Michael Carpenter calls for tougher sanctions on Russia
Ukraine is Kremlin's final barrier to resurrecting its empire, so the West needs to stop imitating deterrence and impose truly painful sanctions on Russia's economy.
Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of the keynote speech by Michael Carpenter, the senior director with the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, delivered at the Kyiv Post’s Tiger Conference 2018 in Kyiv on Dec. 11, 2018.
What we are witnessing today is a war by the Russian Federation on the West, written large. Sometimes it is a covert war, sometimes it’s overt, but it is a war. And this war has been going on for some time, and I think it is important about the wider context, in which the particular kinetic war here in Ukraine has been waged. Because this is an ongoing struggle that has happened approximately since the year 2000, the turn of the millennium and the rise of Vladimir Putin to power in Moscow.
This war has gone through what I think of as three distinct stages, though they are not necessarily linear in terms of one progressing to the next.
But theses stage are beginning with an internal war within Russia, a war that Vladimir Putin and his entourage waged on democratic institutions and free civil society in the Russian Federation itself, immediately upon assuming power.
This war was then expanded roughly in the middle of the 2000s to Russia’s democratic neighbors, most visibly with Russia’s invasion in Georgia in 2008 and then of course with Russia’s invasion in Ukraine in 2014.
Now, over the course of the last five or six years, this war has expanded even further. It is no longer just the democracies on Russia’s periphery, it is Western democracy itself that Russia is assaulting in various different ways.
'Heart of this struggle' But Ukraine is really at heart of this struggle, and this struggle is now actually becoming larger than just simply Russia. This is a global struggle of kleptocratic authoritarianism on the one hand, and liberal democracy on the other. And Ukraine, because of Russia’s war, is at the very heart and center. And I firmly believe that the solution, the victory, eventually of liberal democracy over
kleptocratic authoritarianism first and foremost here in Ukraine, with Ukraine becoming democratic.”
Why is that? Because if Putin succeeds with his imperial project in Ukraine, he fans the flame of imperialism in Russia for years, if not decades to come. Russia right now is not really a nation-state, neither in terms of its borders, nor in terms of its mentality. I believe that U.S. national security and great strategic thinker (Zbigniew) Brzezinski was correct when he said that with Ukraine suborned to Russia, Russia is an empire; without Ukraine, Russia begins to lose its imperial ambitions.
But unfortunately, in this war on Western democracy that we’ve witness over this last roughly 20 years, the West has been caught flat-footed.
NATO has been able to augment its military capabilities to defend and deter Russian aggression, but we have seen over the last couple of years that the West is really not placed to be able to counter a covert war on its institutions that includes information warfare, propaganda, cyberattacks, the use of dark money to subvert politics, and other means.”
And once again, Ukraine here is at the forefront. What we have seen in the United States, in France with the Yellow Vests movement, in Germany, previously in the UK with the Brexit referendum, those methods we honed and began here in Ukraine. And right now I think Putin is doubling down on those methods. I’ll tell you why — because of Putin’s perspective, his military strategy has failed in Ukraine.
He has invaded, has tried to annex the land in Crimea, and occupies land in the Donbas, he is now trying to annex the Sea of Azov. But ultimately he has failed in its stra- tegic goal. Because he has seen as Ukrainians prepared for Tomos — for the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its independence after almost 360 years of subservience to Moscow and the Moscow Patriarchy to assert its own independence.
He has seen how Ukrainians have expressed more and more of the desire to curve up their own sovereignty for themselves, and not to be dictated to from outside. And he has seen how the support for the EU and NATO has grown immensely over the last almost five years of war.”
So what he has done in response is to double-down on the subversive measures. Military attack using new weapons like laser weapons, hyperbaric weapons — the Donbas is a testing ground for every conceivable form of Russian military power.
He has now extended cyberattacks from power grids and critical infrastructure to the judiciary, to attack the heart of Ukraine’s political institutions. He has doubled down on assassinations of exiled Russians, as well as Ukrainians, sabotage, massive disinformation campaigns, money, especially dirty money that is being channeled into Ukrainian politics as we enter a crucial election cycle next year.”
And now sanctions and economic warfare. This is all in part a parcel of what we sometimes call the Gerasimov Doctrine. To be honest, the (General Valery) Gerasimov Doctrine is a little bit of a misnomer. Because it is Putin’s Doctrine. And it is not so much a product of a discovery on the part of the Russian military that so-called hybrid tools are effective, because Russia has been using what we call hybrid tools for decades and decades.
Rather, what makes the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine, or Putin’s Doctrine, original, if you like, is the dispensation with the linear notion of warfare where you mobilize from a peaceful state to a state of war, and that linear progression of military buildup has been replaced with the view that Russia should be attacking its adversaries in every domain, military and non-military, all the time, wherever it has an asymmetric advantage.
And that is what Russia is doing. That is what we see with its attack, its ambush of Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait, it is an attempt to assert dominance in the Sea of Azov, not just from the military perspective, but also to be able to economically suffocate Ukraine, particularly eastern Ukraine. Putin wants people in the eastern part of the country to think that there is no hope, democratic Ukraine cannot deliver them, cannot provide the sorts of services, and economic wellbeing, and security for their families that they depend on and hope for.
Why business as usual?
And he is trying to send the message: So long as Ukraine resists Russian dominion, there will be high consequences to pay. And hence the de facto blockade of the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, and this most recent incident near the Kerch Strait, and the imprisonment of 24 Ukrainian sailors.
Now the problem is that the West does not understand, or maybe it understands but does not to internalize and cope with the reality of this situation. Because you cannot confront Mr. Putin’s aggression in each of these various different domains, from military to informa-
tion, to cyber, to sabotage, while conducing business as usual with the Russian state.
And unfortunately that is exactly what we’ve seen. We’ve seen that Mr. Putin is very adaptive at battling Western institutions in any number of different domains, but Western leaders want to compartmentalize their opposition to Mr. Putin just to sanctions. The solution is always sanctions.
Stop Nord Stream 2
Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, has been one of the most ardent proponents of increasing sanctions pressure on Mr. Putin. But at the same time she is pursuing a multibillion-dollar, massive economic development project called the Nord Stream II pipeline, whose sole aim is to bypass Ukraine as a transit route of Russian natural gas to Europe.
But not just Angela Merkel. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France whose own campaign was hacked by Russian agents, and who is now facing the Yellow Vests protests that are being amplified by Russian provocateurs, he too advocates for sanctions on Russia on one hand while traveling to the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum to drum up business between France and Russia.
Or my own president, Donald Trump, who has applied new sanctions reluctantly to Russia, but at the same time, he called for Russia to be readmitted to the G8, and he has invited President Putin to Washington for a White House summit.
None of this is coping with the problem as it exists. This is all an attempt to show Western publics that something is being done. But really, it’s not.
What should West do?
So, how should the West be reacting to Russian aggression across all of these different domains and what should the West be doing here in Ukraine. It begins with sanctions — sanctions are not a throw-away, they are not insignificant, but the ones that have been applied so far, have been insignificant. What Western leaders have not told you when they apply sanctions is that they are playing a clever trick. They claim to impose sectoral economic sanctions on Russia, but they do not.
When Western countries sanctioned Iran, they out in place asset freezes against all Iranian banks, causing the Iranian gross domestic product to decline by 9 percent for three straight years between 2012 and 2015. Against Russia, they have sanctioned only one bank with asset freezes — Bank Rossiya, it was the 26th largest bank by the time it was sanctioned. None of the main Russian financial institutions has been sanctioned with assets freezes. It is time to do that now. Secondly, we cannot counter Russia’s hybrid aggression and build a massive pipeline from Russia to Germany. It is necessary to cancel the Nord Stream II pipeline at a minimum until Russia withdraws troops from Ukraine. Germany can’t have it both ways. They can build the pipeline, when Russian forces leave, when Crimea is again Ukrainian, they can build all the pipelines they want.
NATO must act
Thirdly, in addition to imposing costs, NATO can also impose costs in a different way, by increasing its military capabilities and denying Russia some of its objectives. First and foremost, in response to the most recent events, I strongly advocate for NATO leaders to take a look at putting in place a standing NATO maritime presence in the Black Sea.
We have three NATO allies who are littoral states of the Black Sea, two close NATO partners, Georgia and Ukraine. And it's past time that NATO started to assert itself in this region and not allow Russia to rein dominance the Black Sea basin.
Fourth, as we apply greater lever- age to Russia, the United States can no longer stand by the sidelines and outsource its diplomacy to other. The days when we could say that the Normandy Format was the proper place for achieving diplomatic resolutions should be over. I’m not saying Germany and France should be excluded from the diplomacy, but the United States should tell our friends and allies in Paris and Berlin that we are joining the table and the discussion, we will have a seat whether they like it or not, and we’ll be happy to work with them to apply pressure to Mr. Putin to actually resolve the conflict.
Ukraine also has is homework caught up for it.
The West can do a lot, but Russia’s aggression cannot be stopped obviously without Ukraine being involved. And they are involved in this fight — you have suffered more than anyone, close to 11,000 lives have been lost. But in addition to brave Ukrainian men and women fighting for their country, this country also needs to fight internally to become the liberal democracy that Putin doesn’t want it to become. You have to change your oligarchic system of power in order to be able to reform.
All those things…like decentralization, customs reform, agricultural reform, are necessary. None of those succeeds until you from an oligarchic-run political system to one that is decentralized and truly democratic.
Michael Carpenter, senior director with the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C., delivers the keynote speech at the 7th Kyiv Post Tiger Conference in Kyiv on Dec. 11, 2018. (Volodymyr Petrov)
Ukrainian paratroopers salute at an air base Ozerne in Zhytomyr Oblast, 130 kilometers west of Kyiv, on Dec. 6, 2018. (AFP)