With every passing day, pro-Russian Ukrainian militants, flanked on the field by the Russian army, cut up a little more of the unhappy country that is Ukraine. They grow the pseudo-state that they have carved out in the eastern part of the country. Without mincing words, we must describe this reality for what it is: One country, Russia, is assaulting another, Ukraine — this is war. It’s not a Cold War, it’s a hot war, one where mostly civilians are dying.
Europeans are being solicited for help, at least as much as the United States. Because, in the end, the heart of the dispute, the true cause of the ongoing tragedy, is the Kremlin’s refusal to leave Ukraine free to conclude a trade agreement with the European Union. It’s Mr. Putin’s “nyet” to Kiev’s choice to exit the sphere of Russian influence and prioritize its relations with the EU. It’s Moscow’s desire to keep Ukraine as a vassal it has inherited through history and geography.
The Kremlin knows the West’s starting positions. On the one hand, they have said that they will not start a war for Ukraine. On the other, related, hand, they have refused to open NATO’s doors to the country. They have responded with sanctions to Moscow’s aggression. This has had some impact on the Russian economy, but it hasn’t dissuaded Mr. Putin from severing Ukraine from its eastern part through the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The Kremlin violated a ceasefire agreement in September 2014. It refuses any serious negotiations. In recent weeks, hundreds of tanks, self-propelled artillery, armored vehicles, carrier missiles and radar stations have been delivered to the militants. Inevitably, the tone rises in the U.S. Growing voices, including those in official circles, have called for a massive delivery of defensive weapons to Kiev.
“There Is No Military Solution”
President Barack Obama is hesitating, with good reason. He knows that military assistance can quickly lead to direct confrontation. Europeans are divided — the former members of the Soviet bloc are the most in favor of helping Kiev. The Germans, British and French are more reserved. They are sticking to the sanctions, which could be increased. They note that the Ukrainian president is also cautious. In an interview with Le Monde on Jan. 21, Petro Poroshenko stated that Ukraine is facing “the biggest army on the continent” and that “there is no military solution” to the conflict.
Kiev is O.K. with surveillance drones, and command and communication systems, but not with lethal weapons, and Mr. Poroshenko believes in the effectiveness of sanctions. At the edge of financial default, Ukraine needs massive financial aid to succeed with its ambitious reforms. Let’s start by responding to this set of requests: sanctions, technological assistance and financial aid. Mr. Putin needs to know that the war he is leading comes at a high cost.
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