Editorial: U.S. must defend Ukraine’s sovereignty without returning to the Cold War

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 4, 2014 - 12:00 am

Secretary of State John Kerry’s scheduled arrival in Kiev today is the right move, emphasizing that diplomacy and sanctions, not hotheaded military intervention, must be used to pry Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands from around Ukraine’s neck.

Also today, President Barack Obama’s administration will announce $1 billion in aid and loans to help stabilize the Ukraine government and economy.

On Monday, the administration took the symbolic step of announcing that it wouldn’t send a presidential delegation to the Sochi Paralympics, after British Prime Minister David Cameron did the same.

All that is a start. But much more can and should be done, although the steps should not include draining the treasury or sending in the Marines.

Whatever international goodwill Russia gained during the Sochi Olympics evaporated when Putin sent troops to Crimea. The blitzkrieg speed with which Russia struck suggests that Putin was planning the assault while athletes were competing.

Obama has stumbled on foreign policy before, most notably when he declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a red line. He cannot afford another fumble.

The Ukrainian people have been independent for 22 years and have the right to self-determination. The U.S. must help ensure Ukraine’s sovereignty, while striving to avoid a new Cold War.

The U.S. and its European allies must keep communications open with Putin and Ukrainian officials, with an eye toward providing Putin with a path to de-escalate the situation he created.

As Kerry has said, the U.S. and European allies have options, including imposing travel and trade restrictions, freezing Russian assets, and limiting Russian banks’ access to capital markets. All that would be inconvenient for the oligarchs who support Putin and presumably have his ear.

Russia is one of the Group of Eight nations, along with the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada. At a minimum, the G-8 ought to relocate its June conference away from Sochi. If Russia continues to occupy Ukraine, the Group of Eight should downsize to the G-7.

On Monday, the Ukrainian government requested $15 billion from the International Monetary Fund. Ukraine’s acting finance minister, Yuriy Kolobov, has said the country needs $35 billion. Uncle Sam should not be expected to shoulder the cost of any bailout. But an international aid package might be warranted, assuming that Putin does not worsen an already bad situation by storming into Kiev and that Ukrainian officials embark on needed fiscal reforms.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is ubiquitous on cable news shows as he faces a tough re-election fight, has been particularly critical of Obama, calling him weak and indecisive.

Graham and his friend, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., should take a constructive approach by helping to line up Republican votes, to the extent that the administration must turn to Congress for approval of various sanctions.

No one should long for a return to the Cold War. Nor should Obama allow Putin to drag this country and Europe back to the 19th century. The response by the U.S. and Europe must be a clear-eyed, calm, and quick. But there must be a response, and it must be meaningful.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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