Before the U.S. with the best intentions makes the crisis in Ukraine unsalvageable, the White House needs to look at both sides of the problem. Faced with a pro-Western post-revolutionary government, Ukraine’s pro-Russia separatists see no hope in the current government. If the U.S., U.N. and Russia would come up with some consensus leadership in Kiev to replace 49-year-old Oleksandr Turchinov and 39-year-old Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the crisis and brewing civil war would be solved. No pro-Russian segment of Ukraine can back the pro-Western coup that toppled the duly elected government of Viktor Yanukovich Feb. 22. No matter how corrupt or distasteful, Ukrainians need to resolve the leadership vacuum at the ballot boxes not with an angry mob. Since no pro-Russian faction can accept the current government—new consensus leaders must be picked.
Applying more punitive sanctions on Putin to stop the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine doesn’t deal with the inexperience and illegitimacy of Kiev’s current government. If the U.S. or European Union really want to end the crisis they’d call for immediate resignations of Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leaders. Neither Turchinov nor Yatsenyuk are accepted by Moscow nor to pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Forcing them out would start the reconciliation process to find consensus candidates to deal with pro-EU interest in Kiev and pro-Russian interests in Eastern Ukraine. As long as Kiev only represents Western interests, Ukraine will be pushed closer to civil war. “It is important for us to take further steps sending a message to Russia that these kinds of destabilizing activities taking place in Ukraine have to stop,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sending more punitive measures to Moscow only makes a bad situation worse by proving to Putin that the West only has its interests at heart. U.S. and EU officials know that Turchinov and Yatsenyuk are not acceptable to Moscow or pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Yatsenyuk has been trying to sell the U.S. on rebuilding the Ukrainian military, demonstrating a lack of willingness to fight pro-Russian separatists. Practically standing on his head to get direct military aid from the U.S., Yatsenyuk has tried every angle to get Obama to cough up arms and cash. “Here is the bottom line. We could send weapons to Ukraine. It wouldn’t make a difference in terms of their ability to stand up to the Russians,” said Blinken, rejecting Kiev’s attempt to draw the U.S. into a wider conflict. Kiev’s current leaders want the U.S. to directly engage with Russia’s military, something unthinkable.
U.S. officials have a bigger obligation to U.S. foreign policy than to Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leaders. If they don’t represent a majority of Ukrainians, they must be replaced with leaders that do. With an end to the Afghan War in sight, Syria’s ongoing civil war, North Korea threatening the civilized world, Iran potentially building nukes, the U.S. has bigger fish to fry than alienating Russia. Obama’s already driven U.S.-Russian relations to a new post-Cold War low, prompting an urgent reassessment of current Ukraine policy. Threatening Moscow with more sanctions harms the linkage that enables the U.S. to cooperate with Russian in areas of mutual interest. Whatever the political fallout of the Midterm elections on Capitol Hill, both parties need to get on the same page when it comes to dealing with Ukraine. Making a bigger enemy out of Russia services no one.
Showing reluctance to apply more severe sanctions on Russia, the U.S. should take a hint from the EU, whose natural gas and petroleum purchases reflect an interdependence on Russia. Pushing the EU to adopt harsher sanctions could boomerang on the world economy, making it more difficult to balance economic realities on the continent. “To me hitting four of the largest banks there would send shockwaves into the economy,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), highlighting exactly why the U.S. and EU must proceed with caution against Putin. No one on Wall Street or any other global stock exchange benefits when the world’s eighth leading economy goes into recession. Western powers need to show some restraint before economic sanctions hurt more there own economies than Russia. Putin has plenty of places to unload vast supplies of natural gas and petroleum other than Europe.
Defusing the Ukraine crisis isn’t rocket science. U.S. and EU officials must see Russia’s side of the problem, especially rejecting Kiev’s current leaders that came to power illegally during a Western-backed coup. If the U.S. and EU asked Turchinov and Yataenyuk to step down, it would go a long way in resolving the current crisis that pushes Ukraine dangerously close to civil war. Blaming Putin for current unrest in Eastern Ukraine completely ignores the geopolitical issues that prevent Ukraine’s post-revolutionary rulers from leading the country. If the U.S. and EU really want to solve the Ukraine crisis, they need to call immediately for Turchinov and Yatsenyuk to resign. Finding interim consensus candidates would go a long way in satisfying Eastern Ukraine’s demands currently not met in Kiev. Backing them both only pushes the crisis closer to civil war.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.