National Security & Defense

POTUS on Ukraine: A Reverie

Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk, December, 2014
What Obama should have said in the State of the Union.

I’d now like to introduce a special guest, sitting in the gallery, who has come a long way to be with us tonight.

Dr. Olha Bohomolets is a member of the Ukrainian parliament whose preparation for her current public responsibilities ought to draw our deepest respect. Dr. Bohomolets is a physician, and during the Maidan Revolution of Dignity in Kyiv she dedicated herself entirely to providing medical assistance to those wounded by the troops of then-president Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian special-forces allies. Not only did this fearless woman provide immediate medical care to the wounded; she helped keep Ukrainian freedom fighters out of those hospitals in which they were in danger of being kidnapped by Yanukovych’s internal-security forces.

I spoke with Dr. Bohomolets earlier today, at the White House, and she told me that because of the use of BM-21 Grad rockets by the Russian troops  now deployed in southern and eastern Ukraine, and the brutality regularly displayed there by these Russian troops and their so-called “separatist” allies, it is impossible to identify some 40 percent of the bodies being brought back to unoccupied Ukraine from the Donbass region. The bodies are too mangled — sometimes nearly disintegrated — by attacks from the Grad multiple-rocket launchers.

Fourteen months after the Maidan Revolution of Dignity began in Kyiv, the facts on the ground in Ukraine are unmistakably clear. There is no “Ukrainian crisis” in which “separatist” elements are contending with the government of President Petro Poroshenko for control of the Donbass region. Rather, Russia has been and is conducting an invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine, an armed aggression using various lethal forms of asymmetrical warfare. And to provide cover for that invasion and that undeclared war, the government of President Vladimir Putin has conducted a campaign of prevarication and disinformation that might bring a blush to the cheek of Dr. Goebbels.

Ukraine’s sovereignty has been violated. Many of Ukraine’s citizens have been murdered or taken hostage. Ukraine’s path to economic stability and eventual prosperity has been blocked by the necessity of diverting resources that could have been used to undertake economic and political reforms to the defense, not only of Ukraine’s territory, but of its very right to exist as an independent nation.

The recent ratcheting up of Russian and Russian-backed violence in southern and eastern Ukraine is, as President Putin’s ideological tutors used to say, “no accident.” Having deceived the Russian people through its control of the communications media and its steady disinformation campaign, the Putin regime is now faced with a degree of popular unrest with which it is uncomfortable, thanks to Russia’s economic downturn. That downturn has been exacerbated to some degree by the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in the wake of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. But its deeper causes are structural, for what Putin and his allies have constructed is a mafia state atop a crumbling society, the stability of which is dependent on the foreign income derived from high energy prices. The tacit deal Putin made with his people years ago — I’ll make your lives better, year by year, and you’ll stay out of politics — is coming unglued. So now Putin is trying to distract his people from the implosion of the Russian economy and its immediate effects on their lives — from the fact that Russia now imports potatoes from Romania — by ginning up foreign enemies and appealing to revanchist sentiments that touch deep chords in certain aspects of Russian culture.

Putin’s latest gambits in Ukraine would also seem to be intended as a growl at the E.U. and the U.S.: but let us not be so foolish, or pusillanimous, as to be frightened by his baring his teeth and claws. What may be Russia’s short-term aim here — rewriting the Minsk Agreements of last September in a fashion even more unfavorable to independent Ukraine — is an aim that it shall be our aim to frustrate.

The Ukrainian people are determined to defend the Maidan Revolution of Dignity, and have shown that they are willing to risk their very lives to do so. The defense of the Donetsk airport, for example, has demonstrated that Ukraine’s undermanned and underequipped forces are nevertheless capable of stout resistance to Russian aggression. That display of grit, and the commitment to democratic ideals that lies behind it, demands our respect.

But it demands more. It demands action on our part.

Therefore, I am announcing tonight the following emergency measures. Some are aimed at providing Ukraine with the capacity to defend itself from aggression, whether that aggression be in the form of armed assaults on Ukrainian territory or propaganda about what is under way in Ukraine. Others address the short- and long-term rebuilding of a free, prosperous, and secure Ukraine, which can be an example to all the states of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.         

First, we shall supply Ukraine’s armed forces with the defensive weaponry necessary to meet the aggression under way in the Donbass, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

Second, we shall conduct intensive satellite reconnaissance of southern and eastern Ukraine and release the photographic results of that reconnaissance, so that there can be no doubt whatsoever about the weaponry that Russia has deployed in its invasion of Ukraine — or indeed about the invasion itself.

Third, I am instructing the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to try to establish contact with the hostages now being held by the “separatists” in the Donbass, and I call upon the American news media to give those efforts full coverage, so that the world may know the truth of who is doing what to whom in southern and eastern Ukraine.

Fourth, I am asking the leaders of our major European partners to meet with me here in Washington next week to consider further sanctions against Russia, including detaching Russia from the SWIFT international banking system. At the same time, I shall ask the Washington-based leaders of the IMF and the World Bank to meet with my European colleagues and me to consider an emergency package of assistance to Ukraine that will prevent it from going into default on its international debt obligations, and a more comprehensive program of assistance, on the model of the Marshall Plan, to begin in Ukraine no later than September 1, 2015.

Helping Ukraine secure the future envisioned by the brave men and women who faced down both freezing weather and sniper bullets on the Maidan last year ought to be a bipartisan effort. Therefore, I shall meet as soon as possibly with Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leaders Pelosi and Reid with the aim of forming a joint task force on Ukraine, involving members of the House and Senate and key administration personnel, so that whatever legislative action is needed to help Ukraine defend itself against today’s increasing Russian aggression, and to help our Ukrainian democratic allies build a future of peace, security, and prosperity, can be expedited. That task force will also, I hope, let President Putin know that the Congress and the administration are of one mind when it comes to our determination to secure the victory of freedom that was won in the Cold War and ratified by the events of 1989 and 1991 in Central and Eastern Europe.

For that is precisely what is at stake now in Ukraine.

[Applause.]

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

 

George Weigel — George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His many books include the two-volume ...

Most Popular

Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More