Western Heavyweights Intervene In Ukrainian Conflict; Looking For Another Diplomatic Solution

I was relieved to see reports earlier this week that the United States was finally considering arming the Ukrainians as they continue fighting off pro-Russian separatists in the East.

There was the suggestion that we might have been able to get weapons to Eastern Ukraine within weeks. And President Obama’s new pick for Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, signaled his support for this idea. In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services committee Carter said that he was “very much inclined” to give weapons to the Ukrainians. “We need to support Ukraine in defending themselves,” he told the committee.

It only took a few hours for the White House to put an end to Carter’s line of thinking – and to put Carter in line for that matter. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “A decision like this will be made by the commander in chief.”

And so we find ourselves back on the diplomatic path to resolving the Ukrainian crisis.


Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev today, just ahead of French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Kerry openly blamed Moscow for the continued violence in Eastern Ukraine. In a press conference after meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko he said, “We talked about the largest threat that Ukraine faces today, and that is Russia’s continued aggression in the east.” He continued by imploring Moscow and the separatists to honor the ceasefire agreement negotiated in Minsk last September, but there can be no doubt that his words fell on deaf ears.

According to NATO, Russia has sent tanks, rockets and other heavy weapons to the separatists, and has sent about 1,000 of its own troops there to help the rebels with their offensive.

And the separatists are currently moving in on another town in Eastern Ukraine, Debaltseve – a move that would be impossible without the Russian assistance they continue to argue doesn’t exist.

Despite this aggression, Western leaders have been clear that diplomacy is their chosen route. Kerry told reporters, “We are not seeking a conflict with Russia. No one is.” And he emphasized the united front amongst the Western powers: “the fact that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande are visiting Kiev later today underscores that the US and our international partners are standing united with Ukraine.”

Merkel and Hollande are not just meeting with Poroshenko, they will continue on to Moscow to see President Putin. And both of them have made it clear that renegotiating the peace agreement from September, that lasted less than a few weeks, is their top priority.

Hollande said, “The diplomatic option cannot be prolonged indefinitely. The diplomatic option is not sure to succeed, but if we don’t try we will never know. That is why we and the [German] chancellor have decided to take this initiative . . . to try and find a text that can be acceptable to all parties.”

I don’t believe there is any such text, no matter how good Poroshenko, Kerry, Hollande and Merkel’s intentions are.

Putin’s interests do not align with the West’s. And it’s hard to see him coming to the table in any genuine way without legitimate push back from the other side – a feat that is near impossible without military aid from the West.

A joint report released this week by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs makes a strong case for arming Ukraine.

Key points include: 1) signaling to the Kremlin that the costs of military action is high, 2) Russia may very well push further into Ukraine – Putin taking Crimea in the first place was “unthinkable” and it’s just what happened and 3) the potential for Moscow to view the US and NATO’s lack of support for Ukraine as carte blanche to move into other nations, most likely the Baltic states.

To be sure, the risk of an all out military conflict with Russia is a serious one and an outcome that advocates of arming the Ukrainians are not interested in.

But Putin is not someone who responds to anything but force. And it may very well be that providing lethal arms to Ukraine is the only thing that can actually deescalate this crisis, as without Western assistance the Ukrainians are barely a concern for Putin, let alone a threat to his plans.

Read more at Forbes.com