James Goldgeier and Andrew S. Weiss write: With the Ukraine crisis now entering its sixth month, policymakers ought to step back from the daily torrent of bad news and ask whether the West’s current approach is yielding positive results.
The honest answer has to be: not really.
The tragic loss of life in Odessa on May 2 and the stepped-up fighting in and around separatist strongholds in eastern Ukraine appear to be setting in motion precisely the series of events that the West has sought to avoid: full-scale armed conflict between Moscow and Kiev and the prospect of Ukraine’s collapse as a unitary state.
Ever since the dramatic overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovich government in late February, U.S. and EU leaders have failed to come to terms with an unpleasant reality. As former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer put it, Vladimir Putin “cares a whole lot more about losing Ukraine than the West cares about keeping it.”
There are no excuses for the reckless policies Putin has pursued. His annexation of Crimea, and his unapologetic embrace of Russian chauvinism and ultra-nationalist themes are evocative of the worst aspects of European power politics during the first half of the twentieth century. It is deeply disconcerting to see far-right wing European politicians, from Marine Le Pen to Geert Wilders, touting Putin as their ideological soul-mate and comrade-in-arms in the fight against European elites and the soulless EU bureaucracy.
But even if events do not come to a head in coming days, a protracted crisis in Ukraine may, over time, simply exhaust Western capabilities to counter a Russian campaign to destabilize Ukraine or to keep its basket-case economy afloat. What we are looking at now is nothing less than a bigger, messier version of Georgia across a territory the size of France with the potential for a lot more bloodshed.
Rather than developing a new approach to avoid catastrophe, Western leaders are doubling down. President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that the derailing of the May 25 presidential elections could be the basis for imposition of so-called sectoral sanctions on Russia. While they and other Western leaders continue to profess their desire to see a diplomatic solution to the crisis, high-level dialogue with the Kremlin amounts to little more than exchanging public statements. Nor are we aware of any serious back-channel diplomatic moves to resolve the crisis. The West has said elections or else, but Moscow shows no sign of acquiescing to a smooth internal political transition. Quite the contrary. [Continue reading…]