There is a continuing and deliberately disingenuous debate ongoing among the leaders of various states regarding “arming Ukraine.”
The subtext of the debate is that should we provide Ukrainians with significantly powerful weapons (even “defensive” weapons), the ongoing conflict will somehow morph into a “war” with Russia.
What a crock.
Russia is already at war with Ukraine and de facto at war with the West. Russian forces seized Crimea in as blatant an act of aggression as the world has seen since Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait.
But for a variety of reasons (including no oil in Crimea), the West has contented itself with stiff resolutions of protest and flaccid sanctions. Adroitly, however, Putin has retained the tissue thin protestation of “plausible deniability” (risible as it is) over subsequent Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine. Body bags returning to Russia are ignored as “volunteers.”
Ukraine is fighting back desperately with the modern day equivalent of broadswords and flintlocks against “separatists” armed and reinforced by Russian regular forces with state-of-the-art weapons.
The “cease-fires” that have been repeatedly negotiated are equally absurd. Better to call them “reloading breaks” as they haven’t been “honored in the breach” but rather not honored at all. Whether “Minsk I” or “Minsk II” or “Minsk X,” they are worthless. The seizure of a key rail connection in eastern Ukraine by separatists—in defiance of the cease-fire—is just the most recent illustration of Russian bad faith.
It is not as if we have never encountered anomalous conflicts in which we fought Russians through proxies. Think Afghanistan in 1979 when a Soviet invasion overturned a relatively neutral government and installed a Moscow puppet. Over a period of years, the West armed and supported an Afghan insurgency inter alia by providing effective anti-aircraft missiles that made vulnerable even the “flying tanks” that describe Soviet combat helicopters. Funneled through third parties such as the Saudis, we provided weaponry sufficient to bleed the Soviets until they decided “their Vietnam” was not worth the body count.
Obviously, Ukraine is different—indeed a better case for assistance. Kyiv has a legitimate, democratically elected government calling, indeed begging, for assistance. We are studiously ignoring these pleas, providing no better than quarter measures of assistance and training. Is it a perfect government? Surely not. Depressing reports of corruption still characterize its operations at every level. But it is significantly better–and trying harder to achieve democratic norms—than its unlamented predecessor.
More importantly, however, we need to arm Kyiv. Ukraine is not a trivial mini-state, such as Georgia, Armenia, or Azerbaijan, that Moscow has muscled around, but rather a potentially powerful, 46 million, resource-rich state that could be an Eastern European powerhouse.
But it desperately needs Western support—and time to reconstruct and train a battered army under enormous pressure. The West should help buy it time with adroit armament supplies, shared intelligence, intensive training, and even “volunteers” of our own.
It is hard to sort through the demurs of those unwilling to give Ukraine the tools to fight Russian aggression. Some seem trapped in a time warp that internalized Moscow’s military as a massively powerful force that could crash through the Fulda Gap on its way to the Rhine if unleashed by its Kremlin masters.
But today’s Russian army is not that of 1988, indeed rather much smaller and, with the exception of a relatively small number of elite units, not a match for currently deployed Western–NATO forces. Putin’s saber rattling with announcements of prospective ICBM deployments and rhetorical hostility to Western prepositioned military stocks in former Soviet Warsaw Pact satrapies are bombastic bravado. We need to go forward with these actions with alacrity—the action will send a useful message to Moscow.
Various Western countries, including Canada with 200 trainers, are a first step in this direction, but we need to do much more. One might imagine an “Abraham Lincoln brigade” Spanish Civil War equivalent drawn from former highly qualified officers and enlisted men throughout NATO nations who have finished active duty or can be “detached” from current assignments.
We should also recruit vigorously among Ukrainians that left the country to return to support a democratic government. If the murderous ISIS can attract global support, surely Western public relations specialists can craft a compelling “legend” for Ukraine.
We need “little blue men” to counter the Russian “little green men.”
Both sides can play “plausible denial,” and Moscow’s forces pushed out of the east will prove, marvelous to behold, never to have been there.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.