Russia Must Achieve Goals in Ukraine Without Invasion

Sean Para, Columnist

The crisis in Ukraine continued to gain momentum this past week, while every attempt to avert further escalation failed spectacularly. Last week’s Geneva Accord was a dead letter almost as soon as it was signed. The Russian-backed separatists in the east continue to gain ground, and the regional administration building as well as the prosecutor’s office recently fell to protesters in Luhansk, making it the second provincial capital to drown in a tsunami of separatists. The tentative actions of Ukrainian security forces intended to dislodge the rebels have been far from successful. In short, the Ukrainian government is paralyzed, and the government in Kiev cannot keep the country together. Russia, meanwhile, couldn’t be in a better position.

Russia’s objective in the current tug of war over Ukraine is to prevent its incorporationinto NATO. Ukraine’s admission into the American-led alliance system is seen as an existential threat to Russia, as the two countries have strong economic and historical ties. Vladimir Putin seems bent on preventing a repetition of what has happened in the past two decades to Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria and other countries in the former Soviet bloc. These countries had formed a security buffer, keeping Russia removed from the West since World War II, and their incorporation into NATO was a breach of the agreements reached between Russia and the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Putin has succeeded in accomplishing his goals in Ukraine without launching a full-scale invasion of the country. Kiev is off-balance, its legitimacy eroded by an utter lack of efficacy. The rebellion has also called into question the impending May 25 elections, which were supposed to offer the country a chance to elect a new

national government and set the stage for constitutional reform.

Russia is playing its hand very well. Its economic importance makes it difficult for sanctions to easily isolate the Russian economy without harming European economies as well. Therefore, the coalition that opposes Russia is divided between the hawkish United States and its more cautious allies, such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Since Europe has so much more to lose from wider sanctionsagainst Russia than the U.S. does, significant measures against larger sectors of the Russian economy would be imposed without a dramatic escalation of Russian actions toward Ukraine.

A compromise is therefore necessary to defuse the crisis. Russian influence and interests in Ukraine preclude a viable resolution to the crisis that puts Ukraine firmly in the Western camp. The gulf between the Kiev and Moscow governments can only be closed through a compromise that takes Russian interests in Ukraine into account. Kiev is walking a fine line, trying to prevent both armed conflict with Russia and a permanent fracturing of the country. So far, it has not provoked a Russian intervention. Perhaps autonomy should be granted to the eastern regions of Ukraine. This seems a much more palatable choice than a full-blown war that Ukraine could never hope to win.