PermalinkLet’s be clear: Russia has invaded Ukraine. We can debate the reasons. But we can no longer debate the fact. Nor can we stand by and do nothing. It is time for the United States and Europeans to act. This weekend’s European Council meeting in Brussels and next week’s Nato summit in Wales should be devoted to forging an effective, and lasting, response.
Numerous reports from southeastern Ukraine make clear that Russian military forces are operating in Ukraine in ways that can only be described as an invasion. Russian artillery, long used to fire against Ukrainian forces from the Russian side of the border, is now firing from inside Ukraine. Russian tanks and armoured vehicles are rolling along Ukrainian roads. Russian airborne troops, captured by Ukrainian forces, openly admit that they had been sent there to disrupt Ukraine’s effort to retake control of its territory.
Why Russian President Vladimir Putin chose this moment to escalate is not immediately clear, but none of the plausible reasons offer any solace. At the least, the overt use of Russian forces is meant to forestall the defeat of the Russian-supported rebels in eastern Ukraine. In recent weeks, government forces were regaining significant ground in the east. Opening up a new front further south could force the Ukrainian military to shift its attention from the rebel-held areas and thus enable the rebels to strengthen their positions.
The Russian military effort is probably designed to establish effective control of key parts of Ukraine. The invasion route and focus in southeast Ukraine is consistent with an effort to establish a land route to Crimea, which since the illegal Russian annexation last March has been reachable only by sea and air. It is also consistent with an even more nefarious goal – establishing a territorial link between Russia and the Russian occupied Transnistria region in Moldova.
One thing should be clear. This is not about trying to influence Ukraine’s alignment with the west, as Mr Putin’s apologists continue to claim. For Mr Putin, the issue has never been whether Ukraine will have an economic relationship with the EU or be a member of Nato. To him, the issue is whether and how Russia can effectively control Ukraine.
The Russian invasion of a neighbouring country poses a serious threat not only to the European security environment, but to global order. If there is one principle that has undergirded that order since 1945 it is that states do not seize territory by force. That principle was blatantly violated in March, and it is again being violated today. At this point, calls for a ceasefire, for de-escalation, or a return to the negotiating table play right into Mr Putin’s hands. Instead, we need to take actions that will lead Moscow to withdraw its military forces from Ukraine and halt its support of rebel forces, and allow Kiev to retake complete control over all of Ukraine’s territory
Fortunately, over the next few days the leaders of EU, the US and Canada are slated to meet in Brussels and Cardiff, giving them the opportunity to decide on steps that can help bring about this result. These should include:
- First, a clear commitment by all 28 Nato allies to bolster their capacity to defend all of Nato’s territory. That requires an explicit guarantee by all 28 to halt a decade-plus of cuts in defence spending and begin to make the investments necessary for their security. It also requires a significant, forward presence of Nato air, sea, and land forces in central and eastern Europe, including Poland and the Baltic States. Such a presence needs to be visible and persistent, and should remain in place for as long as required.
- Second, western countries need to supply the Ukrainian military with advanced weapons and a steady supply of intelligence to bolster its ability to defend its territory. Concern that such assistance could be provocative to Moscow ignores the fact that it is Russia that has invaded Ukraine, and that Moscow can put a halt to the assistance by withdrawing its troops and end support of rebel forces.
- Finally, the EU and the US need to impose full-scale economic sanctions. That means real, Iran-style financial sanctions, including freezing Russian assets overseas and denying Russia access to the international financial system. It also means an immediate end to any arms deliveries to Russia, including those already under contract such as the French Mistral assault ships. And it means and end to any technical or financial support for Russia’s energy sector.
We are at a defining moment. If we ignore or prevaricate about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin will succeed in upending the European order at a grave cost to Europe’s security. If we act decisively, and act now, Mr Putin will fail in his effort to seek Russian control over Ukraine and the territory of the former Soviet Union and Europe will again be secure.