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.
Fabrizio GoriaFinancial reporter at Linkiesta
The deescalation of the Ukraine crisis has not yet begun. The Crimean referendum of March 16 and the (largely ineffectual) U.S. and EU sanctions that followed have revealed a lack of coordination between the two sides of the Atlantic. Now, the weakness of the West’s actions appears to have given Russian President Vladimir Putin the freedom to move into Eastern Ukraine.
At this stage, an escalation of sanctions is unlikely, due to the high economic, financial, and commercial costs these would entail for all sides. New sanctions targeted against Putin’s inner circle would be a last resort, since any further measures would have an unacceptable impact for the countries imposing them. EU-Russian trade relations are the reason why the EU’s diplomatic fragility is so high.
Can the West deal with Russia? The United States probably can, thanks to its strong foreign policy and energy independence. Europe, by contrast, has its hands tied—now and for the foreseeable future.
Karl-Heinz KampAcademic director of the German Federal Academy for Security Policy
The interesting question is what the “rest” could mean. Ukraine minus just Crimea, or minus the Eastern Donetsk basin as well? If Vladimir Putin uses the same tactics of annexation with the support of the local population that he has applied in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine could also come under Russian control, as NATO will not start a war for this region.
However, even under these circumstances, Russia will lose more than it has gained. Before the ouster of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow controlled the whole of Ukraine through his compliant regime. In the future, it will dominate fragments of the country at best, with large parts of the population violently opposed to Russian influence.
That will add another source of instability to Putin’s shaky empire at a time when Russia’s economic and social perspectives are far from rosy. NATO, in turn, is enjoying a new boost to its cohesion and public support, with Sweden and Finland seriously considering joining the alliance. Even Georgia might receive a more concrete membership perspective, and no one—except former German chancellors now on the payroll of Russian energy giant Gazprom—will protest.
For a long time, NATO wondered how to justify its relevance after its withdrawal from Afghanistan this year. For most alliance members, events in Eastern Europe have answered this question. That may not mean a return to the Cold War, but it definitely signals the end of NATO’s strategic partnership with Russia.
Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations
The West can save the rest of Ukraine only if Vladimir Putin decides to spare it. Right now, the ball is in Russia’s court. The question is whether Putin will be content with invading Crimea and scaring Ukraine and the rest of the world, or whether he will soldier on and seek to occupy Kiev.
According to John Schindler, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, Putin is now conducting a “special war” modeled on Russia’s 2008 intervention in Georgia. It is a mix of commandos, nonuniformed troops, disinformation, official propaganda, aggressive diplomacy, and the blunt occupation of foreign soil. That worked in Georgia, it is working in Crimea, might it work in Western Ukraine too?
The world is waiting for the Kremlin’s next move. The United States and the EU have slapped some perfunctory sanctions on Russia, to little effect. What will the United States, Europe, and China do if Putin marches on Kiev? Their response when he invaded Crimea was not enough to stop Russia. If Russia stops now, it will be because it chooses to.
James RogersLecturer in European security at the Baltic Defense College and senior editor of European Geostrategy
Yes, the West can save the rest of Ukraine, but only with skillful and assertive diplomacy, especially from the Europeans.
The Russian annexation of part of Ukraine has finally revealed the Kremlin’s true intentions. It is now a European geopolitical imperative to help Ukrainians transform their nation from a buffer state—sandwiched precariously between Russia and the EU—into a stable and prosperous European democracy. If Europeans, including Ukrainians, fail, Ukraine will be torn between the two sides indefinitely, inviting further Russian aggression, to the detriment of European security.
The West must fast-track Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic structures as quickly and as safely as possible. The EU must press ahead with signing an association agreement with Kiev, while NATO must extend an explicit membership prospect to Ukraine—within a feasible time frame. That requires the full strategic, political, and financial support of France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the UK, and the United States.
But the current crisis is bigger than Ukraine. Europeans must review their relationships with Russia and punish the Kremlin for its behavior. Europe should cancel its arms sales with Russia, impose financial sanctions, and enhance its energy security. The West must think for the long term: the world must be shown that territorial revisionism does not pay. Tactically, Russia may have gained Crimea; strategically, it must lose Ukraine.
The author writes here strictly in a personal capacity.
Susan StewartDeputy head of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
It is not so much a matter of the West “saving” the rest of Ukraine but of providing significant support for the country as it attempts to shoulder the immense responsibility of saving itself.
Efforts to assist Ukraine will need to be collective and involve not only Western states and organizations but also Ukraine itself. The EU and the United States have coordinated a two-pronged approach composed of sanctions against Russia and strong political and economic support for Ukraine. This is extremely important but will not be sufficient.
The ruling elite in Ukraine needs to be more present in the Eastern and Southern regions of the country and credibly spread the message that the national leadership is addressing the concerns of the local population. That can help diminish support for Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine. With such a combined effort, the probability of thwarting Russian actions to further undermine Ukraine’s stability and territorial integrity will be significantly higher than without it.
Ievgen VorobiovAnalyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs
The West cannot do so on its own, but it can certainly help Ukraine.
Assisting the new authorities in Kiev to build efficient state institutions is crucial. Budget cuts announced as part of the interim government’s reform agenda will require urgent financial assistance from international institutions. Ukraine’s border service, which is struggling to filter out violent political “tourists” from Russia, could use EU technical expertise. And the United States and willing European countries should share intelligence and offer material support to boost Ukraine’s military preparedness to respond to an escalation of the crisis.
Ukraine’s efforts to deflect the current external threat will require systemic changes in the way the West deals with Russia, not just symbolic moves. Russia’s cost-free annexation of Crimea will only strengthen Vladimir Putin’s resolve to meddle in Eastern Ukraine. Putin’s March 18 speech to the Russian parliament confirms he is intent on a prolonged standoff with the West.
Instead of adding new names to the list of those now targeted by Western sanctions, it is time to design tailored economic sanctions that would limit Russia’s access to oil markets and the international banking system. The rationale is not to naively change his intentions, but rather to cripple his resource base.
Amid violent clashes provoked by pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukrainian cities, the West should do all it takes to ensure Ukraine holds its planned presidential election in May to usher in a new, nondivisive president.