Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center, had some thoughts on this during a live interview on Fox News, and repeated in Fox’ online feed. These remarks were made in the context of a warning that Russia will use the Russian surrogates’/Ukrainian separatists’ situation as a pretext to invade Ukraine to resolve a cynically made-up “humanitarian crisis.”
We don’t want a war. We cannot win a war against Russia. You know, this is not Al Qaeda. This is not the government of Saddam Hussein. This is the Russian Federation, the inheritors of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. We cannot get dragged into this war. But by the same token, the Ukrainians can’t win it by themselves.
If we keep going with sanctions, it’s a dead-end process. We can continue to do it for moral reasons to show that we’re doing something, but we’ve also got to have an endgame negotiation that the Russians are part of.
He’s right, and he’s wrong. He’s right that we don’t want war; no sane nation does. He’s right that Ukraine can’t win their current war by themselves.
But he’s terribly wrong where it counts. Of course, we can win a war against Russia. Indeed, he implies that Ukraine can win such a war, if only they’re not alone. No, the only way we could not win would be for us to give it up before it starts—”we can’t win” is just a dangerously defeatist mindset.
It’s that mindset, too, that is contributing so heavily to Ukraine’s current strait. Russian President Vladimir Putin has the measure of President Barack Obama and of Obama’s key cabinet players, and Putin is confident he can act as he pleases and the US will make no meaningful response. Putin is confident that we’ll do something “for moral reasons to show that we’re doing something” but that something will be confined to more wrist-slap sanctions. Putin most carefully has observed the American administration’s penchant for “leading from behind,” which many people more accurately identify as leading the retreat.
Rojansky also is wrong that the endgame negotiation must be something of which the Russians are part. Certainly, it would be nice if the Russians were part, but they really have very little useful to say in the matter until they stand down from Ukraine’s eastern border; until they stop shooting at the Ukrainian army from within Russia; until they stop supplying the…separatists…with arms, artillery, SAMs, ammunition, and so on; until they withdraw from their occupation of Crimea.
No, the right answer is to ratchet up the economic pressure on Russia with real sanctions and openly and effectively helping Ukraine (and Europe) find non-Russian sources of oil, gas, and other goods, and to ratchet up the pressure on Russia by supplying Ukraine with arms and ammunition.
And to openly and publicly recognize that the Russian nuclear threat has only the credence we choose to give it. If we’re not threatened by it, it is no threat. It is no threat because Russia does not want a war with us, either, and especially, Russia will not go nuclear over eastern Ukraine.
Update: Corrected the second paragraph, beginning “If we keep going with sanctions…,” to indicate it was part of Rojansky’s remarks, and not part of my writing. I apologize for the error.