BEYOND MH17 AND THE LARGER AND LONG-TERM UKRAINE/RUSSIA CONUNDRUM: NEXT STEPS FOR EUROPE AND AMERICA

A barricade outside Donetsk that bears anti-western slogans.
A barricade outside Donetsk that bears anti-western slogans.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

We have long been advocates for dealing with Russia with two fundamental strategies. When it does wrong, it should pay a price that makes future wrongdoing a costly undertaking. At the same time, though, we should keep open a dialogue and make it clear to Russian citizens that we are not against them, and that we want them to have a life of democracy, freedom, and of open society.

That requires us to differentiate between sanctions that hurt President Putin and his regime, and businesses that support him and the aggression in Ukraine. The downing of MH17 is just one more of Putin’s egregious acts, including his invasion of Crimea and his efforts to use his military, Russian citizenry, special forces, and local thugs to destabilize a free and independent neighbor.

Putin’s record contains acts that are illegal under international law, mass brutality, and the highest level of stupidity and self-destruction. The crass employment of force in the center of Europe, the imbecilic act by Russian-armed Ukrainian separatists, and the crude handling of the remains and crash site exposes to all the fact that we are dealing with a leader who has no sense of moral center or even conducts a rational calculation of costs and benefits.

We need to immediately increase our assistance to Ukraine, but must make sure that all help is not redirected by corruption. Stabilizing Ukraine should be a joint project of the IMF, EU, and the United States. It must take higher priority.

Given all of this, the West has a number of challenges and problems it must address. First, we have to make clear that Putin and his cronies face high costs that far outweigh the benefits of their actions. Today, July 22, the EU Council of Ministers is meeting to decide the type of additional sanctions they it should impose on Russia. Already, the Europeans have put in place the most minimal of sanctions. They fear losing money from businesses who have lobbied their governments against taking any meaningful action. The French have indicated that they will carry through with the sale to Russia of naval carriers that can be used to kill our allies and friends. The British are concerned for their rich London City banks and the money deposited there by Russian oligarchs. Germany and the Netherlands, meanwhile, remain concerned for their energy supply from Russia and from the money they earn from the trade. Of course, European vulnerability to energy blackmail has long been known to exist, but little was done until now. Even today, the most urgent actions have not been put in place, although some progress has been made. The bottom line is that Europe won’t gain significant energy security for several years, assuming they ever increase investments in diversification.

The most important issue at hand, however, is to formulate a long-term strategic plan that will deal with an aggressive Putin-led Russia while, at the same time, establishing a robust and comprehensive policy of continued and intensive dialogue at all levels. These plans should address the issues of nuclear weapons and non-proliferation as they did during the Cold War. This approach includes reaching out to Russians to make it clear that we want them to prosper and live normal lives without fear. We need to implement significant programs that intensify contacts, exchanges, and support for civic society in Russia. We need to make it clear that we wish to see an open, responsible, and democratic Russia.

With Europe, America should take the lead on this. We need to assist Europe with its energy supplies and technology. We also need to strengthen NATO’s capability to maintain its defense structures and to support new EU policies of growth, rather than brutish austerity which has led to so much European disunity.

That now is our challenge. Can the West do both in appropriate proportion and for a long period of time, despite the inevitable bumps and difficulties?

We welcome your comments!

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