Ukraine: Washington’s bellicose security client



Having Ukraine as a de facto “ally” should make Washington increasingly uncomfortable. The United States has described this country as a peaceful Western democracy striving to defend its territory and independence from a supposedly rapacious Russia. In his April 2 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President Biden “affirmed the unwavering support of the United States for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression in Donbass and Crimea. He underscored his administration’s commitment to revitalize our strategic partnership in support of President Zelenskyy’s plan to fight corruption and to implement a reform agenda based on our common democratic values ​​that ensure justice, security and prosperity to the Ukrainian people.

The key assumptions underlying US policy towards Ukraine are wrong. Booming authoritarianism rather than a commitment to democracy marks Kiev’s internal governance, and the country’s foreign policy is alarming and belligerent towards its much larger and more powerful neighbor. Ukraine is both a unworthy and dangerous partner for the United States.

Zelenskyy’s government not only perpetuated the widespread corruption that has plagued Ukraine since independence, but it is also policy intensification that violate fundamental civil liberties. Zelenskyy and his supporters argue that restrictive measures are needed to thwart Russia’s subversion efforts, but targets now include classic liberal factions that have no plausible connection to the Kremlin. America’s leaders face the prospect of supporting a thinly disguised autocracy rather than a democratic government.

Although Ukraine’s internal trends are troubling, the chauvinistic rhetoric and political positions of the leadership regarding Kiev’s relations with Moscow are far more disturbing. This development should be more than a matter of academic concern for the United States. Even though Ukraine is not a member of NATO and Congress has never been asked to approve a deal (let alone a formal treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate) by treating Kiev as a official ally of the United States, US officials clearly view the country as an important political and security partner. The Trump and Biden administrations have approved various arms sales in Kiev, American personnel have Ukrainian troops trained, and US forces (as well as units from other NATO countries) conducted joint military exercises (war games), with their Ukrainian counterparts on several occasions. In short, the US leadership is treating Ukraine as a full ally, albeit de facto)

However, Kiev is not really an ally; it is a weak US security addict with markedly hostile relations with Russia. But Ukrainian leaders are not deterred by their country’s military limitations. At the end of August, Ukraine held its first military parade in several years, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence, and declared that it would recover both Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the territories in the eastern Donbass region which are under the control of Kremlin-backed separatists. The country official defense strategy document adopted in March explicitly includes these objectives.

Moreover, the goal seems to be more than rhetoric. In the spring of 2021, Kiev began to deploy troops and tanks near Crimea for military exercises. Russia responded with a few large-scale troop movements on its own, and a military crisis that had the potential to confuse the United States and NATO was brewing. Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed and both sides have started to retreat, but Crimea and the adjacent region remain worrying flashpoints.

Ukraine is adopting such behavior while expecting the United States and NATO to support its candidacy. In August, Zelenskyy spoke at the inaugural summit of the “Crimean Platform”, a meeting of representatives of forty-six countries that Kiev had orchestrated to generate greater international pressure on Russia. At the summit, the focus was on increased diplomatic support for Ukraine, along with tougher sanctions against Russia, to force Moscow to cancel its annexation of Crimea. But the Ukrainian leader argued that it was also a matter of security. He said that “the occupation of Crimea calls into question the effectiveness of the entire international security system …”

Ukrainian officials envision more than allied diplomatic support in their campaign to confront Russia. In April, Zelenskyy explicitly stated that the only way to end Russian “aggression” in the Donbass, let alone reverse Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, would be to give Ukraine’s accession to NATO. But such a step would be extraordinarily dangerous. Kremlin officials have made it clear on several occasions that NATO membership for Kiev crosses a red line in terms of Russian security and will not be tolerated. Ukraine in NATO also means that the United States would be obliged under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to defend Kiev. It would be simplicity itself for Ukraine to exploit a military incident and accuse it was an act of Russian aggression. Indeed, Ukrainian leaders maintain that the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for the Donbass insurgents already constitute acts of aggression.

Continued U.S. support for Ukraine’s unrealistic territorial ambitions is reckless and dangerous while supporting Kiev’s candidacy for NATO membership, which every U.S. administration has begun with George W. Bush did, is even more reckless. Treating Ukraine as an ally creates grave and growing dangers for the American people. The only thing worse than a weak and vulnerable security client is a weak and vulnerable client who seeks to pursue an aggressive policy that he cannot support with his own military resources, and instead waits for the support of his powerful. benefactor. In 1914, Serbia entangled Tsarist Russia in its reckless ambitions and sparked a massive conflict that destroyed its boss and much more. Given the behavior of Kiev. Ukraine could become the Serbia of the 2020s. The Biden administration must not reproduce the tsar’s madness and fall into such a trap. Washington should let Ukraine go and let it fend for itself.

Ted Galen Carpenter, senior researcher in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief at the National interest, is the author of 12 books and over 950 articles on international affairs.

Image: Reuters


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