Sunday, April 27, 2014

Between Flexibility and Targeted Sanctions

We can all be grateful that post-reelection "flexibility" for Russia doesn't encompass conquering (all?) of Ukraine. But we do need to do more to help Ukraine fight Russia.

I'm actually fine with President Obama moving slowly on sanctions against Russia to keep the Europeans and others on board. If we charged ahead, I could see Europeans saying America is doing swell all on our own, so why should they get involved?

And I'm even fine with the notion that sales or gifts of major weapons are pointless, as this administration official said:

[National Security Adviser Tony] Blinken, however, made clear that Washington would not meet Ukraine's demands for weapons despite menacing Russian military exercises on its borders.

"Here is the bottom line. We could send weapons to Ukraine. It wouldn't make a difference in terms of their ability to stand up to the Russians," he said.

Instead, he said Washington would focus economic aid to Kiev, with an estimated $37 billion being rounded up by Washington, the IMF, World Bank and others.

"We need to be deliberate and do this in coordination with our partners," he said.

That economic aid is great and all--assuming it isn't wasted--but Ukraine first has to survive Russia's threats in the short run, no?

In regard to military needs, define "stand up" please.

We certainly have no need sending major weapons systems like fighter aircraft or armored fighting vehicles. Those would take too long to integrate into Ukraine's military. Egypt is still switching over weapons systems from Soviet origin to American, 35 years after Egypt dumped the Soviet Union and got America as their major sponsor.

Ukraine has a bunch of equipment. We can help by scrounging among our new NATO allies for spare parts and ammunition for what Ukraine already has.

We can supply things like landmines, small arms, hand grenades, anti-tank rockets, and night vision gear. Make it Russian stuff to go with what Ukraine has. Surely we can scrape up this stuff from around Europe alone. Add in uniforms and field gear to equip Ukrainian irregulars to complement Ukraine's conventional military.

Help the Ukrainian conventional forces with logistics assistance and advice. Help them with intelligence and planning advice.

If the definition of "stand up" means halting the Russians at the border, well no, we can't help Ukraine stand up to Russia.

But if "stand up" means helping Ukraine survive the initial invasion and still resist both with conventional forces that have avoided being destroyed in that first campaign and with special forces assisting irregulars waging partisan warfare behind Russia's lines (Russia will not have a high troop-to-population ratio after they occupy chunks of eastern Ukraine), then we most certainly can help Ukraine stand up to Russia.

If helping Ukraine "stand up" means helping Ukraine inflict casualties on the Russian invaders during the invasion and then during the occupation, then yes, we can help Ukraine stand up to Russia and at minimum remind the Russians that total conquest of Ukraine will not be pleasant or easy the way Crimea was a chance for Putin to boast of his military's prowess.

If Putin moves, and if Ukraine is able to resist Putin, we can help make Ukraine Putin's Ulcer.