Ukraine Crisis Prompts New Domino Theory as Obama Calls and Threatens Putin
February 11, 2015
Jonathan Broder / Newsweek & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
As western European leaders huddle with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this weekend to discuss new proposals to end the Ukraine crisis, the idea of providing Kiev with lethal weapons is gaining traction in Washington. While preparing to head to Belarus for ceasefire talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin had to take a call from President Obama, who threatened to impose "greater costs" on him over his "aggression" in the Ukraine.
Ukraine Crisis Prompts New Domino Theory
Jonathan Broder / Newsweek
(February 6, 2015) -- Remember the Cold War domino theory, which held that if one country fell to Communism, its neighbors would follow, one by one?
Well, a similar theory may be taking hold in Washington amid the debate over arming Ukraine against Russian aggression.
As western European leaders huddle with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this weekend to discuss new proposals to end the Ukraine crisis, the idea of providing Kiev with lethal weapons is gaining traction in Washington.
And one of the principal arguments for such a move is the theory that if Russia's aggression isn't stopped in Ukraine, Moscow will be emboldened to bring other independent former Soviet republics under its thumb using the pretext of protecting Russian-speaking minorities in those countries.
With US weapons, the thinking goes, Ukrainian forces will be able to draw enough blood from both separatists and the Russian troops backing them to force Moscow to negotiate a peace agreement.
That argument runs through a recent independent report by eight former senior US officials that is receiving serious consideration from administration officials.
The report recommends that the United States provide Ukraine with $3 billion in lethal weapons and equipment, including anti-tank missiles, armored Humvees, reconnaissance drones and radars that can quickly pinpoint the origin of enemy artillery fire.
"Putin and the Kremlin have proclaimed a unique and legally dubious right to 'protect' ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, wherever they are located and whatever their citizenship," the report says, noting that Putin offered this justification for Russia's occupation and eventual annexation of Crimea. "If not constrained, such Russian policies represent a clear danger to European security, the North Atlantic community, as well as to Russia's neighbors in Eurasia."
The report goes on to warn that "if the United States and NATO do not adequately support Ukraine, Moscow may well conclude that the kinds of tactics it has employed over the past year can be applied elsewhere. Of particular concern would be Russian actions to destabilize Estonia or Latvia, each of which has a significant ethnic Russian minority and both of which are NATO members."
The report adds that the Kremlin already has demonstrated "aggressive intent in the Baltics" by kidnapping an Estonian security official last September at the close of the NATO summit in Wales, where the alliance reaffirmed its pledge to defend members against Russian aggression.
One reason why the report is receiving such serious consideration is the standing of its authors. They include Michele Flornoy, a former senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration and a top contender for defense secretary if Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected president; retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, a former top NATO military commander, and Ivo Daalder, NATO ambassador during Obama's first term.
Another is the timing of its publication. It comes as Western intelligence officials have accused Russia of supplying separatists with tanks, artillery and mobile rocket launchers for their recent offensive in eastern Ukraine. During that campaign, the separatists, backed by Russian troops, have enlarged their self-declared independent enclave by roughly 200 square miles, NATO officials say.
Putin, who denies any Russian troops are inside Ukraine, has quietly proposed a truce based on the new battle lines,which would make the separatists' enclave more economically viable. But Kiev has rejected this proposal, insisting on a return to a September truce agreement that called for the withdrawal of foreign forces and arrangements against further violations of the Russia-Ukraine border.
Until now, the United States has provided only non-lethal aid to Ukraine, including such items as body armor, communications equipment and medical kits. But with the separatist offensive inflicting a series of battlefield setbacks on Ukrainian forces, White House officials say President Barack Obama is now reviewing that policy.
For many both in and outside the administration, the president's review is long overdue. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel favors a policy of arming Ukraine, as does his likely successor, Ashton Carter, who said during his confirmation hearing Wednesday, "I'm very much inclined in that direction." That brought nods of approval on Capitol Hill, where bipartisan support for such a step has been growing since last year.
Russia has warned it will consider the supply of any US weapons to Ukraine a threat to its territory and will act accordingly. Russia has a 700,000-member army, with many armored and infantry brigades and warplanes positioned near the Ukraine border. The Ukrainian army numbers 34,000. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, which means members of the alliance are not required to come to its assistance.
The prospect of deeper US military involvement in the Ukraine civil war has alarmed many observers, as well as European officials.
"America has never had a vital interest in Crimea or the Donbass worth risking a military clash with Russia," Republican pundit Patrick Buchanan wrote in an online commentary, referring to the region of eastern Ukraine where the fighting is taking place. "And we do not have the military ability to intervene and drive out the Russian army, unless we are prepared for a larger war and the potential devastation of the Ukraine."
John Pepper, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble who got to know Putin personally when he pioneered the company's business in Russia in the 1990s, called the idea of providing Ukraine with lethal weapons "folly."
Noting that Putin was likely to respond to such a move by escalating Russia's own involvement in the war, he said "the chances of that [policy] not working are high, and the consequences of it not working are enormous."
Pepper spoke Thursday during a conference call on the subject of arming Ukraine arranged by the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, a Washington, DC, research organization.
Speaking on the same conference call, Michael Kofman, a Russia specialist at the Kennan Institute and a consultant to the Pentagon, warned that Ukraine's army is so weak and poorly trained that an injection of US weapons is unlikely to reverse its battlefield fortunes. To prove his point, he reminded participants that US weapons did little to prevent the collapse of the the Iraqi Army at the hands of ISIS.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Moscow to attempt another negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis, Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the US, also has weighed in on the debate, appealing to those who support arming Ukraine to give diplomacy a chance.
"Those who advocate for…the delivery of arms, I would ask the question: Where does that lead to? Have you thought it through?" he told reporters Thursday. "Where are we heading with this?"
Kofman attempts to provide an answer. "What the recommendation really is doing is slow-walking the United States into a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine," he said. "And this fundamentally will prove disastrous for Ukraine, as it proved for Afghanistan, as it proved for every single country that hosted a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War."
Obama Calls Putin to Threaten Him Over Ukraine 'Aggression'
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(February 10, 2015) -- Preparing to head to Belarus for ceasefire talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin had to take a call from President Obama, who threatened to impose "greater costs" on him over his "aggression" in the Ukraine.
Ukraine's civil war is going increasingly poorly for the US-allied government, and the Obama administration seeks to blame Russia for the gains of the rebels, who are predominantly ethnic Russians.
At the same time, the claims of "aggression" ring incredibly hollow, as Putin is the one working with France and Germany in Minsk to try to get a new Ukraine ceasefire in place, while the Obama Administration has refused to attend and is talking about escalating the conflict with arms shipments to the Ukrainian military.
The US and Britain have both repeatedly gone on the record as wanting the Ukrainian civil war to end, but only on their terms, which is an unconditional surrender of the rebels. Since the rebels have gained ground and Russia, France, and Germany are trying to negotiate a settlement, the US and Britain are trying to forestall the ceasefire, hoping they can shift the war in Ukraine's favor enough that total surrender becomes possible.
Until that happens, expect them to paradoxically oppose Russian peace efforts and blame Russia for the war.
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