Monday, February 20, 2017

Bleed Them Until They Leave

In some ways, America is fine with the status quo in Ukraine. But if Ukrainians resent our lack of interest in ejecting the Russian invaders, the status quo does not in fact benefit America. We should help Ukraine send Russian body bags home.

At a moment frozen in time, this is defensible to argue:

The problem for Ukraine is that its interests are not the same as U.S. interests. Ukraine wants to reunify the country and expel Russia from its territory. The U.S. is primarily interested in weakening Russia, and the fate of Donetsk and Luhansk is immaterial to that goal. The U.S. is not going to abandon Ukraine, but that is an easy thing to say and a much harder thing to be sure of if you are in Kiev reading American newspapers and following various White House statements.

While I am certainly not willing to commit American forces to a fight to eject the Russians from Crimea and the eastern Donbas, I don't see why we shouldn't help Ukrainians fight the Russians.

And while the Russians may be unwilling to escalate now. Their ambitions cover all of Ukraine and they may expand their goals as their capabilities grow.

If we are seen by Ukrainians as the restraint on ejecting the Russians while Russia does not have the capacity to win a wider war, we will be blamed and Ukraine may not be pro-American for long.

What if on top of resenting our failure to help eject the Russians, our acceptance of Russia's conquests at Ukraine's expense is viewed as just allowing Russia to prepare for another grab in the future? Will Ukraine believe that we will accept that, too?

While it might make sense on paper for Ukraine to accept the status quo and remain pro-Western and anti-Russian, if the Ukrainians feel abandoned by the West they might decide they have to cut a deal with Russia.

And then all of a sudden the Russians are on NATO's doorstep in the center and southwest.

As much as possible, rather than killing frontline cannon fodder in flare-ups along the ceasefire line, Ukraine should attempt to use artillery to target Russian units inside the Donbas supporting the astro-turf secessionists.

In a perfect world, Ukrainian special forces and irregulars add to that body count; and arm local resistance in the Donbas to the Russian occupation.

Russian unwillingness to suffer casualties is their center of gravity. And Putin's denial that Russian army units are even inside the Donbas is an opportunity. Will Russia admit their units by complaining about their losses?

I think a deal that largely restores the status quo ante with some concessions on local autonomy should be acceptable to Ukraine and the West while giving Russia something to claim they achieve in this war of aggression launched nearly 3 years ago. But the costs of occupation have not been high enough for Putin.

But Russia says that they won't leave Crimea:

Russia said on Wednesday it would not hand back Crimea to Ukraine or discuss the matter with foreign partners after the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump expected the annexed Black Sea peninsula to be returned.

I still think Ukraine should bill Russia for rent on the entire peninsula, with back rent calculated back to March 2014 when Russia took it from Ukraine.

Perhaps Ukraine should also announce that all of the sea ports and airports of Crimea are closed. And then pursue damages against any company that violates the lawful order over their territory. Perhaps the monthly rent charged Russia could be the base for determining damages.

And if Ukraine can lay a some low-yield naval mines off of their Crimea ports, that would signal the closure to deter travel and at least raise insurance rates for those ships that travel to the port.

Russia has to feel the human and financial pain of holding their gains more than they have so far. If they don't, they won't leave.