NATO arms sales to Ukraine: the spark that starts a war with Russia?

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The United States and its NATO allies are busy arming Ukraine and engaging in other actions that encourage Kyiv leaders to believe they have strong Western support in their confrontation with Russia. and the Russian-backed separatists. The conflict between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces in the Donbass region, which has remained weak in recent years thanks to the fragile Minsk accords, shows undeniable signs of heating up. This development exacerbates the already dangerous tensions between Kiev and Moscow. There is growing speculation that Russia may even launch an invasion of Ukraine.

Western leaders are pursuing a reckless strategy that generates increasingly sharp warnings from Kremlin officials. On two occasions since early April, Russia has also carried out disturbing military deployments near its border with Ukraine. Shortly before the previous episode, the Biden administration announced another $ 125 million arms sale to Ukraine. Although the transaction was temporarily put on hold in June, $ 60 million of this package was delivered during US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Kiev in late October.

The United States is not the only NATO member to have made destabilizing arms sales to Ukraine. Turkey is equipping the Ukrainian army with drones, and in late October Kiev forces launched a drone attack that destroyed rebel artillery batteries in the Donbass. Moscow has issued strong protests against the escalation in both Ukraine and Turkey. A further deployment of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border also followed, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern that Russia could execute a “resumption” of its 2014 military offensive when the government Vladimir Putin captured Crimea and then provided military support to secessionists in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine.

Arms sales are only one component of the growing support for Kiev from the United States and some of its NATO allies. President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed Washington’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against “Russian aggression.” US and Ukrainian troops have conducted joint military exercises (war games) on several occasions, and Ukrainian forces have been included in NATO military exercises. Indeed, Ukraine hosted the latest version of these maneuvers in September 2021. In response to pressure from Washington, Ukraine is being treated as a member of NATO from all points of view.

Such actions are needlessly destabilizing. Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are already making chauvinist statements about reclaiming Crimea and crushing separatists in Donbass. The country’s official defense strategy document adopted in March 2021 explicitly includes these goals.

Logically, such boasting is without substance; Ukrainian military forces do not measure up to Russia’s in terms of quantity or quality. However, a belief in US or NATO military support may cause Ukrainian leaders to abandon caution and stage an unfortunate confrontation. Once before, the United States led an overly enthusiastic client to assume it had Washington’s backing, and the result was an unnecessary war in which the client came out bruised and humiliated.

The administration of George W. Bush foolishly encouraged Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to believe that his country was an important ally of the United States and that the United States and NATO would come to Georgia’s rescue if it did. engaged in a conflict with Russia. Washington supplied millions of dollars in armaments to Tbilisi and even trained Georgian troops. Bush also urged US NATO allies to give Georgia (and Ukraine) membership in the alliance, albeit to no avail.

In August 2008, Saakashvili launched a military offensive to regain control of South Ossetia (one of the two secessionist regions). The Georgian offensive claimed victims of Russian peacekeepers deployed there since the early 1990s, and Moscow responded with a large-scale counteroffensive that quickly led to the occupation of several cities. Georgians and the arrival of Russian troops on the outskirts of the capital. Despite Washington’s supporting rhetoric, Saakashvili discovered that the United States was unwilling to wage a war on Georgia’s behalf, and he had to sign a peace accord on Russia’s terms.

The parallels between this fiasco and current Western, especially American, policy regarding Ukraine are alarming. Washington’s arms sales in particular are helping to create a dangerous situation involving Ukraine. President Barack Obama apparently understood the potential of such sales to provoke Russia and start armed conflict. He refused to implement the arms transfer to Kiev, despite congressional legislation allowing the measure.

Unfortunately, Obama’s successors weren’t so wise or cautious. Despite the ubiquitous duck that Donald Trump was gentle on Russia, his administration has executed several arms sales to Ukraine. In 2017 and 2019, those packages even included sophisticated Javelin anti-tank missiles, despite vehement protests from Moscow. Similar generous arms sales continued under Biden.

Washington and its NATO partners must withdraw from their increasingly dangerous policies. The Kremlin has made it clear on several occasions that it sees Ukraine as a major Russian security concern and that efforts to make that country a Western military ally risk crossing a bright red line. To adopt measures that encourage a volatile client to indulge in provocations that he cannot stand if his stronger opponent reacts by escalating the confrontation is gross foreign policy misconduct. Arming Ukraine with sophisticated weapons is a classic example of such madness. The United States, Turkey and other Kiev facilitators must change course before turning the latent conflict in Ukraine into a conflagration.

Ted Galen Carpenter, Senior Research Fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and Contributing Editor at National Interest, is the author of twelve books and over 950 articles on international affairs.

Image: Reuters.

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