What can the US and NATO do to prevent Putin from defeating Ukraine?

August 28, 2014
August 28, 2014

The new incursion into Ukrainian territory by Russian forces has led some veteran US foreign policy hands to call for a quick and highly visible Western airlift of military equipment to Kyiv. The aim: to prevent a Russian rout of Ukraine.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former US secretary of state George Shultz and ex-defense secretary William Perry urged the US and NATO to deploy forces in the Baltics, and equipment in Ukraine.

The prospects a swift victory for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s forces grew dramatically on Aug. 26, when a column of Russian armor appeared over the border at Novoazovsk, sending the Ukrainian troops into a full, panicked retreat. Russian forces today occupied the town, and are reportedly advancing to the strategic port of Mariupol.

US and NATO leaders, in addition to journalists on the ground in Ukraine, describe it as a Russian invasion in all but name—the kind of operation Putin pulled off when his forces overran Crimea in March.

The pro-Moscow rebels forces include Russian volunteers, such as these chronicled by France 24. But Polish prime minister Donald Tusk says the evidence of Russian regulars and armor (paywall) is indisputable. Tusk told his parliament: “Nobody can seriously accept talk of ‘separatists’ in Ukraine anymore. The information is from NATO and confirmed by our intelligence, and is basically unambiguous.”

The action urged by Shultz and Perry, among others, is mainly in the realm of optics—no one is suggesting the deployment of Western troops, not in Ukraine anyway, and no one thinks that Ukrainian forces, even with Western equipment, can outmatch the overwhelmingly superior Russian forces. But the hope is that a show of Western support could deter Putin.

Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the action by the West must come immediately. In an email exchange with Quartz, Kuchins says:

Obama and NATO allies will need to VERY RAPIDLY mobilize lethal military support for the Ukrainian forces. We need to have a few C-130s land in Kiev and some other things cross the Western border of Ukraine by air and by land. The moment of truth may be upon us very shortly. … Putin most know NOW that NATO will not sit back and watch Russia mop up Ukrainian military forces.

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