Sapping the Kremlin’s will for war

18 January 2022, 09:07 AM

As we look toward 2022, the outlook for relations between Kyiv and Washington depends a lot on decisions made in another capital – Moscow.

The material was published in a special issue of the magazine NV World ahead of 2022 under the exclusive license of The Economist. Republishing is prohibited.

If the Kremlin decides to invade Ukraine again, US-Ukraine relations will be dominated by increased military assistance, coordinated political support against the aggressor, and comprehensive economic sanctions on Russians and their economy. If the threat of these actions by the international community is effective in deterring an invasion, U.S.-Ukrainian relations can broaden into a more normal pattern of government-to-government and people-to-people interactions enjoyed by nations with similar values and goals.

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The Kremlin seems to reject the idea of a sovereign, independent Ukraine – the very basis of U.S. support for Ukraine. Sovereignty is the foundation of a rules-based order among nations, an order that had lasted 69 years until Russia smashed it by invading Ukraine, first in Crimea, then in Donbas. Until that order is restored, Europe and the West will not be secure. Until Russia restores Donbas – and eventually Crimea – to Ukrainian sovereignty, that order cannot be reestablished.

The first task is to deter another Russian invasion. The Ukrainian military is now stronger, better armed, better trained, better equipped, and has higher morale than when it faced the Russian invaders in 2014 and 2015.

The Ukrainian army is battle-tested by nearly eight years of combat. The Ukrainian people are more united against Russia than ever before. The international community has supported Ukraine with military assistance, diplomatic measures and economic sanctions on Russia. Urgent, increased activity in all these spheres should temper Kremlin enthusiasm for renewed aggression.

If the Russians do not invade and if they are seriously concerned about Russian security, as President Vladimir Putin alleges, it might be possible to discuss ways to address their concerns.

At unofficial levels initially, Americans, Europeans – including Ukrainians – and Russians could discuss security arrangements that might alleviate Russian anxiety. NATO and respect for the sovereignty of nations would of course continue to be the foundations of Euroatlantic security.

NATO’s value as a defensive alliance has been highlighted by the recent Russian mobilizations and troop movements toward NATO nations’ borders. But transparency and confidence-building measures could address Russian fears.

With a less threatening Russia and some measure of stability restored in Europe, relations between Ukraine and the United States – and between Ukraine and the rest of Europe – could expand and flourish, to the benefit of everyone involved.

If the Russians withdraw from Donbas and Crimea, international economic sanctions on Russia could be eased and trade relations could be reestablished among the United States, Europe including Ukraine, and Russia. If the Russians do not withdraw from Donbas and Crimea and sanctions remain in place, trade flows among Ukraine, the rest of Europe and the United States could still grow, but Russia would remain isolated.

Without the Russian menace, Ukraine would be free to develop its foreign and domestic policies as a normal, sovereign state. Ukraine will choose its security alliances, its trading partners, its political associations. The United States will continue to support and develop closer ties with Ukraine, based on common values of democratic governance, market economics and collective security.

As Ukraine develops its economy and democracy, it will become a model for other nations in the region – including Russia – and around the world. Ukraine will showcase the triumph of democracy over autocracy, and the United States will be proud to have contributed to that success.

Ukraine’s civilization, centered in its capital Kyiv, goes back ten centuries; it is a rich and sometimes tragic history. Ukraine’s independence goes back three decades. American independence goes back two-and-a-half centuries. The two nations have a lot to teach each other. Next year, if it is peaceful, the two peoples can focus on growing closer.

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