If Washington wants a strong, stable and democratic Ukraine, then it will have to provide something altogether different than arms in order to keep Putin at bay.
No amount of weapons administered to Ukraine will ever equal the size or quality of the armaments Russia is willing to deploy to Donbas and beyond. And no amount of arms can keep the rebels contained, terrorism in check, economic and social reforms locked in, and Ukraine’s people mobilized in support of democratic transition.
The best strategy for Ukraine to win a protracted struggle with Russia and safeguard its democratic transition is containment, strategic withdrawal and disengagement in favor of a long-term, civilian-led struggle.
Ukraine has already begun the containment prong, but cannot go it alone. The army is in the midst of constructing a “European rampart”—a fortified 1500 mile defensive line with the goal of reinforcing its border with Russia and strengthening its new frontier with the occupied territories. What Ukraine needs from Washington is more dollars and technical assistance to complete the effort. The U.S. should consider dispatching hundreds of military engineers, send in heavy construction equipment and machinery, as well as provide separate financing to complete the fortification barriers in the most strategic locations by the summer of 2015. This would shore up both Ukraine and Washington’s security interest in the region.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian state is in no shape to combat a growing threat of Russia-sponsored terrorism, such as bombings of public events and institutions, and possible targeted assassinations and kidnappings of activists, local leaders and public figures. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI, however, are well suited to the task and should immediately begin providing technical training and expertise to newly vetted Ukrainian police and interior security forces. The U.S. should also make available to its Ukrainian counterparts the most advanced anti-terrorism gears, including video-communication equipment and urban surveillance drones.
Technical, financial and intelligence assistance will only go so far, however. Congress should commit to a comprehensive U.S.-EU “Marshall” Plan for Ukraine to rapidly stabilize and boost its economy. This plan would go beyond the limited financial support that Washington is currently giving to Ukraine. American leadership could mobilize additional donors such as Canada, Australia and Japan to join the initiative. The plan must aim, among others, to swiftly improve the capacity of Ukraine’s public institutions to implement major economic projects, as well to significantly strengthen civil society’s engagement in developing, executing and monitoring socio-economic reforms and the way public money is distributed and spent.
Finally, the Obama Administration and Congress should unequivocally support the recent Ukrainian diplomatic overture in the United Nations for the deployment of an international peace-enforcement contingent in Donbas. These international troops—ideally 15,000-20,000 soldiers—could station the 20-30 mile wide buffer zone separating Ukraine’s European rampart and its occupied territories. Their presence, accompanied with the mandate to respond by force if needed, would ensure that truce is maintained and would guard against further Russian-backed aggression. Peace keeping troops would do for Ukraine what the UN-sanctioned deployment did for South Korea—ensure stability and security, allow its economy to develop and help defend its democratic foundations. The latter could eventually create the conditions needed to usher Ukraine into the European Union.
Protracted war is not sustainable for any democracy, particularly one as fragile as Ukraine’s. Containing the violence will allow Ukrainians to mobilize for civil resistance much in the way nations of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa practiced against the Soviets and their domestic communist proxies with considerable success and long-term benefits for democratization. Congress could help here as well by increasing funds, among others, to USAID, International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, National Endowment for Democracy and United States Institute of Peace to support Ukrainian civil society, independent media and civic organizing and activism.
The appeal of Ukraine’s economic success and stable democracy, not the threat of guns, will ultimately be the most powerful force to draw occupied territories and their populations into Ukraine’s orbit. It will also bear an irresistible impact on Russian society and Putin’s ability to exercise control over the government that he intends to maintain until at least 2030. This is the long haul time frame that Ukraine and international allies must take into consideration in dealing with Putin and his proxy war in Ukraine.
What remains to be decided is whether Washington can muster bi-partisan support and leadership to give Ukraine the substantial injection of financial, technical and intelligence aid that it needs.
Bartkowski, Ph.D. is an expert in strategic nonviolent conflict, an author of a number of publications about the conflict in Ukraine and editor of Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles. He teaches at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Views expressed here are his own. Maciej can be followed @macbartkowski.Top