December 31, 2017
© Photo: Public domain
Last week, the Trump administration, reversed its previous position and announced they had agreed to supply advanced lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government — including the likely delivery of Javelin anti-tank weapons — which could decimate Russian armor. This is a move sure to be seen in Moscow as a drastic escalation that will almost certainly precipitate a Russian retaliation.
Russian officials denounced President Trump’s authorization of lethal equipment to the Ukrainians as an aggressive act meant to deliberately sabotage the Minsk peace process.
“The United States has crossed a line by announcing its intention to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday. “U.S. weapons are capable of leading to new casualties in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent to that.”
The decision was framed by the State Department as one of assisting Ukraine to fight back against Russian “aggression” and was lauded by Congressional war hawks as a necessary step to confront what many neocons and Cold War relics see as an expansionist Russian foreign policy.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the weapons were, “part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression.”
Proponents of sending the Ukrainian government advanced US weapons believe that if they can exact a harsh enough death toll on Russian soldiers assisting separatists in the Donbas, it will force Putin to withdraw support for the separatists.
The insane logic being employed by the West shows little understanding of the psychology of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It is simply wishful thinking to believe that a war of attrition, on the border of Russia, will force Putin to retreat. Instead, it will precipitate a drastic escalation in Russian support. One need simply analyze the past few years of war in Eastern Ukraine to clearly see that Moscow is willing to take undertake whatever economic, political or military consequences are necessary to prevent the defeat of anti-Kiev separatists in the Donbas.
In 2014 and 2015, when Ukrainian soldiers and pro-government neo-Nazi battalions were engaging Ukrainian separatists in fierce door-to-door, house-to-house fighting, Russia didn’t back down – instead, they escalated and forcefully stepped up support – as they supplied not only personnel, but tanks, supplies, and reinforcements to stop Kiev’s advances.
According to Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington, D.C. thinktank:
In Putin’s mind, allowing Ukraine to retake strategic territory was an unthinkable prospect that would lead Kiev to believe that it could squash the rebellion militarily. The infusion of Russian troops stopped Ukrainian territorial advances in their tracks, at considerable human cost to Kiev.In other words, whenever pro-Russian militants were losing ground or at risk, Moscow turned on the spigot of assistance to prevent a humiliating defeat or retreat. This is one of the biggest reminders to the world community that Ukraine’s political disposition is ultimately far more important to Russia’s strategic interests than it is to Washington’s. No amount of U.S. military equipment or heavy weapons systems is likely to eclipse what the Russians will provide to the other side.To believe Russia will be intimidated into withdrawing its troops from Ukrainian territory or suing for a peace with a government Moscow sees as a puppet of the West just because a few more of its soldiers have been killed is to place hope over the reality of Putin’s track record throughout the war.Whether we in the United States or Western Europe accept it as legitimate or not, Putin is highly motivated to preserve Russian influence and freedom of movement in a country that shares a 1,426-mile border with the Russian Federation. To allow Ukraine to drift fully into Europe’s orbit on his watch would be nothing short of a personal political humiliation for Putin and, more important, a geopolitical catastrophe for a Russia whose political elites remain incredibly nervous about a shrinking Near Abroad and any hint of political revolution in the former Soviet space.
The decision to provide advanced lethal weaponry to Ukraine will be used by Moscow as an excuse to increase its support to Ukrainian proxies in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Russian government has operated in virtual lockstep with proxy forces since the Western coup to depose then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Although made to look like a spontaneous revolution of the people of Ukraine, further study in the wake of the Euromaidan revealed a plethora of oligarchic forces called Fatherland, neo-Nazi Ukrainian nationalists, and shadowy intelligence forces operating in concert with Western intelligence agencies to create a perfect storm for a “popular revolution” in Ukraine.
What appeared on the face to be a popular uprising was, in reality, nothing more than a well-scripted coup attempt meant to install a pro-Western government in Ukraine. The Eastern regions of Ukraine, with large Russian speaking populations, refused to recognize this illegitimate government and requested federalization as to maintain a semblance of autonomy from the pro-Western regime that took power. However, the new pro-West government refused and instead sent in military forces to occupy the region. This precipitated local resistance and Russian assistance to the local Ukrainian forces fighting to defend their home from the newly installed regime in Kiev.
President Trump’s choice to deepen U.S. engagement in a conflict that involves a non-NATO country and whose political positioning is largely irrelevant to U.S. policy in Europe is a bad decision that has frightening implications regarding the increased potential for conflict with another nuclear superpower.
In an article for Breaking Defense, DePetris posited numerous, compelling, unanswered questions that reveal the extremely shortsighted nature of the Trump administration’s decision:
What, for instance, is the U.S. objective in Ukraine other than simply trying to bleed the Russians in a proxy conflict? When — not if — Russia escalates, what would the Trump administration do to counter it? How far is the U.S. willing to go to frustrate Moscow’s ambitions in a country it sees as an extension of its former Soviet glory? What if Putin, in his desire to respond to what he regards as American aggression in his own backyard, seeks to expand the conflict by stirring up pro-Moscow sentiment among the Russian-speaking populations of the Baltics? What would NATO do in that situation? Is NATO even prepared for such a contingency? And if they are not, how is any other Eastern European nation supposed to have any confidence in NATO when the transatlantic alliance can’t even defend its own members?
As Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, commented on Twitter:
The provision of US lethal arms for Ukraine will change little on the battlefield, but it marks Washington’s deeper and more direct involvement in the conflict. An important line has been crossed, and it probably won’t stop there.
Aside from the obtuse goal of “containing Russia,” involving the U.S. in an ethnonational conflict between two peoples/states with a long and complicated history is an extremely dangerous proposition that could potentially result in a greater likelihood of direct conflict between the United States and Russia – something no sane person ever hopes to see.
The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.