PUTIN HASN’T GIVEN UP HIS DESIGNS ON UKRAINE

Wall Street Journal on February 17, 2016, published a commentary by David Petraeus and John Herbst on the need for delivery of defensive armaments to Ukraine right now. Excerpts below:

In a clear response to continuing Russian aggression in Ukraine, NATO ministers…approved the deployment of troops on the alliance’s eastern flank for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Under NATO’s new “enhanced” forward presence, maritime forces will be increased in the Baltic Sea and land forces sent to reinforce defenses in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

While these changes are prudent, none directly addresses the situation on the ground today in Ukraine, which remains a non-NATO member. In recent weeks, Russian-backed separatists have sharply increased their attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk—a stark reminder that President Vladimir Putin hasn’t given up his designs on eastern Ukraine.

In addition to NATO’s recent announcement, the U.S. and its NATO allies would be wise to bolster Ukrainian deterrence against further Kremlin adventurism, and to make clear that the price of such adventurism for Russia will be high if deterrence fails. The first step is to provide more effective defensive weapons to Ukrainian forces.

The U.S. and its European partners have done an impressive job imposing economic costs on Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. But they haven’t done enough militarily to support Ukraine, which in 1994 gave up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union in exchange for trans-Atlantic assurances about the safeguarding of its territorial integrity. These assurances have proven meaningless.

Mr. Putin has gone to great lengths to cover up the extent of Russian involvement in Ukraine. He has made it illegal to publish figures on casualties, knowing that such losses are a potential liability. He also knows that the more overt Russia’s intervention in Ukraine becomes, the harder it will be to secure sanctions relief from Europe, which the Russian economy badly needs, especially as falling oil and natural-gas prices reduce state revenues from exports.

Ukraine’s military has acquitted itself well against Russian-supported separatists—largely fighting them to a standstill. It has also built strong defensive lines from the port city of Mariupol running north. Thousands of heavily armored troops would be required to punch through these Ukrainian positions. And with the right infusion of defensive weaponry, the West can make such an operation prohibitively costly for the Kremlin.

In particular, Ukraine desperately needs shoulder-launched antitank systems to offset Moscow’s large advantage in armor, along with more counter-battery radars for identifying the locations of separatist artillery and rocket systems, thus helping to protect Ukrainian troops from long-range fire. The Obama administration has sent two such radar systems, but more are needed and their range should extend into the Russian border area, because Moscow has fired missiles from its own territory at Ukrainian forces. Finally, Ukraine would benefit from advanced drones and secure communications and control systems. None of these could be seen as offensive in nature.

The U.S. Congress understands the stakes in Ukraine. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama, authorizes $300 million in military assistance for Kiev, including $50 million for lethal defensive armaments. It is now time for the U.S. to deliver the equipment needed to help Ukraine ensure its security and, in so doing, safeguard U.S. and trans-Atlantic interests that are under assault there.

Ultimately, Russia’s bellicose actions in Ukraine are about more than Ukraine. By bolstering Kiev, we have the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the most elemental rules and principles of post-Cold War Europe, particularly that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states shall not be breached and conflicts shall be resolved through negotiation not force of arms. By contrast, failing to respond adequately would very likely be an invitation to further aggression by Russia—in eastern Ukraine, and beyond.

Mr. Petraeus, a retired U.S. Army general and former director of the CIA, is chairman of the KKR Global Institute. Mr. Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, is director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.

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