The Ukraine cease-fire fic­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY JOHN MCCAIN The writer, a Repub­li­can, rep­re­sents Ari­zona in the Se­nate and is chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

Last week­end, I trav­eled with Sens. John Bar­rasso (R-Wyo.) and Tom Cot­ton (R-Ark.) to eastern Ukraine to meet with the coura­geous men and women fight­ing there for their coun­try’s free­dom and fu­ture. I ar­rived on a solemn day as Ukrainian vol­un­teers grieved the loss of two young com­rades killed by Rus­sian ar­tillery the day be­fore. They had lost another com­rade a few days be­fore that, and four more the pre­vi­ous week. Their mes­sage tome was clear: The cease-fire with Rus­sia is fic­tion, and U.S. as­sis­tance is vi­tal to de­ter­ring fur­ther Rus­sian ag­gres­sion.

Along the front lines, sep­a­ratist forces backed by Rus­sia vi­o­late the cease-fire ev­ery day with heavy ar­tillery bar­rages and tank at­tacks. Gun­bat­tles are a daily rou­tine, and com­mu­ni­ties at the front bear the brunt of con­stant sniper fire and nightly skir­mishes.

Yet while these low-level cease-fire vi­o­la­tions have oc­curred regularly since the Minsk agree­ment was signed in Fe­bru­ary, Ukrainian bat­tal­ion com­man­ders said the num­ber of Grad rocket strikes and in­ci­dents of in­tense ar­tillery shelling are in­creas­ing. Their re­ports sug­gest that the sep­a­ratists have moved their heavy weapons and equip­ment back to the front lines hop­ing to es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion. So far, Ukrainian armed forces sup­ported by vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions have been able to hold their ground, and they have done so largely with­out the sup­port of Ukrainian ar­tillery and tanks that have been pulled back from the front as stip­u­lated by the Minsk agree­ment. How­long can we ex­pect these brave Ukraini­ans to abide by an agree­ment that Rus­sia has clearly ig­nored?

It is time that the United States and our Euro­pean al­lies rec­og­nize the fail­ure of the Minsk agree­ment and re­spond with more than empty rhetoric. Ukraine’s lead­ers de­scribe Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s strat­egy as a game of “Pac-Man”— tak­ing bite af­ter bite out of Ukraine in small enough por­tions that it does not trig­ger a large-scale in­ter­na­tional re­sponse. But at this point it should be clear to all that Putin does not want a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the con­flict. He wants to dom­i­nate Ukraine, along with Rus­sia’s other neigh­bors.

No one in the West wants a re­turn to the Cold War. But we must rec­og­nize that we are con­fronting a Rus­sian ruler who seeks ex­actly that. It is time for U.S. strat­egy to ad­just to the re­al­ity of a re­van­chist Rus­sia with a mod­ern­ized mil­i­tary that is will­ing to use force not as a last re­sort, but as a pri­mary tool to achieve its neo-im­pe­rial ob­jec­tives. We must do more to de­ter Rus­sia by in­creas­ing the mil­i­tary costs of its ag­gres­sion, start­ing with the im­me­di­ate pro­vi­sion of the de­fen­sive weapons and other as­sis­tance the Ukraini­ans des­per­ately need.

Pres­i­dent Obama has wrongly ar­gued that pro­vid­ing Ukraine with the as­sis­tance and equip­ment it needs to de­fend it­self would only pro­voke Rus­sia. Putin needed no provo­ca­tion to in­vade Ukraine and an­nex Crimea. Rather, it is the weak­ness of the col­lec­tive U.S. and Euro­pean re­sponse that pro­vokes the very ag­gres­sion we seek to avoid. Of course, there is no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion in Ukraine, but there is a clear mil­i­tary di­men­sion to achiev­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion. If Ukraini­ans are given the as­sis­tance they need and the mil­i­tary cost is raised for the Rus­sian forces that have in­vaded their coun­try, Putin will be forced to de­ter­mine how long he can sus­tain a war he tells his peo­ple is not hap­pen­ing.

I urge any­one who sees Ukraine’s fight against a more ad­vanced Rus­sian mil­i­tary as hope­less to travel to meet those fight­ing and dy­ing to pro­tect their home­land. These men and women have not backed down, and they will con­tinue to fight for their coun­try with or with­out the U.S. sup­port they need and de­serve.

Dur­ing my trip, the Ukraini­ans never asked for the United States to send troops to do their fight­ing. Ukraini­ans only hope that the United States will once again open the ar­se­nal of democ­racy that has al­lowed free peo­ple to de­fend them­selves so many times be­fore.

How we re­spond to Putin’s brazen ag­gres­sion will have reper­cus­sions far be­yond Ukraine. We face the re­al­ity of a chal­lenge that many as­sumed was re­signed to the history books: a strong, mil­i­tar­ily ca­pa­ble state that is hos­tile to our in­ter­ests and our val­ues and seeks to over­turn the rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der that Amer­i­can lead­ers of both par­ties have sought to main­tain since World War II. Among the core prin­ci­ples of that or­der is the con­vic­tion that might does not make right, that the strong should not be al­lowed to dom­i­nate the weak and that wars of ag­gres­sion should be rel­e­gated to the bloody past.

Around the world, friend and foe alike are watch­ing to see whether the United States will once again sum­mon its power and in­flu­ence to de­fend the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem that has kept the peace for decades. We must not fail this test.


A Rus­sian-backed rebel in eastern Ukraine on June 9.

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