress demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the Russian mentality.
As people talk more & more about providing Ukraine lethal military aid we need to emphasize to anyone concerned that doing so would be highly counter-productive, both from a military and political standpoint.
Lethal aid would be more than matched by the extra heavy weapons Putin would feel freed up to send in – in the Russians’ minds foreign arms for Ukraine would allow them to more openly back the separatists with the Russian army and weapons. It is obvious that Russia’s military advantage only grows as the conflict escalates.
Politically it will confirm for most Russians what Putin has been saying all along – Maidan is an American plot to bring Ukraine into NATO.
As we know, Russians will not wince at losing hundreds or thousands of soldiers in combat. It will only stiffen their resolve and instill long term hatred towards the West and the U.S. in particular.
Then we will not escalate further, Putin will win, and we will have a worst case situation.
It is easy for missteps to drive Russia into an extremely isolated position with a failed economy. But it would be extremely dangerous for the world if Russia became a giant North Korea.
We should pour economic assistance, training, education, etc. into Ukraine. We need an economic Peace Corps of Americans helping Ukrainian local, regional and national officials learn how to cleanly run government; partnering with entrepreneurs in new businesses, lots of six month work & education visas for Ukrainian youths, etc.
I hope this last push for a diplomatic solution will get Putin to stop going farther and freeze the conflict. Time will then be on our side.
Darrell’s perspective is correct. We must look upon Putin’s provocations more like the Arab-Israeli conflict: our goal should not be on any given day to create a victor, but to actively contain the conflict so that it impacts the fewest possible people.
Putin is a thug, but the good news is that he is not a 3,000 year vendetta driven by warring faiths. Someday, somehow, he will depart. As I have written several times in previous posts, the American and Russian people have so much in common that it is a tragedy, perpetuated primarily by Putin, that we are arguing with each, instead of uniting to fight our common enemy.
The problem for the West is that right now the history and events in Ukraine are a “he said-he said” contest, and neither of the “he’s”, Putin and Obama, are exactly credible when it comes to foreign policy statements.
And, as Darrell points out, does anyone doubt that if Obama actually does escalate to any given level, then Putin will always counter with an escalation to an even higher level? And in that process, many more people will die.
So what should we do?
First, as Darrell suggests, we should launch immediate, massive, pro-active educational, business, and government initiatives to “arm” the nearly failed Ukrainian state with aid, technology and know-how at all levels. Every country in Western Europe should put “business shoes on the ground” to demonstrate that Ukraine’s choice for democracy and freedom is the right one, and that we support it with actions, not just statements. Thousands of business, education, and government experts showing up and paired with peers in Ukraine to teach, evaluate and assist, would be a powerful message to both Ukraine and Russia.
Second, we should continue and even ratchet up the sanctions on Putin, his lieutenants and his enablers. Surely they fear those personal consequences more than the loss of a few thousand young soldiers’ lives. Do they own assets in the West that can be confiscated and perhaps put into a fund to assist displaced Ukrainians? Roger Altman has an op-ed piece today in the Wall Street Journal on tightening sanctions.
Third, to end the “he said-he said” nature of the war of words for the hearts and minds in Europe and Russia, the West should take a page from Adlai Stevenson’s playbook at the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There should be an ongoing drumbeat of photos and intelligence put before the Russian Ambassador and repeated regularly for all to see, of tanks, equipment and people, clearly identified on Monday to be in Russia and on Wednesday to be in Ukraine.
We need to build the case with facts and evidence, not just accusations, across several months, showing in great detail exactly what Russia is doing in Ukraine. So that, if diplomacy ultimately does fail, we will have a strong standing in the world court for any action which then sadly becomes necessary. It will be clear that up to that point, the outside aggressor was not NATO, but Russia, and only Russia.
And hopefully by making that strong case, action will never actually be necessary.