Friday, June 10, 2016
US Suggests Military & Political Steps to Counter Russian Aggression
As European allies begin to quaver under Russian pressure, the United States continues to be the standard bearer of support for Ukraine and the other x-captive nations against genuine Russian aggression.
Washington remains in the forefront of efforts to rollover sanctions against Russia and even intensify them while fair-weather allies Germany and France have made a damaging about face.
Now, in order to bolster its commitment to Ukraine, the US has outlined clear military and political steps for countering Russian aggression.
In an address before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 7, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, conceded that despite Washington’s efforts to build good relations with Moscow and help it transition from communism to democracy, the US has finally realized its miscalculation.
“By 2014, however, we had no choice but to reevaluate our assumptions following Russia’s invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory – first in Crimea, then in eastern Ukraine – which shattered any remaining illusions about this Kremlin’s willingness to abide by international law or live by the rules of the institutions that Russia joined at the end of the Cold War,” Nuland admitted.
A vocal advocate of Ukraine, she listed the following steps vis-à-vis Russia:
Deter further aggression through the projection of strength and unity with US allies;
Build resilience and reduce vulnerability among friends and allies facing Russian pressure and coercion;
Cooperate on core national security priorities when our interests and Russia’s do align;
Sustain ties to the Russian people and business community to preserve the potential for a more constructive relationship in the future,
The first and third steps are good, the second requires more work, and the last has questionable value and should be revised.
On the military side, Nuland pointed out that in the past two years, the US and its NATO allies have maintained a persistent, rotational military presence on land, sea, and air all along NATO’s eastern edge—in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the three Baltic States. This has indisputably reinforced the x-captive nations’ impression that US and NATO support is real. It also sends a message to Moscow that the US will not abandon the x-captive nations.
“All 28 allies have participated, and the US has used the $985 million in FY 2015 European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding that Congress generously appropriated to increase the number of exercises, training sessions, and patrols that we are supporting throughout Europe. This month, over 30,000 US, NATO and partner nation troops will exercise together as a part of a series of military training events, including the Polish-led Anakonda exercise,” she said.
Nuland believes that after the July NATO Summit in Warsaw, the allies will institutionalize a more sustained approach to deterrence, including by enhancing forward presence in the East to reduce response times to any aggression. This forward presence will serve as a barrier to Russian westward adventurism. To support this commitment, the President Obama has requested $3.4 billion to fund the European Reassurance Initiative, she noted.
With the Senate’s support, she continued, “these funds will be used to deploy an additional rotational Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) to Central and Eastern Europe; the prepositioning of combat equipment; as well as additional trainings and exercises in Europe.”
Nuland recommended that the US should align its defense commitments with future threats, such as Russia’s own investments in hybrid tactics, electronic and cyber capabilities, disinformation, and violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty.
As for Russia’s war with Ukraine, Nuland said the US has worked with the EU, the G7 and other like-minded nations to impose successive rounds of tough, economic sanctions on Russia over the past two years.
“These sanctions, combined with low oil prices and Russia’s continued structural weaknesses, have imposed significant costs,” she said, adding that the US is ready to toughen sanctions even further. She believes this approach has deterred additional Russian efforts to grab Ukrainian territory.
Actually, real sanctions and threats of increased sanctions haven’t curbed Russia’s war with Ukraine. Russia hasn’t pressed westward with its invasion but it also hasn’t withdrawn from eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Nonetheless, global sanctions are needed until Russia withdraws from Ukraine.
Nuland listed specific US materiel help for Ukraine to help it better monitor and secure its borders, deploy its forces more safely and effectively, and defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The US commitment has been more than $600 million in security assistance.
“We have trained over 1,700 Ukrainian conventional forces and National Guard personnel and 120 Special Operations Forces (SOF). We have provided counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, over 3000 secure radios, 130 Humvees, over 100 armored civilian SUVs, and thousands of medical kits to help Ukrainian troops successfully resist advances and save lives,” she said.
The US has also been interested in democracy building in Ukraine beyond criticizing government officials for persistent corruption. Nuland specifically pointed out that US efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, reform economies, fight corruption, and build the resilience of partners.
“We have requested $787 million in FY2017 funding for Europe and Eurasia, including to those countries most vulnerable to Russian pressure, especially Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and the Western Balkans. Our programs and advisors focus on improving governance, squeezing out graft and fraud, strengthening justice systems, improving election standards, hardening border security and homeland defense, and building energy independence,” she said. Indeed, these efforts have been very helpful.
Nuland indicated the US is placing a great deal of hope on the Minsk process and its participants to settle the war. However, the truce agreement has been a weak link in the chain because in the past two years, since Russia’s invasion began in Crimea and then spread to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, Moscow’s war hasn’t abated. Attacks, battles, skirmishes and bombardments of military targets and residential neighborhoods by Russian regular troops and its mercenaries haven’t slowed down as the numbers of killed and displaced keep rising.
Furthermore, while the G7 members emerged from their summit a couple of weeks ago apparently in agreement to continue the sanctions, since then France and Germany have voiced opposite points of view. Washington will have to increase pressure on Paris and Berlin if they are to hold fast to their original pledges of supporting sanctions and avoid talking about relief before Moscow begins to live up to its international obligations.
Nuland elaborated on the troublesome fourth point: sustaining ties with Russian people and business community. This point clearly sends the wrong message to the Kremlin. On the one hand, the US pushes back against Russian aggression or threatened aggression then, on the other, hand the US demonstrates that it’s ready and willing to improve relations and the lives of the Russian people and business community.
“Even as we push back against Russian aggression and support neighbors under pressure, the United States will continue to look for areas where our interests and Moscow’s align, and we can work together to tackle global challenges, including nonproliferation, nuclear and other WMD security, preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises, and combating violent extremism and terrorism,” she said.
So does Russia deserve punishment or favors? Moscow will surely disregard the impact of the punishment and accept the favors.
“We must continue to foster direct engagement with those Russian businesses, organizations, and individuals who want to work with us, who share our interests and values and are working for a better future for their country. Despite Moscow’s crackdown on civil society, a free press, exchanges with the West, and political pluralism, our people-to-people exchanges; health, environment and cultural programs; and educational opportunities for Russians remain hugely popular, and continue to promote constructive ties between our countries. And we will continue to speak out against laws and policies that impede the work of Russian civil society and contravene the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Russia and elsewhere in the region,” she said.
Nuland’s good cop-bad cop scenario has dubious value for ending Russian aggression against Ukraine, halting Russian expansion of its nuclear stockpile and rampant re-militarization, and curbing Moscow’s reign of terror against human rights activists, LGBT, and non-Russian groups. It won’t help the director of the Ukrainian library in Moscow who was recently denounced as a terrorist.
The US has to maintain one firm policy against Russia in order to force it to change its domestic and foreign policies and, as Nuland said, genuinely align itself with global rule of law and the rules of the institutions that Moscow joined at the end of World War Two. The US must retain military, political and economic sanctions against Russia until its people realize that its country and heritage have been tarnished beyond repair by its leadership much like Hitler did to Germany in the 1940s. Then, if the Kremlin doesn’t change voluntarily, the people should arise and do so.