America and the Crimean Crisis

Since gaining independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been struggling with her identity and stability. For more than twenty years the country has not been able to build a strong government, put an end to corruption, or successfully implement economic reforms and has become dependent upon Russia. The current crisis in Ukraine began as a protest against the government’s plans to forge closer trade ties with the European Union, which has now led to numerous confrontations between Russia and Western powers. At this point, Russia and Ukraine have not been able to restore stability to the latter’s government. Recently, the United States has begun the process of applying sanctions and policies on and to the involved parties in order to help bring Ukraine back to its feet. On multiple occasions the US has expressed her desire for Ukraine to become a stable democracy with secure political and economic connections with the EU. In response to the Crimean crisis, US and EU policy makers have formulated a series of steps in order to assist Ukraine in reviving her government and placing the country on a path of steadiness.

            The Crimean crisis, resulting from the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the port city of Sevastopol by Russia, along with the deploying of tens of thousands of forces along the border of eastern Ukraine, has caused the tension between pro-Russian separatists and the new government of Kiev to escalate. The origin of the crisis unfolded in the aftermath of the Ukrainian revolution. The annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia was considered by the international political community to be an extremely bold move. As many have already said, this move marks a serious challenge to established principles of world order such as sovereignty and non-interventionism. What soon caused not only a surprise but an increase to the struggle within Ukraine occurred on February 21st, 2014. This date marked the fleeing of the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Prior to his departure, there were a number of agreements and policies that Yanukovych had previously approved that he began to abandon e.g. his cabinet’s abandonment of an agreement that would create closer ties with the European Union in favor of policy that looked towards a future with closer ties to Russia.

            The point, for Yanukovych’s administration, of working towards a closer relationship with Russia was to gain assistance in dealing with protesters. In January, the Parliament passed restrictive anti-protest laws which later result in the fatality of two protesters. These anti-protest laws did not last much longer; when Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned, the Ukranian parliament annuled them. Parliament proceeded to pass an amnesty bill promising to drop charges against all those arrested during the unrest on the condition that protesters leave government buildings. The opposition rejected these conditions on the grounds that Yanukovych had signed a compromise deal with opposition leaders. After he fled, protesters took control of the presidential administration buildings after which Parliament voted to remove the president from power. As of February 26th, 2014, Parliament named speaker Olexander Turchynov as interim president. Later, an arrest warrant was issued against the former president. The new government proceeded to make concessions to the demonstrators. These concessions included the nomination of Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister and the dissolution of the Berkut police unit which was  rumored to have been the responsible party in the fatality of the two protesters mentioned above .

            As Ukraine began its descent into civil unrest, the Obama Administration gave a public warning to Russia in which the Commander in Chief urged Russia to discontinue its ongoing intervention in Crimea. President Obama stated that he is:

“deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine…any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.. [it would be] a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws” (White House).

America’s first official stance on the Ukrainian conflict was that Russia’s involvement constituted an invasion, not assistance. On March 1st, 2014, President Obama had a phone conversation with Vladimir Putin, telling him that the invasion of Ukraine was a “violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity … [and a] breach of international law.” He indicated that Russia’s current course of action could lead to  “greater political and economic isolation” and threatened to withdraw the United States from the 40th G8 summit (DeYoung). As it stands, the US  considers Russia to be acting against the interests of the Ukrainian people.

            Through the use and threat of stronger sanctions, the US hopes to raise the costs associated with Russia’s continued involvement in Crimea. The White House has insisted that sanctions against Russia should be implemented sooner rather than later. The ultimate goal of the US in this situation is to come together with the European Union, as a multinational force. Assisting in a weakening of Putin’s authority will bring stability not only to Ukraine, but countries within the EU as well. What the US has determined as the key to damaging Putin’s government is the issuing of sanctions. US sanctions on Russia would diminish Putin’s ability to keep his promises of economic growth to the Russian people. Though Russia is enforcing a wide bandwidth of control over Ukraine, Putin does not have as much power as most people would assume.  In addition to diminishing Putin’s involvement in the Ukraine, the US can strategically weaken major companies key to the Russian economy in order to break Putin’s resolve. The ability to seriously disrupt the Russian economy gives the US a degree of leverage in the ongoing negotiations.

            Another problem that the Obama administration has noted is that Russia does not encourage  the pro-Russian separatists to open a dialogue with the international community and allow for compromise to ensue. It is speculated that Russia has been encouraging rebel activities in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Yatsenyuk stated that “attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe” (Pengelly 1). Additional, the US has stated that “we could send weapons to Ukraine but it would not make a difference to their ability to stand up to Russia” (Pengelly 1). An increase in armaments cannot provide a quick fix for Ukraine.

            Last Wednesday, Obama called for Russia to “de-escalate” the situation in Ukraine and warned Russia of the further economic isolation that would follow if Moscow were to not heed America’s warning. The United States and Europe have come together in support for Ukrainian independence. While American sentiment is not especially sympathetic to Russia, there remains room for negotiation. President Obama announced during a speech in Belgium that the door for diplomacy has been left open in order to resolve the situation. Later within the same speech, President Obama said that Russia’s annexation of Crimea “must be met with condemnation—not because we’re trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be upheld” (Smith-Spark 1). The Obama administration, along with the other countries of Europe, do not want to isolate Russia, but at this point it seems that they cannot give Russia much of a choice. What a new U.S. intelligence assessment has recently concluded is that a Russian invasion into the eastern part of Ukraine has a greater possibility of happening than what was previously predicted. US officials “believe the Russian buildup gives Moscow the ability to move rapidly into Ukraine without the United States being able to predict it when it happens” (Smith-Spark 1). Two officials of the Obama Administration briefly described the assessment, but had to refrain from stating their names due to the sensitivity of the information they had. Though nothing has been determined, officials have stated that within the last few days there have been a number of signs that deserve some caution.

“’This has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be,’ one official said. “The Russian buildup is reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both the number of units and their capabilities’ the official said’” (Smith-Spark 1).

At this moment in time is it is of paramount importance to the US that the world be reassured that Russia will not overpower and seize control of Ukraine.

            On March 17th, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13661: “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine” which expanded the scope of the previous sanctions imposed by EO 13660, to include the freezing of certain Russian government officials’ assets in the US and blocking their entry into the US . The more the US restricts Russia with regulations that prevent her from entering Ukraine, the more Ukraine has a chance of lifting herself out of crisis. The 113th United States Congress also took into consideration several pieces of legislation that could provide Ukraine with loan guarantees, aid, and sanctions “against anyone deemed by the president to have undermined Ukraine’s security or independence, or to have engaged in corruption in Ukraine or Russia.” These bills include: H.R. 4152; 113th Congress, S. 2124; 113th Congress, and the Ukraine Support Act (H.R. 4278; 113th Congress).  All three bills were introduced and considered last March. The US cannot  predict with certainty how much longer these sanctions and countermeasure will hold Russia back, but it is hoped and believed that all of the latter contribute towards a restoration of piece for the people of Ukraine.

            The US and the EU are focused on insuring a future wherein Ukraine can become a country of her own. It is plain that the present situation is but one of the many struggles that Ukraine has had on her journey towards long term stability since her independence from the Soviet Union. It is necessary to note that Ukraine has never been able to provide her citizens with long term peace, stability, or security.  Russia’s relationship with Ukraine is touted by Moscow as one of the powerful raising up the weak; this is not the sort of relationship that the US and the EU observes.

Works Cited:

“Executive Order 13660 – Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine” (Press release). White House Office of the Press Secretary. March 6, 2014. Web. 24 July 2014.

DeYoung, Karen. “Obama speaks with Putin by phone, calls on Russia to pull forces back to Crimea bases”. Washington Post. Web. 24 July 2014.

“Statement by the President on Ukraine”. White House. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.

McMahon, Robert. “Ukraine in Crisis.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 5 May 2014. Web. 24 July 2014.

Pengelly, Martin. “Ukraine Crisis: US Will Expand Sanctions on Russian Power Brokers.” TheGuardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 27 Apr. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014.

Smith-Spark, Laura, Barbara Starr, Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Victoria Butenko, Alexander Felton, Radina Gigova, and Boriana Milanova. “Obama: U.S. and Europe United over Ukraine Crisis.” CNN. Cable News Network, 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 July 2014.

“Timeline: Ukraine’s Political Crisis.” Ukraine’s Political Crisis: Key Events in Ukrainian Anti-government Protests That Have Been Followed by Political Upheaval and International Crisis. Al Jazeera, 24 July 2014. Web. 24 July 2014.

“Ukraine Crisis Timeline.” BBC News. BBC, 5 July 2014. Web. 24 July 2014.