Last week, Russia declared war on Ukraine. On March 1, the Russian Parliament’s Upper House, the Council of the Federation, voted to authorize the use of force against its neighbor. Now Russia has invaded the Crimea, my birthplace, a beautiful peninsula offering a subtropical coastline that has been popular with visitors since the days of Anton Chekhov.
Today’s visitors are not so friendly.
Russian forces have been conducting massive maneuvers along the borders of Ukraine since February 26. Moscow’s Special Forces — stripped of identifying tags for plausible deniability — have occupied airports and government buildings in Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and it appears that Russian troops may move into eastern parts of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia has given refuge to Victor Yanukovich, the deposed president of Ukraine, who is wanted by the new government in Kyiv for mass murder. The charge stems from Yanukovich’s orders to shoot protestors on the Maidan Independence Square. About 100 people died in violence in Keiv, with hundreds more wounded. Yanukovich is also suspected of massive corruption and money laundering, and his assets have been seized in Switzerland.
Clearly, Russian actions violate international law and invite a strong response. Can the U.S. and NATO help Russia climb off the tree in the Crimea?
Under the 1994 Budapest Protocol, the United States, Great Britain, and Russia are the guarantors of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine received these guarantees when it gave up its nuclear weapons. Ignoring the Protocol would create a massive incentive for other countries to get nukes, and a disincentive to ever surrender them.
There is another negotiated agreement as well: the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine. Originally signed in1997, it was reconfirmed in 2009 by a “Declaration to Complete” during President Obama’s first term. The charter declares that:
NATO Allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, economic prosperity and its status as a non-nuclear weapon state, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers, as key factors of stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe and in the continent as a whole.
Seeing a direct threat to its security, territorial integrity, and political independence, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense is planning to convene a conference with NATO members. Chaired by NATO Secretary General Andreas Fogh Rasmussen, the goal of the conference will be to develop a package of measures that will restore status quo ante in Crimea.
Moscow also appears to have violated its Status of Forces Agreement with Ukraine. This agreement allows Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to be based in Sevastopol in the Crimea. Under the agreement, Russian assault forces are restricted to the naval base only. Russia already has massive assault forces in place, including:
- 810th Naval Infantry Brigade (Sevastopol, Crimean Oblast)
- 880th Separate Naval Infantry Battalion
- 881st Separate Assault Battalion
- 888st Separate Reconnaissance Battalion
- 1613th Separate Artillery Battery
- 1619th Separate Air-Defense Artillery Battery
Air-assault forces from Ulyanovsk and Ryazan have been flown to Sevastopol as well.
The Ukrainian army has declared mobilization, but it has no chance to resist Russia’s overwhelming force in Crimea or elsewhere.
Russia has been active on the governmental front, too, “electing” pro-Russian leaders to many local councils in Eastern Ukrainian cities, including Donetsk. These puppets are likely to call for Moscow to send in troops, or, in the case of Crimea, to secede from Ukraine.
This is a European security crisis which, if mishandled, may make the wars in Yugoslavia seem tame. This is also an hour of truth for the Obama administration.
The West is likely to scale down its positive multi-lateral and bilateral cooperation with Moscow. The United States should stand up to Russia by showing commitment to our NATO allies. We should reassure the Alliance members in Central and Eastern Europe that their defense is guaranteed by deploying assets to the region, and make crystal clear that any armed aggression toward a NATO member will trigger Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which provides for common defense.
Furthermore, the U.S. and the Europeans should devise and implement targeted sanctions aimed directly at Russian officials responsible for violating Ukrainian sovereignty, including freezing financial assets and imposing visa bans.
The president should work bilaterally and multilaterally with our European allies to impose a robust sanctions regime that will directly impact those in Russia’s government involved in aggression in Ukraine. Finally, the U.S. should expand relations with the Europeans beyond common defense by boosting energy cooperation and expediting liquefied-natural-gas exports to our European partners.
American leadership is in order. The U.S. and the West should not allow Ukraine to be destroyed. Aggression should not stand.
—Ariel Cohen is The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy.