Arming Ukraine Makes No Sense When Russia Is Already Losing

Arming Ukraine Makes No Sense When Russia Is Already Losing
Ukrainian army soldiers perform a weapons exercise at a training ground outside Lviv, western Ukraine, Feb. 5, 2015 (AP photo by Pavlo Palamarchuk).

The talk of Washington this week was a new policy paper co-authored by a team of experts who argue forcefully that the United States “should provide Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance as soon as possible.” The report’s authors include Strobe Talbott and Steven Pifer, both former U.S. diplomats now at the Brooking Institution (Talbott is its president), who also made the case in a Washington Post op-ed last week, as well as Ivo Daalder, Michele Flournoy and other former top-ranking American officials. U.S. President Barack Obama and his national security team are reported to be considering the proposal.

The new push to arm Kiev comes in response to a renewed offensive by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, after months of stalled and ineffective peace talks. The report argues, plausibly, that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is in danger and that the Ukrainian military stands little chance against Russia. Insisting that U.S. assistance to Ukraine cannot be limited to non-military aid, it states:

“Only if the Kremlin knows that the risks and costs of further military action are high will it seek to find an acceptable political solution. Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine pose the greatest threat to European security in more than 30 years. The West has the capacity to stop Russia. The question is whether it has the will.”

The report also posits that U.S. “credibility” in other parts of the world is at risk in Ukraine, which could be read as a tacit admission that very little is at stake in terms of concrete U.S. national interests. This is the argument of one dissenter, Brookings’ own Jeremy Shapiro, who contends that arming Ukraine would be a dangerous mistake. He points out that Russia has a far greater interest in Ukraine than the U.S. does, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would most likely respond by escalating the conflict, at which point U.S. credibility would really be on the line.

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