To punish Putin, help Ukraine

March 17, 2014

Sunday’s referendum in Crimea and provocative Russian troop maneuvers have raised the Ukraine crisis to new heights.

Congress has expressed strong support for Ukraine and condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Unfortunately, some on Capitol Hill are pushing ideas that would do little to punish Moscow while undercutting U.S. and NATO security interests. Congress needs to be smart in how it seeks to help Ukraine and punish Russia.

A whirlwind has engulfed Ukraine since former President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev on February 21 and the Russian military occupied Crimea one week later. In response, Democrats and Republicans have backed Ukraine, called for Moscow’s international isolation, and supported steps to assure NATO allies in Central Europe.

Congress is now considering legislation to broaden sanctions against individual Russians. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led a delegation to Kiev to underscore U.S. support.

These are useful measures. Other ideas circulating on the Hill, however, make less sense.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio) have called for reinstating the Bush administration plan to put 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland with a supporting radar in the Czech Republic. The Obama administration replaced that with its own plan: a missile defense radar now operating in Turkey, and SM-3 missile interceptors will be deployed in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018.

Reviving the Bush proposal might make Russians a bit less happy. But they have already made clear their anger over the Obama missile defense program. Moreover, returning to the Bush plan would prove problematic. The Czechs have said they would not accept the radar. The 10 missile interceptors proposed for Poland are based on an interceptor that has not had a successful flight-test in six years.

Other Republicans suggest penalizing the Russians by withdrawing from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces. The U.S. military says the treaty is in America’s national interest. Does it make sense to withdraw and perhaps fall into a nuclear arms race, which could take scarce defense dollars away from conventional forces?

Washington’s military reaction to the crisis so far has been to deploy conventional military power — F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft and a guided missile destroyer — to Central Europe. U.S. strategic nuclear forces, on the other hand, appear to operate at normal readiness levels.

McCain has suggested accelerating the entry of Moldova and Georgia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in retaliation for Russia’s action against Ukraine.  Moldova, however, has not requested NATO membership.

Georgia has, and that was a factor behind its brief — and losing — war with Russia in 2008. Russian troops today sit in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, territories that all but five countries still recognize as Georgian territory. Offering Georgia membership would bring NATO into a ready-to-go conflict with Russia — which is why many Alliance members oppose the idea. Moscow might also respond to a serious membership push with another attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin could calculate that, as in 2008, NATO would not go to war for Georgia.

NATO should deepen its cooperation, including military cooperation, with Georgia and Moldova. (If that is Moldova’s desire.) But it should do so in a deliberate manner. The Alliance should avoid gestures that could trigger a new Caucasus conflict that NATO would not fight. That would hardly help Ukraine.

Congress should instead pursue measures that make Russia pay a real price for its aggression against Ukraine, such as financial penalties. Just the threat of Western financial sanctions has begun to wreak havoc on the Russian stock market and pushed the ruble to new lows. It is time to consider assistance to the Ukrainian military. But let’s stay smart.

The best revenge against Moscow is to help the Ukrainian state succeed. That is, to put Ukraine on a firm path to a growing economy with stable democratic institutions.

Congress could make its most valuable contribution to this goal now, with legislation authorizing the administration’s request for $1 billion in credits for Ukraine. The country is desperately short of cash after Yanukovich’s team spent four years looting government coffers.

An International Monetary Fund mission has recently visited Kiev to discuss a loan program. The Ukrainians are reportedly ready to adopt tough reforms to put their economic house in order.

A Ukrainian commitment to reform bodes well. But finalizing the IMF program will likely require time. Ukraine has bills coming due now. The $1 billion credit guarantee would allow Kiev to cover some debts and help bridge the period to when it can receive a more substantial IMF loan.

Unfortunately, Congress got bogged down over the particulars of the credit legislation and left for recess on March 12 without passing it. When Congress returns, it needs to fix that immediately and extend Ukraine some serious help.


PHOTO (TOP): An election official carries a mobile ballot box after a house visit during voting in a referendum in Dobroye outside Simferopol, March 16, 2014.  REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk (L) meets with Senator John McCain in Kiev, March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kravchenko/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 2):  A volunteer speaks with a Ukrainian military officer as he registers for service in the newly-created National Guard in central Kiev, March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Konstantin Grishin


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Poor McCain seems inconsolable that we may get through the current decade without starting a new war. Maybe he needs another few years in a small cage to help him remember why wars are to be avoided.

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive

“The best revenge against Moscow is to help the Ukrainian state succeed. That is, to put Ukraine on a firm path to a growing economy with stable democratic institutions.”

Can we first do this in the US before we make the attempt in another country? I disagree with much written here…where to begin…

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

Fortunately, the American people are not represented by their government warmongers. If they were, such as Obama, McCain, Kerry, Nuland, we’d all be in a very sorry mental state, just like them.

“US Uber Alles” is very bad, as it was for Germany! Fortunately again, it appears that our government nuts and their corporate directors are running on empty. The majority of American people are sick of it. 7/us-usa-kerry-isolationism-idUSBREA1Q06 S20140227

It appears that our present leaders’ days of stampeding us into more wars are coming to a close. No to war on Syria, war on Russia, war on Iran. No, to media sycophants, evidently on the US government dole. Time for the Neocons et al. to go home and get a real job.

And, why would we want to punish Russia for helping Crimea realize its democratic aspirations? 96% vote for joining Russia in a fair election: rs-crimea-referendum-190/
What doesn’t the West understand about the idea of democracy?

You guys, railing against Putin and Russia, must be in some sort of echo chamber. Few people take you seriously. Even the stock market is coming to ignore your rants.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

“The best revenge against Moscow is to help the Ukrainian state succeed. That is, to put Ukraine on a firm path to a growing economy with stable democratic institutions.”

A democratic and successful Ukraine also happens to be the biggest threat to Vladmir Putin, as this would give Russians an idea of how much better off they could be without his regime. This is why Putin did everything in his power to undermine and provoke tensions with Georgia, and now he’s doing the same to Ukraine.

Posted by delta5297 | Report as abusive

“Offering Georgia membership would bring NATO into a ready-to-go conflict with Russia — which is why many Alliance members oppose the idea. Moscow might also respond to a serious membership push with another attack.” – There was a similar rationale behind reluctance of Germany and France to allow Ukraine to join NATO in 2008. All recent history showed that a bully and opportunist like Putin doesn’t want to play by the existing rules of international community; that he takes appeasement as a weakness, which encourages him for more bullying.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

The us and their new Nazi friends.

Posted by seafloor | Report as abusive

The story represents ill-thinking nature of many American politicians and nothing more than this. These people will realize and accept that reality is different than their phantasies. If they would care for Ukraine, they should have not welcomed unconditionally the interim government and not dream of taking Ukraine as a whole off the Russian sphere without triggering a response from Russia, and angering millions of Ukraininan citizens who feel much closer to Russia than to Western Europe and USA. The crisis in Crimea was not initiated by Russia, it was the response of Crimeans to the actions of the unelected government of Ukraine. If Western powers continue to polarize the Ukraininan society, Russian response will be the same, and as a result many more regions of Ukraine will stop receiving orders from Kiev. Western powers should realize that the problem is not with Russia, but with the ever-broadening internal divide in the Ukrainian society.

Posted by Levko | Report as abusive

US has already started cold war couple of years ago. All Russian investors got letters from major American brokers to leave because now they have new policies where Russian citizens cannot be their clients. I got such letter from Ameritrade, my colleagues – from other US companies. The Ukrainian crisis is just to make it clear for other folks

Posted by investorRR | Report as abusive

Ukraine is so large a country, that the USA and their allies can’t easily solve it’s problems. 1 Bn of loans from the USA or another 15 Bn from the EU can have temporary relief, but the result wouldn’t be significant. Also the main industrial base of the country is in the regions which are much closer to the neighbouring Russia, than to their compatriots in rural regions of western Ukraine. USA and EU are probably emboldened with integration of Latvia and Estonia who each have roughly 1/3 of Russian population, but Ukraine is a completely different story. And Russian victory over Ukraine is much more possible than a Western one. That may also have an impact over Latvia and Estonia with thier large Russian minorities which they managed to control successfully till now, and destabilize these countries too.

Posted by Levko | Report as abusive

@m2grs wrote: “The best revenge against Moscow…” Give me a break. What did Russia do to us?” – so what did Nazis Germany do to us when they invaded Russia?..

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

@UauS, Nazi had extreme ideology. Russia does not.

Russia wants to join the world markets. Russia wants to participate in peaceful coexistence. They want to sell oil and gas to make money. We provoked them, not they provoke us.

Morsi was democratically elected. We threw him off, because we don’t like him. Now we have done the same in Ukraine. Plus the “red line” fiasco in Syria. We have shown the world that we have no principles, neither resolve, nor strength, just sleazy tactics and lip services.

Don’t treat the rest of the world like fools. Doesn’t work anymore. Assad is winning. Iran is taking notice. The world has figured it out: America, go * yourself.

Posted by m2grs | Report as abusive

UScitizentoo Looks like you are either young or never been to school.
Russia and Ukraine have never been and never will be enemies. Only western part of the Ukraine that is catholic but still slavic nationality has some negative relation with orthodox. The tights between our two countries are stronger then you think. Our families are mixed, we have relatives in both countries. This is why any war between Russia and Ukraine is impossible. To help Ukraine so it will become a great country? You have been helping Georgia and what? We have here in Russia people from all the former Soviet republics like Mexicans in California. Sunctions? Yes, go to GM and ask them to close their factory near St.Petersburg, as well as to FORD, Magna, British-American Tobacco, VolksWagen, Volvo, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Toyota etc. Come here and see yourself what is it like here.

Posted by YuriKalinin | Report as abusive

I am the most pacifist peson in the world BUT!!! as has been learned from Crimea there is one thing ONLY that the blue-eyed schizophrenicrecentlygoneinsanedwarfwith squintingeyes would respond to is BOOTS ON THE GROUND! Just as he did in Crimea!
Never mind the legality or not of it! After all my friends would we not be merely protecting our Ukrainian citizens against a military aggressor? Someone who would kill his brother or sister with nomore thought than if they were a slab of meat?

Posted by notinsanedwarf | Report as abusive

Why do we in the west keep thinking that the Ukraine is any of our business? Western ideology is winning, not losing, it’s Russia that has lost a great deal of it’s old territories and it’s old Warsaw Pact allies ever since the end of the Cold War. The Eu idiots in Brussels tried to pull the Ukraine to the Eu too soon, dangling a carrot of potential membership in front of their people, so much that civil unrest broke out. If anything, the clowns and money scrapers in Brussels have provoked this crisis situation by not thinking through their actions. For Russia and Putin, regaining Crimea is just damage control and meager comfort after losing influence over the rest of the Ukraine. Yesterday, the Eu has already promised the bankrupt Ukraine government financial support, this farce of a crisis is going to cost the Eu taxpayers once again a lot of money that most of us don’t have any,ore, thanks to the austerity measures forced upon us working population by burocrat Nazi Brussels. People are fed up, and wish their countries have never joined the Eu. did you know that of all the money the Eu government receives, 60(!)% of it is used to pay the buro-rats? Only 40% is actually spend on anything useful, like grants and subsidies. The way these Brussel mobsters rid Europe’s citizens of their wealth, freedom and dignity is sickening! It just suits them to add war mongering to their list!

Posted by EUfails | Report as abusive

The very first question is why 90 per cent of people in Crimea voted to escape from Ukrainian paradise. The answer is fear. Ukrainian Nazis were threatening punitive raids throughout Russian-speaking East which they regard as easy prey. If same polls were held in Odessa/Donetsk/Kharkiv region there would be similar results. Would you vote to stay in a country that hates you?

Posted by JoelOmarillo | Report as abusive

The article misses the reality. The reality is condensed to one obvious fact: Great majority of population of eastern and southern regions of Ukraine feel Russian and want to be in Russia.

As an ethnic group Russians were in a sleepy state under Ukraine but got shocked by the revolution in Kiev when the first law of the new government repelled the status of the Russian language and there were no representatives of the East in the government. Morever, in the present parliament deputies from the East are largely missing.

Shock from these developments induced irreversible transition: people in the East/South of the Ukraine do not want to be under one roof with the West. Adding to all this are economic problems in the Ukraine whose solution, even if successful will be painful and take a long time.

History shows that poor ethnic groups which are antagonized have to be separated, this may happens peacefully (Czechoslovakia) or violently (Yugoslavia). Peaceful solution for the Ukraine is clearly preferable since otherwise there will be endless ferment and bloodsheds. Let people just do it peacefully.

Posted by wirk | Report as abusive

You guys at Reuters filter away a lot of comments critical of Ukrainian neo-Nazi domestic policies. You cannot fool all people all the time.

Posted by JoelOmarillo | Report as abusive

Is “punishing Russia”a useful policy? Western pundits, including Brookings’s Stobe Talbott but to her credit excluding Fiona Hill, find it hard to understand that behind Crimean bluster Russians are digging in against the existential threat posed by the Ukrainian revolution to their very national survival. Westerns mistakenly expect that sanctions and international opprobrium might be effective and that the aggression may stop with Crimea.

Wherein lies the peril for Russia? The great Harvard historian of Russia Richard Pipes defined Russian political culture as a historical autocracy sustained by a bureaucratic police state, the latter embodied by a ruling political class. Roots of this ethos are multifaceted and unfathomable to the Western mind. For millennia it has warded off internal disorder and external threats. Nonetheless, after losing multiple wars and barely surviving War War II Russian elites have fretted about competitiveness of their system. Although demise of USSR was evidence of Russia’s weakness its further decline during chaotic Yeltsin interregnum showed that without familiar forms of governance the country was marginally functional. Reinvention of an autocratic political class under Putin brought back stability, modest prosperity and security. As Westerners are judgmental about such forms of government they will not accept that a politically liberal orientation in Kiev would undermine Russia’s survival at a proximity to close for comfort.

Andrew, Cambridge, MA

Posted by avitvitsky | Report as abusive