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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attend a meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 7, 2015 (AP photo by Matthias Schrader).

Ukraine Deal Could Buy U.S. Time to Formulate Effective Russia Policy

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015

The fate of the latest cease-fire in Ukraine remains precarious, and even if the current truce unexpectedly endures, a lasting settlement to the Ukraine conflict will still prove elusive given the players’ conflicting strategic aims. Russia wants to keep Ukraine weak and divided, while the Ukrainian government—backed by the United States—wants to rule a reunified country, to include Russian-occupied Crimea. For their part, many Europeans would seem content with almost any settlement that ended the fighting and the sanctions they have imposed on Russia. But despite these differences, the truce might buy time for progress on other measures that would limit the risks of military escalation in Europe.

There is not a primarily military solution to the challenges posed by Russia’s interference in Ukraine, given Russia’s reliance on myriad nonmilitary tools for exerting influence in other countries and the imperative of avoiding a war between Russia and the West. However, any U.S. policy toward Russia will necessarily have a military component. Putting more NATO troops in the alliance’s more vulnerable eastern members bordering Russia is a way of bolstering the alliance’s credibility and discouraging Russian military actions against NATO members. It offers a good compromise between being provocative and looking weak, which invites further Russian probing. Conversely, this would be a bad time to remove more U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe, since Russia will not unilaterally match any U.S. reductions and has if anything been increasing its public brandishing of its nuclear arsenal. ...

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