Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Ukraine Isn’t a U.S. Priority, As Policymakers Demonstrate

by Micah Zenko
March 24, 2014

U.S. Senator John McCain and other members of the delegation walk as they visit Kiev, Ukraine, on March 14, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).


The Russian coercive de facto annexation of the Crimean province of Ukraine poses a dilemma for U.S. policymakers. They claim the need to “send a strong message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin to deter him from authorizing a direct military incursion into the remainder of Ukrainian territory. According to anonymous Pentagon officials, there are around twenty thousand Russian troops poised near the eastern Ukrainian border, including mechanized, infantry, and special operations forces. “It’s like they’re on a hair trigger,” said one Pentagon official late last week. Ukraine’s defense forces are vastly over matched both quantitatively and qualitatively by the nearby Russian troops.

Since no policymakers have endorsed, or will endorse, committing U.S. military forces to protect Ukrainian territory, they are instead offering to send logistical support—essentially the equivalent of camping gear—or small arms, neither of which would make any military difference against Russian forces on a battlefield.  Moreover, they contend that the rapid provision of such matériel will alter Putin’s calculus, in effect deterring him by signaling that the United States is committed to assuring the territorial integrity of the remainder of Ukraine. However, the meager and insignificant military support that policymakers propose demonstrates the truth: defending the remainder of Ukraine from Russian forces is simply not a U.S. foreign policy priority. If it were, policymakers wouldn’t have endorsed the following:

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (March 15): “First of all, they need small arms but they need other military equipment as well…There needs to be a training regimen also. A lot of their military is not well trained, nor ready to fight. That shouldn’t prevent us from getting arms to them, not just to defend themselves but as a signal that we are supporting them. I think it’s vital to give them arms and I think it’s also vital to send a message that we’re willing to give them arms with which to defend themselves from an imminent invasion of another party of their country…”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (March 17): “The president said we will, quote, “consider other options.” The president should have said we’re going to provide military assistance to Ukraine, and that will be in defensive weaponry. But to not do that, after this country has lost a large part of its territory due to Russian aggression, I think, frankly, is encouraging and it makes me less optimistic about Putin exercising restraint in eastern Ukraine…In other words, you could give them anti-air equipment, you could give them anti-tank, you could help up their training.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) (March 17): “This has to be not only about major economic support for Ukraine to solidify their government…but also some acknowledgement that there is some non-lethal support that we can give the Ukrainian military. I’m not suggesting arming them, but they can use things like MREs and communications equipment that may help them at least forestall a greater movement into their territory other than Crimea.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (March 17): “Their military is quite hollowed out because the former leader was really a puppet for Putin. So as the prime minister told me, what they have in their military, nothing flies, nothing shoots, nothing works. They’re going to need assistance all around and they’re going to need a world community to show strength against Putin, who only recognizes strength. And I believe he doesn’t know what he is going to do yet. I believe he is calculating the credibility of his opponents on a daily basis.”

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) (March 23): “They do need everything from fuel to tires to sleeping bags to meals. We’ve got to strengthen them and help them with advice and backing, and it may come to small arms. I’m not ruling that out, keep it on the table.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) (March 23): “You can do noncombatant-military aid in a way that allows them to defend themselves. And that’s all they want…I think that sends a very clear message. We’re not talking about even complicated weapon systems. We’re talking about small arms so they can protect themselves. Maybe medical supplies, radio equipment, things that they can use to protect themselves, defensive-posture weapon systems.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) (March 23): “I think we could do more in terms of communications equipment that we can help them with, technical assistance. In addition to that, they’ve put in a request to us and NATO for some small arms. I think there are some things that we could do that don’t involve our boots on the ground to really help them also stand up and help their military really at this time.”

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Gideon Wambua

    I guess it is yoo late now.

  • Posted by Gideon Wambua

    TI guess it is too late now.

  • Posted by Joshua Simeon Narins

    Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t see Russia rolling into the Eastern Ukraine without some good pretext. Re-enactment of those stupid language laws might be enough. Egypt style mass trials would also do.

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