• Judy Asks: Is the U.S. Wobbly Over Ukraine?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey May 27, 2015

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


    Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

    There are at least two different visions for Ukraine (and Russia) in the U.S. administration, as the recent visits to the countries by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland testify.

    In his press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on May 12, Kerry expressed an opinion about the future of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine that contrasts with what Nuland said less than a week later. Nuland’s stance on the Ukraine crisis was infamously revealed by a leaked phone call in which she said “F*ck the EU.” At the same time, Kerry is trying to save what is salvable in the relationship with Russia, a much-needed policy given that most of today’s world issues cannot be approached without Russia on board.

    The Kerry-Nuland differences go well beyond a “good cop, bad cop” strategy and rather suggest a sharp divergence of views that can only weaken U.S. influence in the region and beyond.

    The question is where the White House stands. If U.S. President Barack Obama sides with his secretary of state, the obvious consequence would be to move Nuland, a career diplomat, to another job. If he does not, the result would be to undermine Kerry at a time when he cannot be undermined—or else the United States will lose any leverage it has in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Either way, there will be casualties; but better a small casualty than wobbly policies.


    Anna KorbutDeputy chief editor at the Ukrainian Week

    Since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sochi on May 12, there has been barely a signal of change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine or Russia. President Barack Obama has never stated any intention to fully isolate Russia for its behavior over Ukraine, as long as Moscow does not launch a full-scale war on Ukrainian territory. Instead, the West has demonstrated its willingness to maintain channels of communication with Russia. The United States seems to be sticking to that line, while probably also testing the waters in Moscow and reasserting its presence in Europe’s security crisis diplomacy.

    Washington’s true stance, however, will become clearer as the United States, along with its European partners, responds to the implementation of the Minsk II agreement, which seeks to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. If the United States offers the Kremlin too many concessions before Russia allows Ukraine to regain control over its border, pulls out Russian mercenaries and equipment, and stops meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs, then this will show that the United States has sacrificed Ukraine’s interests to normalization with Russia. Otherwise, there is probably no need for Ukraine to worry about the U.S. position now.

    Given the fear and uncertainty over Russia in its near abroad, this behind-closed-doors diplomacy has fueled speculations that spark frustration and distrust for Western diplomacy. That plays into Russia’s hands. Ukrainians need clear signals of long-term support on their path to development and democracy, especially as they pave that road with their lives, not with murky assumptions and misinterpretations.


    John KornblumSenior counselor at Noerr LLP and former U.S. ambassador to Germany

    U.S. condemnation of Russian behavior remains clear and unequivocal. But the United States did not risk upsetting the existing East-West balance in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising or the 1968 Prague Spring, and it did not stop former East German leader Walter Ulbricht from building the Berlin Wall.

    The same holds true today. Even worse, U.S. readiness to intervene in Europe has declined dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Europe’s substitution of an EU peace policy for a common transatlantic security strategy has convinced many that, in the view of the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, Europe is no longer relevant to the United States.

    Many U.S. think tankers now seem almost ashamed of Western successes in Eastern European democracy building. They seem ready to buy Russian diplomatic support by compensating Moscow for the threatening growth of civil society on its Western borders.

    European Parliament President Martin Schulz taunted the United States by claiming that the Ukraine crisis had become a European moment—just as Luxembourg’s former foreign minister Jacques Poos did over twenty years ago when the conflict in the Western Balkans began.

    Unfortunately, this time, Kerry agrees. Soon, Europeans will be shocked to learn that their wishes have been fulfilled. Germany is hoping against hope that the fiction of the Minsk II agreement, which aims to end the war in eastern Ukraine, will hold. When it doesn’t, Europe will find that the United States doesn’t really care. Kerry might instead be in Tehran.


    Kadri LiikSenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent meetings with the Russian leadership in Sochi cannot be considered a success. These meetings sent unproductive messages to Moscow, caused incomprehension in Europe, and weakened a common Western stance toward Russia.

    The Western interest in Ukraine is for the country to restore its territorial integrity, reform, democratize, and be free to make its own decisions. Moscow, however, still hopes to gain leverage over Kiev’s decisionmaking that would enable Russia to manipulate its neighbor’s geopolitical choices.

    Russia sees the February 2015 Minsk II agreement as a useful tool in this context. The Kremlin hopes that Ukraine’s failure to reform and the West’s emerging Ukraine fatigue—combined with other pressing issues such as Iran—will make Western leaders accept Moscow’s interpretation of the accord. Many in Moscow understood Kerry’s messages in Sochi as a confirmation that this hope would be met. That surely caused dismay in some European capitals, such as Berlin, which has been diligent and consistent in delivering tough messages to Moscow.

    If Washington has not gone soft, as U.S. diplomats rushed to confirm, then the danger is that Moscow—notoriously bad at reading Western minds—will once again feel cheated and will respond with increased aggression.

    The West must be aware that that its problems with Russia are here to stay for years. Quick fixes are not available; the West needs a proper multidimensional strategy to manage the challenges as well as messaging that is consistent with that strategy.

    This truth is slowly dawning on Europe. More of that illumination is needed in Washington, where much of the debate seems to lack depth, causing concern about the possibility of sudden U-turns inspired by other priorities.


    Edward LucasSenior editor at the Economist

    It certainly looks that way. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on May 12 conveyed weakness, not strength. Russia has not stopped its proxy war in Ukraine and has not paid any significant price in economic or diplomatic terms.

    However, the real culprit is the EU: the crisis in Ukraine is first and foremost one of European security, and the United States—with a lot of other problems on its plate—can quite reasonably expect the EU to deal with it. As the EU’s May 21–22 Eastern Partnership summit in Riga showed all too clearly, that expectation is unfounded.


    Marek MagierowskiColumnist for Polish weekly Do Rzeczy

    Being wobbly doesn’t necessarily mean being inefficient. The two may appear to be the same if only the short-term effects of U.S. diplomatic and economic actions are taken into account. But I strongly believe that the financial sanctions imposed on Russia after its March 2014 annexation of Crimea are hurting President Vladimir Putin and his closest friends in business circles more than it seems.

    At the same time, the U.S. administration doesn’t have many tools available. Unlike during the Cold War, the economies of today’s world are deeply interconnected. Russian money is constantly flowing through the City of London, Russian companies are investing heavily on all continents, and Western ex-politicians have become advisers to Russian oligarchs. Imposing sanctions on the Soviet Union in the 1980s was easy and relatively harmless for the international community. Waging an all-out economic war against Putin’s Russia right now would be not only counterproductive but perhaps even suicidal.

    Nevertheless, there is one lesson the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama should draw from the Cold War era: deterrence worked thirty years ago, and it would in all likelihood work now. Putin is aware that NATO’s military capabilities are far superior to Russia’s. But he is also aware that the West is reluctant to make use of its own force. Permanent bases in Poland, boots on the ground in Lithuania, and massive back-to-back exercises in Eastern Europe—this is what the United States and NATO need to avoid looking wobbly.


    Julianne SmithSenior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security

    The United States isn’t necessarily wobbly over Ukraine, but it is divided, even in the halls of the State Department.

    At the strategic level, Washington’s views are split on the degree to which Russian aggression in Ukraine poses a serious challenge to U.S. national security. Some argue that Russia’s flagrant violation of international norms and of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty merits a heavy response from the West. Others argue that while Russia’s actions in Ukraine are worrisome, they simply aren’t on a par with the threats stemming from the Middle East.

    At the tactical level, one finds sizable divides on the question of lethal assistance, with some arguing that the only way to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin is by putting defensive weapons in the hands of the Ukrainians. Others, though, warn against escalating the conflict in ways that would potentially end all chances for the Minsk II ceasefire agreement to succeed.

    These Russia-related debates, however, pale in comparison to those on the self-styled Islamic State. U.S. foreign policy elites are consumed by a steady stream of rather heated exchanges on how best to address the militant group, who is to blame for its rise, and which presidential candidate would be best suited to cope with this challenge.


  • Reading Lukashenko’s Belarus Without Illusions

    Posted by: Wojciech Konończuk, Rafał Sadowski Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    Belarus is attempting to normalize its relations with the West. The EU could help—but first, it must understand the country and its regime better.

  • Letter From Sofia

    Posted by: Daniel Smilov Friday, May 22, 2015 1

    The Bulgarian government aims to boost the country’s image in the EU. That is a commendable objective, but does Sofia have the necessary resources to meet it?

  • An EU Special Envoy for Ukraine?

    Posted by: Pierre Vimont Thursday, May 21, 2015

    As EU leaders gather for a summit in Riga to discuss the union’s Eastern neighborhood, they should consider appointing a special representative for Ukraine.

  • Judy Asks: Is the European Neighborhood Policy Doomed?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, May 20, 2015 3

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Migrants in the Mediterranean: No Quick Fixes

    Posted by: Marc Pierini Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Despite catchy headlines and bold rhetoric, the EU faces a migration problem characterized by old habits and worrying new trends. There are no easy solutions.

  • Merkel Holds the Line Over Eastern Europe

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, May 18, 2015 4

    Germany’s role in the Ukraine crisis will influence the EU’s future policy toward Eastern Europe.

  • Letter From Tallinn

    Posted by: Ahto Lobjakas Friday, May 15, 2015 3

    Estonia’s foreign policy ignores domestic vulnerabilities and lacks regional depth. As a result, the country is too reliant on the goodwill and commitment of others.

  • Judy Asks: Is the EU Sleeping on the Western Balkans?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, May 13, 2015 1

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Why Russia’s Victory Day Was Europe’s Loss

    Posted by: Stephan De Spiegeleire Tuesday, May 12, 2015 4

    When Angela Merkel spoke in Moscow on May 10, she missed a unique opportunity to tell the Russian population how counterproductive Russia’s current behavior is.

  • A Disconnect With European Memory

    Posted by: Karolina Wigura Tuesday, May 12, 2015 1

    The death of Wladyslaw Bartoszewski is a step toward the loss of a direct link with the culture of memory that for decades was Europe’s reference point.

  • Macedonia’s Uncertain Future

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, May 11, 2015 5

    Gun battles in northern Macedonia have exposed the fragility of this Western Balkan country and the urgency for the EU and NATO to give it a membership perspective.

  • And Britain Voted for . . .

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Friday, May 08, 2015 4

    This is not the time to write off Britain’s membership in the European Union. David Cameron’s election victory could turn out to be to Europe’s advantage.

  • Letter From Athens

    Posted by: Thanos Dokos Friday, May 08, 2015

    Greek foreign policy looks much more ambitious today than in recent years. But Athens needs to quickly readjust to a changing security and economic environment.

  • What’s Up With Those Germans?

    Posted by: Martin Erdmann Thursday, May 07, 2015 2

    In the space of four years, Germany went from standing on the sidelines of the NATO-led intervention in Libya to playing a major role in the response to the Ukraine crisis.

  • Judy Asks: Is the Post-WWII Global Order Finally Breaking Down?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, May 06, 2015 2

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Is There a World Outside Britain’s Election?

    Posted by: Alyson Bailes Tuesday, May 05, 2015

    The UK general election is expected to lead to another coalition government. That could raise intriguing issues for future British relations with the EU and NATO.

  • Staying Away From Moscow’s Victory Day Parade

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, May 04, 2015 7

    The seventieth anniversary of the end of World War Two coincides with a rift between the West and Russia that shows no sign of ending.

  • How Not to Monitor Russia’s Border With Ukraine

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, April 30, 2015 12

    The OSCE has no unhindered access to check what and who enters Ukraine from Russia. That makes a mockery of the ceasefire in Ukraine and undermines the organization.

  • Judy Asks: Will Hybrid Warfare Defeat Europe?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, April 29, 2015 1

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


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