U.S. Reacts to Russian Cease-fire Violation

Tension with Russia has increased once again due to cease-fire violations. For the past year, conflict in Ukraine has put pressure on the already unstable relationship between the United States and Russia. An agreement was made Feb. 12 to stabilize the violence in the eastern part of Ukraine. This agreement included both Ukrainian forces and Russian-supported Ukrainian separatists pulling back from the front line of the violence. Another point in the cease-fire was that Russia would stop providing the separatists with heavy weaponry. After a meeting with the British Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, United States Secretary of State John Kerry told the Associated Press that despite the cease-fire, Russia continues supplying weaponry and employing “land grabbing” tactics in eastern Ukraine far past Crimea. The United States, Britain and other concerned countries are discussing how to handle the violation.

Kerry noted that the United States would impose “economic consequences” for the violation of the cease-fire, but the extent to which the U.S. can further impose sanctions is not as severe as the ability of the European Union, considering Europe purchases Russia’s natural gas. Sanctions from the U.S. have been utilized since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, and without similar European actions, the effects of further sanctions would be minimal. British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond did not predict further sanctions, even though he recognized Russia’s breach of the agreement. The European Union is discussing the violations as a collective which dims the hopes of a strong reaction because powerful countries like the United Kingdom cannot act without the influence of those more hesitant to further restrict trade. Russia is the European Union’s third largest trading partner and provides many member countries with their main source of natural gas for heat and power. When assessing the European Union’s position with Russia in terms of trade, it becomes evident that Ukraine cannot hope for a strong reaction from allies in Europe.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko instead is calling on aid from the United Nations. He is asking for a peacekeeping mission to harden the battle lines. This request displays that Ukraine has accepted its land losses and admitted that they can no longer handle this situation without foreign aid. However, the likelihood for U.N. assistance is low because Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as such, has veto power on all U.N. mandates. As for other international aid, before the cease-fire was settled, NATO had a response force in Ukraine. There is no news about their response to Russia’s violation of the agreement, but Russia has declared that it views NATO’s encroachment on its borders as a security threat.

Ukraine has already noted that it needs foreign support in order to handle this situation, but many of its allies are currently in situations in which that is not feasible. The United States’ wellbeing is not as linked to Russia as parts of Europe, and due to that, it is possible for the U.S. to impose further sanctions. President Barack Obama issued executive orders in March and December of 2014 in which he imposed sanctions against Russia. These sanctions limit the financing of six of Russia’s largest banks and four of their energy companies. Credit incentives to export to Russia have also been stopped. In terms of further sanctions, Kerry did not mention specifics, but he did say that they would have a broader impact.

The further sanctions might not be enough to stop Russia. The fact that Europe is more economically tied with Russia explains their hesitance to act, but it also displays that sanctions imposed by the EU would be much more effective. If Europe refuses to place sufficient sanctions, the U.S. must act further to support Ukraine. The United States’ government is currently contemplating sending weaponry to Ukraine. This proposal comes with plenty of reservations, but if the EU refuses to press sanctions, it is a step that must be taken. There would be less hesitation to the concept of providing weaponry if more specific terms than “lethal weapons” were used. The vague proposal could involve guns, tanks, or even bombs. Before further debate, specifics must be provided. The United States has a history of sending weapons as a form of support; in the 80s, the U.S. supplied guns to Afghanistan to help them fight the Soviet Union. Recently, those guns have been used against U.S. troops in conflicts in the region. The history of the U.S. provision of weapons should not prevent future support but guide it instead. This time when supplying the weapons, there should be a specification that mandates their return at the end of the conflict. This would prevent the aid from backfiring as it did in Afghanistan. Ukraine has no other allies on which to rely. Kerry emphasized that the “sovereignty and integrity of a nation” is at risk. The U.S. must provide support if no one else will.

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