How to empower Ukraine and bring Moscow back to the table

July 6, 2015
Members of Ukrainian armed forces gather on armoured vehicle on roadside near village of Vidrodzhennya

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces near the village of Vidrodzhennya, outside Artemivsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko

Despite strong pressure from the Kremlin, the European Union voted to support the United States in maintaining targeted sanctions on Russia because of its occupation of Ukrainian land. But just continuing the current sanctions on Moscow is not enough to restore Kiev’s territorial integrity.

What is needed is a series of steps that would strengthen Ukraine’s economy and security — as well as re-engage Russia in a broader relationship with the West. A viable strategy could combine an array of pressures and incentives that would extend far beyond the current sanctions.


Orsen Wells in a scene from Carol Reed’s “The Third Man,” which was set in postwar Vienna, Austria. Courtesy of Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal

At the core of this strategy is the proposition that Ukraine can fashion a viable future, territorially intact, between Russia and Europe. This was possible for Austria at the height of the Cold War, though it was positioned at the crossroads of East and West. The 1955 State Treaty reestablished Austria as an independent nation and removed Soviet (as well as Western) occupation forces. This should also be possible for Ukraine today.

To achieve this goal, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko needs greater international support in his efforts to institute government reform. Economically, this would mean more concrete assistance from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the United States.  Militarily, this would mean  defensive assistance to Ukraine if Russian heavy weaponry is not removed from the eastern separatist regions.

It would be unrealistic to seek a military balance, which would likely prompt escalation. But the West cannot consign Kiev to an economic and security vacuum, which could only invite more aggressive steps by the separatists and their Russian supporters.  In return for international support, Kiev must maintain and intensify its own reforms.

General Philip Breedlove, military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, warns that Russian forces have “reset and repositioned” and may be preparing for a fresh offensive in Ukraine. To deter such a move, the West would need not only to reaffirm existing sanctions but also to demonstrate it is ready to increase them by preparing an expanded list of Russian firms and individuals to be sanctioned. Defensive military support of Ukraine, including training, intelligence and equipment, should be an integral part of any robust Western response.

At the same time, an effective Western strategy could re-engage Russia productively. The starting point is to lay out which programs would be implemented  if Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored — working with Moscow to establish an economic and security relationship based on respect and mutual benefit.

Working dinner of the G7 Summit in Germany

Leaders from the Group of Seven industrial nations hold a working dinner in Kruen, Germany, June 7, 2015. From bottom L-bottom R (clockwise) are European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. REUTERS/Stephen Crowley/Pool

It is critical for the building blocks to be mutually defined, but past East-West agreements suggest some likely contours. Economically, higher value investment and trade, with added technology, can be restored in a post-sanctions environment in which Russia would also undertake the necessary economic and legal reforms that are in its own interest. One example, ruled out under present sanctions, would be nonconventional-energy development in Siberia and Russia’s far north.

In security terms, both sides would benefit from de-escalating tensions along NATO borders, on everything from military deployments to cyberattacks. Adequate progress in post-sanctions relations could be reflected, in turn, by reactivating Russia’s membership in the G-8 as well as the NATO-Russia Council.

Against this backdrop, the future of Ukraine could be approached in a more hopeful vein. Kiev’s reformers have their work cut out for them, but tangible Western support could reinforce their position at this critical point. The Kremlin, meanwhile, would have the choice of re-engaging with the West in a concretely positive way rather than confronting sanctions and other strictures.

Like Austria with its State Treaty, Ukraine could then pursue trade and investment ties with the East as well as the West. Kiev would mirror Vienna in that it also would not join NATO. But Kiev could qualify for association with — and perhaps ultimately membership in — the European Union. Ukraine could then be removed as a major point of East-West contention, as Austria was during the Cold War, with positive benefits for the entire region.

Would the Kremlin come to support such an approach? Here, the jury is still out.  President Vladimir Putin’s third term has been characterized by strong criticism of the West, moves to engage with the East and failure to implement the Minsk II agreement restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Sanctions alone have not been able to change this situation. Only a strategy that provides a positive framework for both sides could lead to a different outcome.

There is, potentially, much to gain and little to lose by trying it.


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So in essence go back to November 2013 in Yalta when Russia Ukraine and the EU were close to a deal. Only for the US to steam in and tell the EU to not agree but stall the talks to allow the insurrection in Kiev to take place. Don’t you just love the leaders of the free world.

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

One more conflict that US started that can’t be won.

Reckless waste of US tax payer dollars by current administration and Ash Carter, in bending to the will of trade-mongers and war-mongers. Regrettable and calls for accountability of these folks.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

I see the PutinBots are here in the comments today

Posted by evilhippo | Report as abusive

“The 1955 State Treaty reestablished Austria …” is a very misleading comparison and wrong premise this articale is written on. Better try Austria on Mar 12, 1938.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

I think Russia was present at the negotiating table in Minsk .

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Well promote the criminal Saakashvili from governor of Odessa to president of Ukraine

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

There’s probably no need to rush with this author’s proposition, as the permanent decline of global hydrocarbon prices and the LNG revolution are here to stay. Putin will be forced by the lack of money in Russia’s state coffers to either comply with the rule of international law or see all what was left of once the mighty Soviet Union disappear in thin air. Russia is economically dead in the water.

Posted by observer48 | Report as abusive

Reference the comment by evilhippo, speaking for myself I am a British Tory voter about as far as you can get from a so called Putinbot. But that does not stop me seeing and understanding all the facts.

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

Let Russia be Russia. It is a failure as a modern nation, and their absurd entanglements over Ukraine (and who should should own Chernobyl) will only help them fail faster. Let them get mired and spent. All the smart people have left Russia. It is a Putin fan club of drunks and morons, choking on their own vomit. Russia is so gross now.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive