Alternatives to Arming Ukraine

by Mark N. Katz

America, Europe, and some other countries have imposed numerous economic sanctions against Kremlin insiders as well as Russia as a whole in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. These Western sanctions, though, have not succeeded in getting Moscow to reverse course. Indeed, Western governments believe that Moscow has been violating the most recent cease-fire accord by sending more weapons and “volunteers” to help the separatists in eastern Ukraine. During a recent visit I made to Paris and Berlin, officials and observers there told me that they fear Putin may push even further into Ukraine, and perhaps elsewhere.

Many American politicians and officials, Republican and Democrat alike, now believe that since sanctions have not stopped Putin, the time has come to provide military assistance to Ukraine so that it can better defend itself against Russia. Doing so, they argue, would at least raise the cost of aggression for Moscow. And the more costly Putin’s venture in Ukraine becomes, the more likely they believe it will undermine domestic political support for Putin inside Russia. Besides, they see it as immoral not to help Ukraine defend itself against aggression.

French and German—as well as many other European—observers, though, are strongly opposed to any such move. They fear that the U.S. (and perhaps others) arming Ukraine would lead to an even greater degree of Russian intervention in Ukraine and perhaps even to an expanded conflict. Europe would suffer far more from such an escalation than America, and Europeans do not appreciate that so many American politicians and officials cavalierly (in their view) advocate a policy that risks jeopardizing their peace and well-being. Further, they fear that the U.S. might simply ignore these European concerns and send arms to Ukraine unilaterally.

Whatever the moral argument for providing military support to Ukraine, there is a strong possibility that doing so would lead to a division between Washington and most (though not all) of its European allies even greater than that which occurred over the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq in 2003. Such a development would be at least as welcome to Putin as acquiring more of Ukraine. And a trans-Atlantic cleavage would likely help Putin with his territorial ambitions as well. As a result, for Washington to send arms to Ukraine at this time would be highly inadvisable.

So what, then, should be done? Most of the French and German observers I spoke with indicated that the West will need to do something more if Moscow persists in violating the present ceasefire agreement. But nobody I spoke with was willing to articulate what measures should—or even could—be taken.

I would suggest that America, Europe, and others concerned about Russia’s actions in Ukraine do the following:

  1. Encourage Ukraine to focus on internal political and economic reform rather than attempt to regain lost territory;
  2. Expand the Western economic sanctions enacted against Putin’s closest associates to Putin himself;
  3. Begin to seize (not just freeze) the assets of Putin and his cronies in the West and use them to set up a fund to compensate the victims of Putin’s policies in Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia itself;
  4. Impose travel bans on Putin and his close associates, as has been done vis-à-vis especially offensive dictators and their henchmen in other countries.

In short, America and Europe should adopt policies that make it clear to Putin and (perhaps more importantly) his associates that they can either continue to enjoy the enormous wealth they have stored up in the West, or they can continue trying to expand Russian influence forcefully. But they can’t do both.

Finally, even if it doesn’t follow my suggestions Washington should respond to Russian encroachments in Ukraine not with policies that would divide America from Europe and so strengthen Putin, but policies that can unite the West as well as divide Putin from his greedy associates.

Mark N. Katz

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed here are his alone. Links to his recent articles can be found at



  1. FYI. Ukraine and Russia recent;y signed a gas deal. While Europe wilts under sanctions it’s full steam ahead for Ukraine on its Russian trade.

    There is a suspicion among Europeans the US wants to start another war in Europe. Good for the US economy. Not so good for Europe. Bombs, ruined cities, etc. Who need that?

    The US loves fighting wars in somebody’s else’s back yard. Look at what they call WW2. The “last good war.”

  2. Can always count of the pundits to come to the aid of the war mongers, those still fighting the “cold war”. How many times does it take to prove that this present course, started by Bush/Cheney is a lose for the American Taxpayer-the ones who have to pay the bankers for all the borrowed $trillions so far since 9-11? All these people feeding at the public trough, who only take but don’t give anything in return, need to be cut off, regardless of who they are. Selling out the future for the present, is criminal. Of course, they are able to buy the Congress/Executive suites, thanks to the S.C.O.T.U.S. , which IMHO is leading to the decay of the country.

  3. Why is it that the pundits, including Prof. Katz, keep insisting on a false and/or incomplete narrative that foists the blame for this crisis on the Kremlin? Why do they blind themselves to the threats to Russia from NATO expansion that began with the Wolfowitz doctrine, or with America’s assorted nuclear first strike strategies, that have continued unimpeded since then? Why do they ignore America’s, NATO’s and the EU’s violation of the Helsinki Final Act, or the Budapest Memorandum, or the February 22, 2014 coalition government agreement, or the April 17, 2014 Vienna Accords, or July 2, 2014 cease-fire agreement, or the September Minsk Agreement and its subsequent implementation accords for Ukraine? Who’s kidding whom?

    Why can they not accept that it has been Putin that has been making all the moves to keep Ukraine integral, while allowing help, including volunteers to be sent to the beleaguered population in the East, and why can they not understand that Minsk is being violated by Kiev at the behest of the crazies in our Administration and Pentagon (and by the multinationals who have created and been trying to leverage this crisis to their economic advantage). And, frankly, to misconstrue the underlying economics of Ukraine and where its interests lie, is not only sheer folly, it is sheer ignorance. Russian economists saw it years ago, and Sergey Glaziev has written some of the best commentary about it- but of course, he was one of the first individuals to be sanctioned, and what idiocy it was. (I’d like to see a one on one debate between Glaziev and our economists here, though I think that the policies of Joseph Stiglitz, one of our best- who has been marginalized- are more in keeping in with Glaziev than any of the toadies who suck off the Soros teat.)

    As for sanctions, they are not working and will not work, and based on Russia’s countermeasures in conjunction with China and the BRICS countries, and the relations Russia and China are developing in Africa and Latin America, they are slowly eroding the West’s financial system. Unfortunately, it is the neocons and neo-liberals who are stoking the flames of nazism in Ukraine for temporary opportunistic advantage and our pundits and to which our academics have been turning a blind eye, while our multinationals are doing business as usual, just they did in trading with, and financing the German economy and military machine- consider, for example, the assassination in Ukraine of former officials and opposition leaders, or of independent journalists, and Ukraine’s lustration laws. It is a shameful policy, and it shameful that our academics should be preaching more war, in this case economic warfare.

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