Can Putin be stopped?
As the violence between Russia and Ukraine escalates, political battle lines are becoming more deeply entrenched – not only between Russia and the West, but also between the United States and the various European countries. Can external involvement solve the crisis diplomatically? And is there another choice?
As it currently stands, over 5,000 have been killed in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine after Russia provided armed support to separatist groups and sent its own troops across the border. The crisis poses a risk to European stability and is unsettling world leaders who previously sought to better relations with Russia and work with the global power on topics of common interest such as a nuclear Iran.
While Russian President Putin alleges that the conflict is the result of America and its allies trying “to impose their will” after the Cold War, it looks like Western interference may be necessary to resolve matters. But how? Three courses of action are currently being discussed: the US and EU could continue imposing sanctions on Russia to force them into submission; they could negotiate a peace agreement; or, they could support Ukraine’s resistance efforts. This is where the divide creeps in.
An increasing number of voices in Congress, along with Eastern European countries who feel threatened by Russia, are encouraging the White House to send military aid to Ukraine. It is certainly no secret that Washington has a deep distrust of Putin and will be wary of any peace plan that grants him concessions. US Vice President Joe Biden was keen to assert that the US prefers a peaceful resolution but made clear that Washington is not opposed to military force, arguing that in the past, “President Putin has promised peace and delivered tanks.”
Yet many Western European countries doubt the ability of Ukrainian forces to defeat the Russian army, even with assistance. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has accused Putin of acting like a tyrant and spoke in favour of renewing or increasing the economic sanctions on Russia. Combined with the low oil prices that are damaging the Russian economy, he hopes that further sanctions will force Putin to re-think his tactics. For Hammond, it is simply “not a practical proposition” for Kiev to beat Moscow on the battlefield
France and Germany agree. The two countries have outlined a peace agreement which will grant Russia more territory than it was awarded in September’s ceasefire but will allow eastern Ukraine greater autonomy than in Russia’s proposed plan. Leaders Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel will meet Putin along with the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday to discuss the terms of a long-term ceasefire.
If they succeed, Washington will be keeping check on whether Putin adheres this time round. Failure to respect a new agreement would leave little doubt that Russia is playing a political game and would add fuel to the claims that Putin will not willingly cease from fighting in Ukraine so long as he views a thriving Westernised neighbour as an ideological threat. That could give the US greater incentive to intervene with force.
If Wednesday fails to bring an agreement, then European leaders will have to consider their options when they meet at a summit later in the week. Further sanctions would likely prove more popular than arms, despite the resultant negative impact on the Eurozone’s economy. Political leaders will be conscious that Europe could pay a greater price if it does nothing at all.