On Friday, President Obama noted that “any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.” But it also matters deeply to the United States of America and the tools Obama hopes to use to resolve this crisis.
Russia is dividing the territory of a nation in Europe, and what happens next is not just about Ukraine but about the future of the post-cold war world order, the institutions that established that order, and the agreements they were built upon.
If the Russian invasion of Ukraine yields no response that stops the aggression, the value of the OSCE is undermined. If or how NATO responds to a significant Russian military challenge at its frontier will reshape the mission of the alliance. If Europe cannot respond to defend an aspirant nation from direct interference in its European ascension, European neighborhood policies must be questioned. If the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders are no longer protected by the 1994 Budapest agreement that guaranteed Ukrainian borders in exchange for the nuclear arsenal inherited in the Soviet collapse, all nuclear non-proliferation agreements will be weakened and seem optional. And if this is how Russia behaves as a member of the G-8 and the Council of Europe, the usefulness of those memberships must be weighed.
Shades of Georgia in 2008 are undeniable, and the Crimean action follows the same script under the same ominous Olympic shadow, both in terms of the military aspects – the deployment of an army to the border of Ukraine under the guise of a military exercise, the activation of existing troops on the ground, the quick seizing of key transportation, communications, defense, and governance assets – and the parallel non-military effort – massive “passportization” to grant Ukrainians Russian passports and de facto citizenship, calls by new authorities claiming to represent Crimea for Russian intervention, unlabeled Russian troops being used to manufacture the appearance of strong separatist movements.
We have to stop giving credence to this game and remember that responsible, inclusive governance within existing borders is the way ahead for all the people of Ukraine. It is doubtful that Russia will protect the rights Crimean Tatars, for example, or of Muslims living in Crimea. Who will intervene to defend their rights? In Georgia, the Russian solution was displacing more than 400,000 people, 10 percent of the national population – how many will have to be displaced in Ukraine to create a convenient political fairy tale?
A process that took months in Georgia has been much quicker in Ukraine. Russia has paid no price for the continuation of the 20 percent rule – to buy your freedom from their sphere of influence, you should be prepared to sacrifice 20 percent of your territory to the empire – while the West continues to have no response but endless negotiations to maintain the peace inside an occupation. Russia does not even live up to the terms of the ceasefire agreement they signed with Georgia in 2008. Georgia has paid the price, as will Moldova, and Ukraine, and maybe Russian-dominant northern Kazakhstan is next. Georgia shows that one justification of invasion just leads to another.
The international community should make no mistake that the outcome of Georgia and Ukraine will look the same given the same international response. Ukraine is ten times the size, with almost 200,000 military and paramilitary forces. If it comes to military confrontation, Ukraine’s increased capacity—and the will to fight coming out of the current revolution—will mean more casualties and a prolonged conflict.
Two things must happen now. First, we must avoid that bloodshed. Second, Russia must pay an immediate and real price.
Diplomatically, Russia should be suspended from the G-8, and threatened with expulsion from the Council of Europe. The West should make it clear that we’re not rehashing old arguments on “buffer states”; the EU should sign its Association Agreement with the Government of Ukraine as part of a package of economic and other support for Ukraine, and NATO should extend a membership action plan to Georgia.
Economically, the U.S. should immediately use the mechanism provided by the Magnitsky Act to sanction Russian officials, especially those with economic interests in the West, and the EU should sanction Russian state-owned companies operating in Europe. Russia should be isolated.
Militarily, the U.S. should deploy the 6th Fleet to Crimea as a sign of engagement and support of Ukraine and potentially for humanitarian intervention, and all American and European companies selling arms and military technologies to Russia should freeze these transfers.
For those of us in the Georgian government when the Russian invasion started in 2008, we hope that people will begin to see that no matter what, that war would have begun. But though Russia is moving frighteningly fast, we are closer to Georgia circa May 2008 than August. Let’s give Ukraine a better option than an August war. Let’s be honest that “restraint” is not needed from all sides, but one side – the Russians – who have unilaterally staged and provoked this crisis in order to achieve political goals in their near abroad.
There is time to stop the war if there is a strong and unified response to support the legitimate government of a Ukraine whole and free and give them options to prevent and undo – and not just maintain – the annexation of their territory. This should be part of a broader effort to re-energize the completion of a Europe whole, free, and at peace in the face of a Russia that seems to believe the peace of its neighbors is still a material threat to them.
Temuri Yakobashvili, a senior Transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, has previously served as deputy prime minister of Georgia and Georgian ambassador to the United States.