Sending Arms To Ukraine Is A Foolish Idea

Pressure is building on the Administration to send military aid to Ukraine, but it would be a very bad idea.

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As the war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine continues to heat up, the United States is apparently reconsidering previous policy decisions and providing arms to the government in Kiev:

 WASHINGTON—The U.S. government is considering providing Javelin antitank missiles, small arms and ammunition to Ukraine, part of an effort to try to deter further aggression by Russia-backed rebels there, according to U.S. officials.

The Pentagon has long supported providing some lethal aid, but until recently the White House has signaled little interest in such a move to avoid escalating the confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin .

However, amid a surge of new fighting in eastern Ukraine, the White House and military leaders have begun taking another look at providing lethal assistance such as the antitank missiles. An administration official said Susan Rice , the White House national-security adviser, has reopened the discussion, though officials cautioned that no decision has been made.

Similar discussions have taken place throughout the past several months.

The U.S. has been providing nonlethal military aid, including protective vests, night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar systems, to Ukraine in recent months. But so far, it hasn’t provided arms or ammunition.

The revived discussion, officials said, centers on whether a decision to provide “defensive lethal arms” would prompt Mr. Putin to reduce his support for the pro-Moscow rebels or trigger him to ramp it up, further destabilizing the country.

“It’s hard to predict how it would play out,” said a senior U.S. official. “But what has to be factored into the decision is, of course, the Moscow reaction.”

(…)

Some officials believe defensive lethal aid that could help Ukrainian forces better defend themselves from Russian-supplied heavy weaponry could de-escalate the situation. But others have argued that Mr. Putin could easily counter U.S.-supplied arms, making the situation on the ground more dangerous.

Javelins are self-guided missiles that can be used by a foot soldier as a shoulder-fired weapon. But the U.S. is considering having the Ukrainians mount them on vehicles, which would allow its forces to maneuver more quickly against tanks and other armored vehicles supporting rebel forces. Because they are self-guided, Javelins are often called a “fire and forget” missile.

Top White House advisers to the president are expected to discuss Ukraine options this week, but officials said it isn’t clear if a decision will be made then.

The topic also came up yesterday at the confirmation hearings for Ashton Carter, who President Obama has selected to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense:

Ashton B. Carter, President Obama’s choice to become the next secretary of defense, promised lawmakers Wednesday that he would keep an independent voice and showed a willingness to differ with the White House over its strategy in several global hot spots.

Carter, 60, a physicist who has held several senior posts at the Pentagon dating to Jimmy Carter’s administration, said he was “very much inclined” to provide arms to Ukraine, would be open to reviewing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and would be cautious about releasing prisoners from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — in each case potentially putting him at odds with Obama.

(…)

Carter was careful not to directly contradict Obama. Yet he made clear that he would favor providing Ukraine with arms to fend off Russian-backed rebels, something the White House has resisted.

“We need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” Carter said in response to pointed questions from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee chairman. “I am inclined in the direction of providing them with arms, including . . . lethal arms.”

The Obama administration has provided the Ukrainian government with night-vision goggles, body armor and other supplies but has drawn the line at funneling weapons out of fear that they would worsen the conflict with the rebels and provoke countermeasures by the Russian government.

The talk of providing lethal aid to Ukraine comes as the battle in eastern Ukraine appears to be heating up to an extent that we haven’t seen in some months. The cease fire that was put in place in September, which wasn’t really being strictly honored to begin with, fell apart months ago and, in recent weeks, the Russian back separatists have made significant advances in the area around Donetsk, including pushing back on territorial gains that the Ukrainian Army had made over the summer. It’s fairly obvious that these separatists are receiving aid and training from Russian forces, and it’s likely that Russian special forces are fighting alongside the separatists inside Ukrainian territory. For the moment at least, it appears that the separatists forces have something of an upper hand, at least to the extent that they are proving to be more than capable, with Russian assistance of course, of holding on to a swath of territory in the east and stopping the Ukrainians from delivering any kind of final blow to the separatists. At the same time, though, the fighting is becoming serious enough that the United States and Europe are trying to find a way to revive the aborted peace negotiations and NATO is moving to beef up security for its Eastern European members, just in case Russia gets any ideas about expanding its ambitions beyond Ukraine.

As for the idea of sending arms to Ukraine, Steve Chapman points out just how bad an idea that would be:

It would cost a lot of money that would probably be wasted, since the arms would not be sufficient to stop Vladimir Putin from achieving any military goal he sets. It could induce him to intensify his aggression before our help can arrive.

It could expand the destruction of the fighting without changing the outcome. And it’s likely to eventually present the U.S. with a choice between accepting defeat and having to use our own forces to save Ukraine.

No one really doubts that Putin can prevail in this fight. The think-tank report concedes, “Even with enormous support from the West, the Ukrainian army will not be able to defeat a determined attack by the Russian military.”

Despite all the martial rhetoric in Washington, we are not going to turn the tide of the war. All the U.S. government can hope to do is raise the price Putin has to pay.

(…)

The belief that we can force him to sue for peace is one of those fetching delusions that often overcome our policymakers and pundits. Political scientist Lionel Beehner noted recently in The Washington Post, “Scholarship generally finds that third-party intervention on the side of rebel forces makes conflicts longer, bloodier, and more difficult to resolve through peaceful means.”
There is no reason to think intervening on behalf of the Ukrainian government would yield a different result. Often, all you get from expanding a war is an expanded war. In this one, we might ensure more dead Russians — but also a lot more dead Ukrainians.

The problem is that the U.S. has neither the means nor the motivation to stop Putin. Ukraine is always going to be a lot closer to Moscow than to Washington, and its fate is always going to matter a lot more to the Russians than to us.

Daniel Larison, meanwhile, likens the arguments for arming Ukraine to the similar arguments made by many of the same people in favor of arming the “moderate” rebels in Syria:

The debate over arming Ukraine has a lot in common with the debate over arming rebels in Syria. Hawks insist from the start that the U.S. needs to be arming one side in a foreign conflict, whose importance to the U.S. is grossly exaggerated to make it seem imperative that the U.S. does what they want, and they dismiss any possible negative consequences while focusing solely on the supposed benefits of “action.” Once the warnings of skeptics of U.S. involvement are proven correct, that doesn’t weaken the hawks’ desire to throw more weapons at the problem, but just makes them even more certain that the U.S. has to keep increasing its support for its ineffective proxies.

Chapman and Larison are largely correct. In the end, neither the United States nor the rest of the west is going to be able to provide Ukraine with the kind of aid that it would need to truly defeat the Russian-backed separatists. And those nations aren’t going to send troops to Ukraine to fight alongside them either. For one thing, Ukraine is not a NATO ally and has thus far chosen not to pursue membership in the alliance (which I would argue should not be granted, but that’s an argument for another day), therefore there isn’t really any obligation on the part of the United States or Europe to defend the territory of Ukraine. Furthermore, even accepting the reality that the separatists in the east are being aided by Russia it seems fairly clear at this point that they speak for some sizable number of people who want some kind of political autonomy from Kiev and who see their loyalties as being tied more closely to Russia than to the idea of a united Ukraine. That’s not likely to change just because the United States and the west start sending small arms to Kiev.

In the end, the only solution to the Ukraine situation will be a negotiated one between the eastern and western Ukrainians themselves. It may result in some form of a federated republic where the eastern region has a greater degree of self-government than it does today, or it may mean a division of the nation itself in much the same way that Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia found themselves divided after the end of the Cold War, albeit the circumstances under which that happened was very different in those nations. No doubt, Russia will have a large say in what the future of Ukraine is going to look like as well, but that’s something that should be expected given the fact that Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history that included intermixed populations, a common history, a shared religion, and borders that have never been nearly as defined as people on either side would have you believe. What we don’t need in this situation is for the United States to get involved in the conflict in a way that turns an internal Ukrainian matter into a proxy war with Russia that could spill across borders. Not only don’t we need another ethnic war in Europe right now, but considering the problems going on in the rest of the world we simply don’t have the resources to deal with such a conflict.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Cheryl Rofer says:

    I agree, but for somewhat different reasons.

    http://nucleardiner.com/2015/02/05/responding-russia-ukraine/

  2. stonetools says:

    n the end, the only solution to the Ukraine situation will be a negotiated one between the eastern and western Ukrainians themselves.

    Unfortunately , Doug, I see another solution-dismemberment of Ukraine and its absorption back into the Russian sphere.

    I think your analysis of the military options is spot on, but does that end the analysis? If Putin succeeds in gobbling up Ukraine, is it likely he’ll stop there? What about the Baltic States?Or Poland? While I generally reject a slippery slope analysis, Russia has historically claimed dominion over those states , dating back over two centuries. It’s not crazy to believe Putin might stir up some trouble there, especially given large Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia.
    How far do we alow Putin to push west, before we push back? It would a lot easier to stop him in Ukraine, rather than to stop him from taking the Baltics.

    I think we have to hope that the economic sanctions approach works in stopping Putin in the Ukraine. If that fails, however, we better to make sure we have military options available for any Putin moves in the Baltics or Poland.

  3. Mu says:

    Makes you wonder, who runs out first. The US of Javelin systems or the Russians of T-55 stashed away in warehouse by the 1000s.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Doug, I think you’re right. As much as I might enjoy annoying Putin, that’s about all we’d do. I’m sorry for the Ukrainians, but there’s no version of reality where Ukraine is a vital US interest.

    We should do more to arm and prepare the Baltics and Poland, including placing serious American tripwire forces there. And we should keep sanctions in place.

  5. Pinky says:

    The differences between Syria and Ukraine are greater than the similarities. There are three sides in Syria. The moderates are outnumbered and very difficult to identify. Arms sent to them may easily fall into the wrong hands. They don’t have a recognized government. There’s no reason to believe that they could govern stably.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Reluctantly agree with the OP. The worst of all possible futures for the Ukraine conflict would be for it to become a proxy war between the Russians and NATO.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    A quibble first,

    Not only don’t we need another ethnic war in Europe right now,

    It would seem we already have one, just one we don’t need to get any more involved in. It just is not that central to us. Secondly,

    Welcome to the most corrupt nation in Europe

    Not sure if it really is the most corrupt, but do we really think sending arms into Ukraine is going to do anything more than enhance the black market for weaponry?

    Lastly, can we help or only hurt? Sucks to be Ukrainian right now, probably always has, but I think this another case for the “Don’t just do something, sit there!” file.

  8. Will Taylor says:

    We have no business being in Ukraine. There was a deal after the collapse of the Soviet Union that we would leave Ukraine alone. The upside of turning Ukraine towards the West is minimal compared to the potential shitstorm if we continue this proxy war. I can’t fathom why people don’t look at the Russian POV on this in that bringing Ukraine into NATO is an aggressive move that Russia can’t tolerate. The media makes it seem that Putin is out to reclaim Eastern Europe.

  9. stonetools says:

    The US and EU are still trying to give peace a chance.

    The leaders of France and Germany were carrying a new peace initiative to the Ukrainian and Russian capitals Thursday, amid a flurry of high-level diplomacy to end what French President Francois Hollande called a war on Europe’s edge.

    Best wishes to Merkel, Hollande , and Kerry.If they pull off a peace deal, they deserve the next Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not optimistic, but nothing beats failure but a try.
    Arming the Ukrainians could be a bargaining chip. You would have to be willing to follow through, though.

  10. JWH says:

    @stonetools:

    There might be some truth to the slippery slope analysis and the Germany/Poland historical parallel. But as a practical matter, I don’t think we can ask US soldiers to risk their lives for the sake of Ukraine.

  11. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m sorry for the Ukrainians, but there’s no version of reality where Ukraine is a vital US interest.

    We should do more to arm and prepare the Baltics and Poland

    How vital are the Baltics and Poland, really? If we take a truly cold blooded, Bismarckian view, the primary utility of Poland and the Balticis that they serve as a buffer zone to the really vital US interest-Germany. Indeed , I could see a realist US adviser saying that “Lithuania isn’t worth the bones of a single Alabaman infantryman.” NATO enlargement east was in retrospect, and stupid and dangerous policy ( thanks, Presidents Bush and Clinton). We can’t back out of our commitments now, but I’ll be d@mned if I could justify why the US should be sending troops to defend Latvia.

  12. humanoid.panda says:

    @Pinky: You are right regarding the differences between Ukraine and Syria, but the two situations have a basic feature in common: in both cases, there is just no plausible way to go from point A, the people we like losing to point B, them winning, short of a military commitment that we can’t (and shouldn’t) take. For Syria, the problem really has no good solutions. For Ukraine, if I was Kerry, I’d push Ukrainians to accept a frozen conflict in exchange for a long-term European commitment to rearm and train their security forces. I am not sure the EU would be thrilled about that, and Ukrainian public opinion would be enraged, but I think that’s pretty much the only way forward.

  13. humanoid.panda says:

    @Will Taylor:

    There was a deal after the collapse of the Soviet Union that we would leave Ukraine alone.

    Um, no. There was a deal under which Ukraine relinquished its nuclear arsenal to Russia in exchange to Russian gurantee of its borders, and Russia blatantly violated that deal.

  14. Pinky says:

    @humanoid.panda: Yeah. Heck of a message to send to countries thinking about joining the nuclear club.

  15. @humanoid.panda:

    There was a deal under which Ukraine relinquished its nuclear arsenal to Russia in exchange to Russian gurantee of its borders, and Russia blatantly violated that deal.

    Actually, as James Joyner noted back in March, that’s not what the agreement related to Ukraine’s nuclear weapons says at all

    The only security commitment given to Ukraine by the signatories is to make whole its nuclear deterrent against nuclear attack. The fact that nuclear weapons possession might also deter a conventional attack, while possibly true, is explicitly not addressed.

    There was no guarantee of Ukraine’s territorial integrity by Russia, the United States, or the United Kingdom (which also signed off on the agreement back then)

  16. @Pinky:

    That may or may not be the case, but getting nukes out of the hands of Ukraine in the early 1990s was a very good idea.

  17. JWH says:

    I think Syria and ISIS ought to play a role in US calculations in Ukraine, too. Russia is one of Syria’s patrons, and it might be useful at some point to work with Russia in order to reach an accord or understanding with Bashar Assad. Russia’s not likely to play nice in Syria if we’re in a proxy war with them in Ukraine.

  18. humanoid.panda says:

    @Doug Mataconis: James is regrettably wrong:

    1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine;
    2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations

    Source

  19. Slugger says:

    Do we have any actual interests at stake in Ukraine? Would a Moscow dominated Ukraine threaten US territory or important trade items? When I look at a lot of conflicts that the US has been in over the last two generations, I wonder what prize we thought we could achieve. Playing some sort of poker game with the blood of real people should at least be for some real chips.
    Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are members of NATO which is a big deal. I have doubts about the utility of NATO; I doubt that there is a plan for rolling T-34’s into Berlin, but we are committed to it.
    More and more, I think that a good shortcut for wise foreign policy is to ask Sen. McCain and do the opposite.

  20. humanoid.panda says:

    @humanoid.panda: Paragraph 4 of the same treaty does stipulate that the US and the UK are committed to defend Ukraine only against nuclear aggression, but paragraphs 1 and 2 clearly constitute a Russian guarantee of territorial integrity.

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    @stonetools: The Russians don’t want Ukraine. They want a proxy to funnel arms and insurgents into, a permanent buffer zone between them and the West.

  22. Will Taylor says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    You’re in obvious need of a history lesson one that i’m happy to provide. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in 94 did not guarantee Ukraine’s security. There was no deal made by Clinton saying the US would defend Ukraine from Russia. The deal only said the US would go to the UN on Kiev’s behalf if the latter faced aggression “in which nuclear weapons are used”. There was an unofficial understanding that NATO would not go after Ukraine.

    Ukraine also has always held historical significance for Russia. You may not agree with all their tactics , but its obvious that the plan was to set up a NATO base in the Crimea. Russia simply can not let that happen. That’s a Real Red line for them and not something Americans should be willing to risk war with. The fact is that Putin can and will take Ukraine and we should let him.

  23. Will Taylor says:

    @JWH:

    i agree. We have bigger issues in the world to deal with like the Middle East. Whether its 10 years or 50, we’ll be partnering up with the Russians one way or another against Islamic fanatics.

  24. Pinky says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Agreed. Do we also agree that rewarding blackmailers and punishing non-blackmailers constitutes a bad long-term strategy?

  25. @humanoid.panda:

    Nowhere in that document does it spell out any consequences for not respecting Ukraine’s borders. Nor does it obligate either the United States or the UK to come to Ukraine’s defense. We should decline to expand the terms of that agreement.

  26. @Pinky:

    That;s a question for the Ukrainians. It is not our business to be drawing the borders of Central Europe

  27. Pinky says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The question extends far beyond Central Europe. If we don’t preserve the borders of countries that give up their nuclear weapons, what incentive do they have to do so? Nuclear A gives up its weapons. Nuclear B invades. The world does nothing. People notice.

  28. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Would you be OK with Russia “withdrawing the borders of the Baltics”, Doug? ( Mataconis is a Lithuanian name, isn’t it?)

  29. @stonetools:

    The Baltics are NATO allies with a much longer history of independence from Russia, both politically and culturally, than Ukraine’s (which really only began in 1991). We have an obligation to defend them which I would support. We have no such obligation to Ukraine.

  30. @Pinky:

    I think nations with potential nuclear programs have already learned a lesson thanks to the Bush and Obama Administrations.

    Iraq and Libya — No nuclear program and they get invaded and their leaders deposed

    North Korea and Pakistan — Nuclear programs and the most they get are sanctions.

    If you think nations like Iran aren’t paying attention to stuff like that, you’re naive.

  31. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Libya gave up its nukes, and we helped the rebels overthrow Kadaffi.

    Ukraine gave up its nukes, and now it’s being invaded.

    We told Pakistan and India to not get nukes, they did, no big deal.

    We told North Korea not to get nukes, they did, no big deal.

    Why the hell would Iran even THINK about giving up its nuke program?

    The Ukrainians aren’t asking us to fight for them, they want to fight for themselves — they just want us to give them the tools they can use to defend themselves.

    But I’m sure that if we just give Putin the hunk of Ukraine he wants, he’ll settle right down.

    How do you say “Sudetenland” in Russian?

  32. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I see that, for once, we’re on similar wavelengths.

    It scares me, too.

  33. Will Taylor says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    This talk of Russia being Germany in 1938 is almost laughable. First, The US and NATO is more powerful than Europe was facing off against Hitler in 1938. That was a completely different situation with different nations and is just not applicable today other than Neocons trying to scare you. This talk is really ludicrous and just irresponsible, but I’ll be the First Here to Say you were Right if they Attack Poland because they are an ally worth fighting for.

    As for Iran, a deal is not even close to happening. It’s hard to believe based on your postings here that you think Ukraine is the reason why Iran won’t give up their nukes. Iran is a completely different situation and a deal is not even remotely close.

    Read this and tell me if you think a deal is close

    http://freebeacon.com/national-security/iran-the-americans-are-begging-us-for-a-deal/

  34. Pinky says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If you think nations like Iran aren’t paying attention to stuff like that, you’re naive.

    Huh?

  35. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Will Taylor: That article dovetails quite nicely with this piece by Richard Fernandez.

  36. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Pinky: See my elaboration. I was typing at the same time as Doug, and was having similar thoughts.

    You’d also probably like the Fernandez piece I linked to, as well.

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Wow. How do you neglect to put in the whole Iraq debacle within this list? (I have no quarrel with your other points) Or, you know, the whole “Axis of Evil” thing?

  38. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Because it didn’t fit, obviously. The issue was “countries with WMD programs and/or weapons.” Saddam, having previously agreed to give his up and then failing to comply with the agreement he made, doesn’t count.

    The conditions of that agreement also served to disqualify him. “Give up your WMD program in a very public and thoroughly documented fashion, or get invaded again” made that one unique. The same didn’t apply to the other countries I cited.

    However, the example of Saddam was quite persuasive to Kadaffi. That we invaded Iraq and threw him out of power so readily, and (partly) for the reason that he hadn’t lived up to his agreement, helped Kadaffi decide that giving up his WMD program to the US was in his long-term best interestes.

    At least, until Obama was elected. Then he probably realized that he’d have been better off keeping those WMDs. If he’d still had them, then Obama (I’m sorry, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama) likely would not have been so eager to help overthrow Kadaffi.

  39. humanoid.panda says:

    @Will Taylor: No, I don’t need any history lessons. It is true, that I’ve written above, that the US has no obligation to come to Ukraine’s aid unless it is attacked by nuclear weapons. It is also true that in that very same agreement, Russian vouched not to challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Now, that might be a toothless international agreement, but an international agreement it was.

  40. humanoid.panda says:

    @Will Taylor:

    Ukraine also has always held historical significance for Russia. You may not agree with all their tactics , but its obvious that the plan was to set up a NATO base in the Crimea.

    That is tinfoil level conspiracy theory.

  41. humanoid.panda says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yes, the treaty does not obligate the US to come to Russia’s aid, a point I already acknowledged. And yet, the treaty did include a Russian obligation to Ukraine’s teritorial integrity, a commitment Russia violated. Now, that doesn’t mean we have to go to war with Russia, or arm Ukraine, or even break relations with Russia. It does mean that the West needs to exert some form of price from Russia, because the precedent here is extremely dangerous.

  42. humanoid.panda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The Ukrainians aren’t asking us to fight for them, they want to fight for themselves — they just want us to give them the tools they can use to defend themselves.

    But I’m sure that if we just give Putin the hunk of Ukraine he wants, he’ll settle right down.

    As you might have noticed, I am not a fan of Doug and Will’s “none of our business” approach. However, as in 99.9% of all cases where people use the “Munich!” card, your use of that analogy is misguided. One major difference between the Czechoslovak army and Ukraine: the former had defensible borders, and a small, but very capable army that was as well armed as the Wehrmacht. The German military was concerned about this to the extent that some Generals considered a coup d’etat against Hitler if his diplomacy failed, as they estimated that a war on two fronts will bring a German defeat. In the Ukrainian case, we know none of that is true. The Ukrainian army’s problem is not lack of weapons, but bad training, non-existent logistics, endemic corruption, and an officer corps deeply penetrated by Russian agents. Additionally, Ukrainians might want fight Russia in the abstract, but local reports indicate that draft dodging is an intensifying problem. the Georgians had 5 years of training and a veteran/officer corps with rich battle experience (Iraq), and yet they couldn’t withstand the Russian army. The idea that if we can rearm and retrain and raise a new generation of Ukrainian officers on the fly and within a couple of months that force will be able to defeat the Russians is simply ludicrous.

  43. humanoid.panda says:

    To put it simply, as much as my sympathies run with the Ukrainians, there is simply no way they can win, unless they intend to go the guerilla war route (and notice that local residents in Donetsk area are not rising against the rebels..). What I would advice the West if I was in a position to give advice is to convince Ukraine to a cease fire and a frozen conflict, in exchange for a ceasefire, and generous economic aid, and continuing sanctions on Russia, and long-term Western commitment to rebuilding Ukrainian forces.

    Unfortunately, the odds of something like that happening are basically nil..

  44. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @humanoid.panda: I will not contest a single point you made. However, I will point out one error you are making: you are making incorrect assumptions about my arguments.

    You seem to think that I’m saying we should arm Ukraine because they have a good chance of holding off Russia. Not an unfair assumption; it’s a logical argument. You think it’s a wrong one, but it is a principled one, and one I would not have a problem defending from an ethical standpoint.

    But the reasoning behind my argument is threefold. One, Ukraine is asking, and I respect their right to self-determination and to fight for themselves. Two, it will make Russia’s conquest that more expensive, and I like that. Third, it will show Russia the “price” panda cited above for breaking their word.

    Panda is right; there must be a price paid for breaking agreements.

  45. humanoid.panda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    One, Ukraine is asking, and I respect their right to self-determination and to fight for themselves.

    Fair enough. However, if one sends weapons, one also needs to send advisors to teach the Ukrainians how to use them. If, as is very likely, the initial shipment fails, what do we do if the Ukrainians ask for more weapons and more advisors? What if the Russians use their excellent intelligence sources in the Ukrainian army and target and kill some of our advisers? What if, as I think it is likely, the Ukrainian government is asking for weapons not because it believes it can win the fight, but to appease public opinion and point the blame for losing the war for someone else?

    In short, risking a firefight with Russian forces is an extremely risky course of action. I am not opposed to it in principle, but to support it, but I just find it very hard to game how it produces positive results.

    [Also re: making conquest more expensive- that is a dubious proposition. A prolonged guerilla war would put Putin in a untenable position, but it seems that the local population in the conflict area wants no part of it. A more overt warfare, with Russian boys being killed by NATO weapons , is not something that Putin dreads- quite the opposite, I’m afraid..]

  46. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @humanoid.panda: There are ways around those problems. Send weapons that the Ukrainians are already have familiarity — such as Soviet/Russian-designed ones. What we don’t have, we can readily get. Hell, go to former Soviet Bloc countries and trade them US-made weapons for theirs.

    Alternately, offer the Ukrainians training outside of Ukraine.

    But keep it clear that we are not SAVING Ukraine, we are HELPING Ukraine. It’s up to them to fight for themselves. And say that loudly and clearly.

    The current price of oil is hurting Russia. As are the US-led economic sanctions. Russia is already paying a price, and seems willing to do so. So we make it more expensive.

  47. John425 says:

    I disagree as to the thinking described by Chapman and Larison. While a military victory may not be feasible by the U.S backed Ukrainians, at least a draw or a stalemate would put Putin back on his heels and likely deter him from further forays. But, while that ‘s a version of “let’s you and him fight”, the moral imperative is on us to assist in thwarting tyranny

  48. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: @humanoid.panda:

    I’m all for annoying Putin just for sh!ts and giggles. But if you think we can cause them enough pain to get the Russians to back down, I refer you to the Siege of Leningrad. Nobody out-suffers the Russians.

    Putin knows his people, and he knows outside pressure unites them. He’s baiting us. We can get involved in Ukraine and stay for, what, six, seven years? Maybe? Russia lives there, we don’t. Eventually we go home. And in the meantime Putin can transfer the blame for his failures onto us.

    Putin will profit from a fight. What he cannot stand as well is humiliation. He’s a punk, a mafia thug with delusions of grandeur. We exclude him from the international community, we sanction him, we arm-up the NATO-Russia border, and then we ignore him.

    We’ve already beaten these people once, we did it by steadily outperforming them, leaving them behind, reducing them to relative insignificance. What we have the power to do is what we did up until 1989: make them look like crude, thuggish clowns. Disdain and contempt and a failing economy will hurt Putin so much more than knocking off a few tanks.

    And we don’t send messages, we put real power in place in the Baltics and Poland. Russians don’t attack strong opponents. These are people who think they prove their manhood by getting hammered and beating up gays. A nation of sullen drunks. A nation of also-rans.

  49. anjin-san says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    However, as in 99.9% of all cases where people use the “Munich!” card, your use of that analogy is misguided.

    No it’s not. They really, really, really, really want Obama to be Neville Chamberlain. That desire far outweighs anything that is taking place in what most people call “reality”…

  50. anjin-san says:

    It’s rather fascinating that the conservative who were waxing orgasmic about Putin’s strong leadership such a short time ago are now talking about how he must be made to pay for his actions.

    The conservative track record for pretty much never being right about anything remains intact.

  51. Will Taylor says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    How is that tinfoil? The end game for the US was always a NATO base in Crimea. If not that then why are we there or care? Oil?
    I’m all for protecting Poland, but Ukraine is overkill.
    Russia will not back down from Ukraine and its not worth it to risk American lives.

  52. wr says:

    Hands up — who among those agitating for military action in Ukraine is willing to die for the cause, or to send a close relative to die? Who among you is willing to see higher taxes to pay for the adventure you want?

    Yup, what I thought.

  53. M13 says:

    I think, first off we will and we should arm Ukraine.

    It seems, listening to the psychotic delusions emanating from the Kremlin, the Russians believe they have reached the point of no return in their determination to save Russia by destroying Ukraine.

    I think time is not on their side.

    Ukraine and their Army may have been a basket case but the sanctions imposed by the Allied powers after the annexation of Crimea gave them what they desperately needed most, time and space to regroup, reorganize, train and coalesce.

    While they obviously cannot defeat the Russians in a straight up fight, they don’t have to in order to defeat them.

    The most important thing is they stand as a united, cohesive, recognized national army, the Ukrainian Army.

    As time has passed the window of opportunity for Russia to launch a full-scale invasion and destroy, occupy and set-up a puppet regime with impunity in Kiev has closed.

    Now the Ukrainian government and army can and will escape to NATO territory and continue the fight.

    NATO will not only not hand them over they will not recognize Russia’s behavior as anything other than illegitimate and criminal.

    And so we will soon be faced with the inevitable consequence of the Kremlin’s psychotic delusions,

    How far will they take it?

    Would they rather see the Russian people burn in a nuclear holocaust if it meant the Ukrainian people will never live as a free people in their own country?

    Today the answer seems to be yes.

    Tomorrow when they have to put their money where their mouths are the answer may not be the same as it is today.

    Whatever the answer may be, if the Kremlin stays on the course they’re on, it’s an answer they’re going to have to confront.

  54. John425 says:

    @anjin-san: You’ve been abusing yourself again. That’s gonna grow hair in the palm of your hand, y’know. Most conservatives admired Putin for his nationalistic tendencies, not his anti-democratic strong man rule. If we had a backbone in our President, we’d be happy. Instead of a leader, we got a pussy. And that’s not the kind of pussy that you stroke yourself about.

  55. anjin-san says:

    @John425:

    Well John, let’s look at what conservative standard bearer Sarah Palin had to say:

    “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,”

    And Rush:

    Now, you know, Vladimir Putin is saying that Obama and Kerry are lying. And I don’t know about you, but I find myself to be in a really curious situation. Who do I believe, Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama and John Kerry?

    Pat Buchanan:

    “While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites,” Buchanan writes, “Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind.”

    Christopher Caldwell, reprimanded Putin’s critics in the West for focusing on “a short list of causes beloved of western elites” instead of all the good things Putin’s done.

    Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber and the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer

    These two hardcore social conservatives both praised Putin for his anti-gay laws. In a December column for WND.com, Barber wrote that, during the Obama years, Putin has been able to claim for Russia “the mantle of world moral leader”

    Fischer, for his part, was even more effusive in his praise for Putin, calling the Russian a “lion of Christianity” back in October. Putin, according to Fischer, is “the defender of Christian values, the president that’s calling his nation back to embracing its identity as a nation founded on Christian value.”

    Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani could barely contain his enthusiasm for Putin and said “Putin decides what he wants to do and does it in half a day. He makes a decision and executes it quickly and everybody reacts. That’s what you call a real leader.”

    pussy

    John, John, John. Haven’t you learned not to comment on subjects you know nothing about?

  56. Paul Hooson says:

    The U.S and Russia need to find more common ground and improve relations, not stand off in proxy wars.

  57. John425 says:

    @anjin-san: Note that they comment on him but do not offer endorsements. Grow a pair and admit you are a screwup, fond of trying to put conservatives in a bad light..

  58. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Oh, look, the clown car’s arrived.

    @wr: Sod off, Swampy.

    @anjin-san: Knowing your history for lying, I’m going to find that Palin quote and get the full context, because I can tell by how fragmented it is that you’re misrepresenting it.

    “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not advocating that ‘peace through strength’… that only a strengthened US military can do.”

    That’s from a discussion that brings up something she said in the 2008 campaign: ““After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.”

    That’s not praise for Putin, it’s an observation of fact. It’s saying that Obama does NOT project an image of strength and resolve, while Putin does. And that is not an endorsement of Putin, but a simple recognition of reality. You might find Obama’s squishiness more admirable, but that’s not what Palin is asserting here. As usual, you’re misrepresenting what someone said.

    The same with the Limbaugh quote. Even in your selective quote, it’s clear that he’s saying that he finds what Obama and Kerry are saying to be so incredulous, he even finds himself finding Putin more credible.

    And Buchanan? The other day, didn’t you dismiss Cynthia McKinney’s relevance because she lost an election? Well, Buchanan — who’s been around since the 1960’s, and is well past his sell-by date, has run for election several times — and has lost every time.

    So three quotes. Two you misrepresented, one from an irrelevant 78-year-old crank. Well, I guess that’s an improvement for you..

    Now run away. The grownups are talking.

  59. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Knowing your history for lying

    You do realize that you yourself are a notorious serial liar on OTB – don’t you? Perhaps not, self-awareness is not one of your strong points.

    After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia

    Hmm. After the Georgia invasion, President Bush did what? Ah yes, put ineffective sanctions in place. And not much else, besides talk. Obama has used sanctions as well, but his are actually doing something. I invite you to review the performance of the ruble recently. I will take smart and effective over macho strutting any day of the week, though I recognize how impressed men with immaturity issues can be with the strutting and posturing.

    Now about the Palin quote – do you actually think presenting the entire quote makes it read any less as the ramblings of a disorganized and poorly informed mind? Again, perhaps you do.

    that only a strengthened US military can do.”

    Yes, we need to spend more on the military than the mind boggling sum we already do. Because it would take too much brainpower to learn from history where the doomed road to empire leads powerful nations.

    Obama does NOT project an image of strength and resolve

    Yup. Just ask Bin Laden. You can find his bullet riddled corpse at the bottom of the sea. Enjoy your chat.

    Buchanan has run for election several times — and has lost every time.

    Buchanan’s political runs were never more than vanity affairs. His significance is as a conservative commentator, author, and though leader. If he is irrelevant, why is he still on Fox?

    The grownups are talking.

    That’s your put down line? That was tired when it was going around around in AOL chat rooms in 2001.

  60. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    So three quotes.

    Actually, there were six. You might want to use your fingers to help you count.

  61. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Putin has characteristics that should be respected.

    Rattlesnakes have characteristics that should be respected.

    You have characteristics that should be respected.

    Ebola has traits that should be respected.

    Even wr has traits… no, wait, he doesn’t. He’s the exception.

  62. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: Hands up — who among those agitating for military action in Ukraine is willing to die for the cause, or to send a close relative to die?

    Here are two hands up, just for you.

  63. C. Clavin says:

    Carter said in response to pointed questions from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

    Of course McCain is in the middle of this.
    McCain is the guy that thought Sarah Palin should be Vice President, right?
    ‘Nuff said.

  64. Mu says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Regarding the “long history” of independent baltic states, they were a Wilson creation after WWI.

  65. humanoid.panda says:

    @Will Taylor:
    1. There is no evidence of that claim. (ADditionally, given that NATO has naval bases in Turkey, there is no strategic need whatsoever for a base in Crimea).
    2. In the short weeks between the Maidan and the Crimean takeover, the new government expressed willingness to prolong Russian lease on Sevastopol well into the 2040s.

  66. humanoid.panda says:

    that only a strengthened US military can do.”

    It would be much too cruel to ask Palin to explain herself, but I would love to hear from anyone how a “strengthened US military” would deter Putin. Is there any kind of formula by which 10,000 US infantrymen neutralize a Russian nuclear bomb? Like seriously, the idea that Obama’s “weakness” encourages Putin is wrong, but has internal logic. The idea that if we only had bigger army, Putin would not mess with us doesn’t make any sense whatsoever..

  67. michael reynolds says:

    @Mu:

    And the Russian Republic has only existed since 1992.

    This Russia is 23 years old.

    Both Russia and the Baltics were preceded by empires and assorted other states, but if we want to dismiss the legitimacy of today’s Lithuania as a recent construct, then fair is fair.

  68. michael reynolds says:

    You know, for all the ignorant whining from the right about Mr. Obama’s supposed lack of strategy, I’d love to hear what the “conservative” strategy is that will somehow encompass the war they want with Iran, the re-invasion of Iraq and Syria that they demand, the continuation of war in Afghanistan that they crave, the war with Russia in Ukraine, and the ramping up of belligerency with China.

    Because you know, that looks like a whole lot of wars. That’s not work for a relatively small, volunteer military. That’s more ships, more planes,more ordnance, and a whole lot more men and women.

    So, Jenos etc., why don’t you strain your brains and ‘splain to us how we do all this, and how we pay for all this,and then point out just whose sons and daughters you propose to draft into fighting your half dozen or so wars.

    You people are all mouth and strut and it is wildly inconsistent with your simultaneous belief that the loss of a handful of people in Benghazi was the greatest catastrophe since Antietam.

  69. Blue Galangal says:

    @Will Taylor: From the misty storage facility that contains my political science classes in 1984, I would agree with you. The Cold War professor I took the most classes from was very clear on two points (in 1984, that is): it would benefit NATO greatly to have a base in the Crimea as far as strategic nuclear deterrence went. It is not tinfoil conspiracy, or at least at the time it wasn’t. Second, the US and the USSR could not afford to get involved in a land war with each other, only by proxy. As soon as one country put troops on the ground it greatly escalated Cold-War-era risk factors. Some of this is now outdated; but this was the thinking that was behind late Cold War military and political calculations.

  70. Will Taylor says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    You make some interesting points and your professor sounds like he was a astute scholar. i don’t know if i’m entirely right, but my sense tells me that the base in Crimea is the grand prize for both Russia and the US. i also dug up this article earlier in the year that really illustrates how key that base is for the Russians.

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/the-military-base-at-the-heart-of-putin-s-fight-for-crimea-20140306

  71. Pinky says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Nobody out-suffers the Russians.

    Nobody outsuffers the Russians when they’re winning. Put them up against Japan 110 years ago, or losing in WWI, or losing in Afghanistan, and they’ll topple their government. They can accept starving to death as a strong nation, but they won’t stand for it as losers. No amount of oppression can keep them quiet when they believe that their imperial clout is declining.

  72. humanoid.panda says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    From the misty storage facility that contains my political science classes in 1984, I would agree with you. The Cold War professor I took the most classes from was very clear on two points (in 1984, that is): it would benefit NATO greatly to have a base in the Crimea as far as strategic nuclear deterrence went

    You are seriously misremembering something: in 1984, Crimea was part of the Soviet Union, and the notion the US might have rocket bases there was as plausible as the US having rocket bases on Mars. Additionally, again, the US has nuclear arms based in Turkey. There is simply no deterrent effect in basing missiles 200 miles to the North.

  73. humanoid.panda says:

    @Pinky: Ah, but they were losing the war in 1941/2 with narely a peep. The big difference between WW1 and the Russo-Japanese war and WW2 was that in the former 2 cases, the war was perceived as an imperial adventure, while the latter was conceived as war of national defense. Unfortunately, so far at least, Russians stilll think of this war as being fought on Russian turf, not in a foreign land they don’t care about.

  74. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Here are two hands up, just for you.

    Thank goodness you are here to provide a mature, honest tone for the discussion 🙂

  75. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @humanoid.panda: 1. There is no evidence of that claim. (ADditionally, given that NATO has naval bases in Turkey, there is no strategic need whatsoever for a base in Crimea).

    But Turkey’s edging towards Islamism all the time. Our faith in Turkey’s fidelity could be… misplaced.

    On the other hand, they do hold the Bosphorus, so that does kind of make any kind of basing on the Black Sea somewhat… superfluous. But it might be used as leverage to keep Turkey on the secular side.

    2. In the short weeks between the Maidan and the Crimean takeover, the new government expressed willingness to prolong Russian lease on Sevastopol well into the 2040s.

    But leasing isn’t as secure as owning. For every Guantanamo, there’s a Hong Kong…

  76. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    You seem not to have offered your brilliant strategy. And yet, I wait with bated breath.

  77. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Wow… an award-winning author who apparently can’t read.

  78. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I said strategy. Not blather. Not a child’s wish list.

    You know, strategy, right? Because you’ve said Mr. Obama doesn’t have one. So, put up or shut-up time: your strategy that encompasses Iran, Iraq, Syria, ISIS, Ukraine, Afghanistan and China.

    Let’s see it.

  79. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: Jesus, reynolds, it’s too early to be that drunk. Go sleep it off.

    What I said about helping Ukraine was consistent with your own bit about irritating Putin. Not to stop him, but to slow him down and hurt him.

  80. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I’m not the one forever pretending that Mr. Obama has no strategy.

  81. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: If you can cite evidence of Obama actually having a strategy, I’d be curious to see it. And his latest meaningless babble — “strategic patience” — ain’t a strategy, either.