Today’s Hill Times article on Ukraine
Engaging a belligerent Russia through deterrence
by PAUL GROD
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016
Russia’s war against Ukraine is entering its third year. Every day, Russian and proxy forces in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, shell Ukrainian military positions and civilian areas in towns along the front. Every day, Ukrainian soldiers fight and die to defend their country.
Today the people of Ukraine are fighting the only war in Europe simply because Vladimir Putin’s Russia is compelled to control the countries on its border to ensure the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law do not infect his kleptocratic regime.
The Minsk II agreement, signed by Russia in February 2015, was supposed to provide a roadmap to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine and end Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory in the Donbas. Russia has persistently refused to implement even the first point of this agreement—a ceasefire—to say nothing about withdrawing its military forces from Ukraine’s territory, returning control of Ukraine’s border, releasing Ukrainian hostages, and allowing democratic elections to be held under Ukrainian law in the territories Russia currently occupies.
Last week the leaders of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine met to revive the stalled peace process for eastern Ukraine. It was clear from the outcome of the meeting and the ensuing mortar and artillery shelling by Russian forces occupying parts of Eastern Ukraine, that Russia has no interest in ending this conflict. Perhaps most astonishing was that nothing was put on the table by the leaders of Germany and France to compel Putin to comply or to deter him from continued aggression in Ukraine and Syria.
Recently, the joint investigation team into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 concluded that the Buk missile system that shot down the civilian aircraft came from Russia, murdering all 298 people on board. Russia has faced no consequences.
In Crimea, any opposition to Russia’s occupation is brutally repressed. The indigenous Crimean Tatar people, ethnic Ukrainians, religious minorities, and anyone courageous enough to speak out against the occupation are systematically targeted and imprisoned by the Russian occupation authorities. Earlier this month, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established a group to monitor human rights violations by the Russian Federation in illegally occupied Crimea. This is another weak and ineffectual response to acts of Russian human rights violations.
In Syria, Russia has conducted a savage bombing campaign against civilians in the besieged city of Aleppo in support of Putin’s monstrous comrade, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, murdering women and children, destroying hospitals, and obliterating the city’s infrastructure. The international response has been appallingly ineffectual.
At the UN, Russia has abused its veto at the Security Council to prevent any progress towards peace in Ukraine or Syria. Canada deserves credit for calling for an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly to attempt to override Russia’s Security Council veto, but whether these efforts will have a positive impact on the ground in Syria remains to be seen.
All of these Russian actions, and many more, point to an obvious fact: Putin’s Russia is not interested in being part of a peaceful global community. Putin’s regime seeks to challenge and oppose the principles and values upon which we seek to build a better world: democracy, human rights, and the right of sovereign states to choose their own alliances. As outgoing NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow recently stated, “We have a situation where Russia does not accept the rules in Europe…. That is different than the Cold War. They are not a status-quo power. They want to re-establish spheres of influence. Our model is Helsinki. Their model is Yalta.”
Putin has shown time and again that any agreements or accords reached with Russia are not worth the paper on which they are written. Instead of seeking to accommodate or appease Russia, we must engage in a strategy of deterrence, establishing strong and unequivocal terms with commensurate consequences. The West has tried to engage Russia within a set of rules-based principles, which Russia continues to break time and time again. The world must begin to engage Russia using mechanisms that it understands: strength and consequences for unacceptable actions.
For its continuing aggression and war crimes in Ukraine and Syria, sanctions against Russia must be increased—including removing Russia from the SWIFT payments system—until such time as Russian aggression ceases. The number and scope of Russian officials subject to travel bans and asset freezes in the West must be considerably increased. Ukraine must be provided with defensive weapons to prevent any further invasion of its sovereign territory.
Finally, real pressure must be applied on Russia to abide by the Minsk II agreements, withdraw its forces from the Donbas, and return Crimea to Ukraine. Western leaders such as French President François Hollande must realize that pushing Ukraine to hold elections in the territories currently occupied by a heavily armed and dangerous foreign army will never lead to peace. It will only entrench a foreign occupier and punish the people of Ukraine for their democratic choice. Trying to force Ukraine to hold elections in Ukraine’s east before Russia withdraws its forces will embolden Putin and will inevitably beget more aggression.
Foreign policy by most Western countries as it relates to Russia has lacked responsible conviction. It must be principled and focused on delivering results. The reality is that we do not have a partner in Putin’s Russia. We have a foe willing to use any means to undermine the existing international rules-based order. In order to deal with Putin’s Russia effectively, Western leaders must accept this reality and engage a belligerent Russia with deterrence—the only instrument that its leadership today understands.
Paul Grod is national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and vice president of the Ukrainian World Congress.
The Hill Times