Relations between the U.S. and Russia have hit the lowest level since the end of the Cold War. Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, accusing it of assisting separatists in eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, Moscow has outrightly rejected Western allegations, and accused the West of plotting to topple the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Will the U.S. strategy of “raising the cost” for Russia work?
Last month, the Pentagon approved the plan to station hundreds of howitzers, tanks, and other lethal weapons in the Baltics and other European countries. For the past several months, Washington has been considering sending $3 billion worth of lethal weapons to Ukraine. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Secretary of the State John Kerry, and the U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove have all advocated the move to arm Ukraine. However, President Obama is not pushing this agenda despite growing pressure on him to do it.
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Josh Cohen, The Great Debate columnist at Reuters, believes that arming Ukraine will only make things worse. So far, the U.S. has said that it would “raise the cost” for Russia to an extent that Vladimir Putin is forced to back down. Putin has been hiding the number of Russian casualties in Ukraine from his citizens to avoid a domestic opposition to the war. U.S. officials argue that if there are widespread casualties and the number of deaths become public, Putin will be forced to go back from Ukraine to prevent a domestic backlash.
Russia cannot afford to go back
It makes sense, but not in reality, says Cohen. Ukraine’s geographical location is “supremely important” to Russia, but not equally important to the U.S. It is a “must have” for Moscow, but “nice to have” for Washington. Putin’s 89% domestic approval ratings suggest that he has won people’s support for the Ukraine issue. Now he cannot afford to go back without hurting his political standing in Russia.
So, even if the U.S. provides lethal arms to Ukraine, Moscow is more likely to double down on its support to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Last year when Ukrainian forces were close to eliminating separatists, the Kremlin sent Russian troops to Donbass and other fronts, leading to a defeat of Ukrainian forces. Even those American officials who support the move to arm Ukraine have admitted that Ukrainian army with American weapons still cannot defeat a determined Russia.