In a rare moment of agreement with the Obama administration, I have never been in the camp that says the United States should overtly provide offensive arms to the Ukrainian government in its fight with Russia. To me, this is just not a well thought-out strategy. As someone who has visited Russia often, America arming Ukraine will just play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy of making the United States the enemy. This is not America’s fight; although, we can assists in other ways, smarter ways, since rightly, the American government has decided that a free Ukraine is in the long-term interests of the United States.
I think Mr. Putin wants America to arm the Ukrainians. Russian media thrives on this stuff and therefore the people will believe, even more than they already do, that America is the enemy. The Ukrainian conflict is not all about taking territory in the East and keeping Ukraine from NATO and the European Union. It is also about keeping Mr. Putin and his minions in power. This conflict was started by the Kremlin for a reason. If you really look at what is happening in Russia, the scenario is telling.
There is an argument to be made that Mr. Putin came to power on the back of the conflict in Chechnya, which he won decisively and brutally. Again, the Chechen conflict had its purpose. Russians longed for a strongman that could win the war and give them certainty, make them proud of Russian strength. Sound familiar? It’s familiar because it is.
Do you remember what happened in Moscow only a few years ago? Hundreds of thousands of people marched and demonstrated against the Putin regime. This was not acceptable to the Kremlin. Something had to be done about this. Today this is not only impossible because you would be arrested, it is impossible because the thinking among the Russian people has changed. Mr. Putin has won the propaganda battle and Russians have bought it hook, line and sinker.
Mr. Putin is using the same playbook in Ukraine. He is giving the Russian people something to feel proud about. He is showing strong leadership. He is pushing all the right buttons. If America arms Ukraine, all we will be doing is strengthening Mr. Putin’s grip on power. That is a simple fact. We cannot provide enough weapons to defeat Russians in their own back yard. That goal is nonsense. All we will do is push the world toward World War III.
So what should America do? Nothing? That’s not what I am saying. We are supposed to be an enlightened, smart people. So why not be really smart and cunning about this problem? The best way to help Ukraine is to arm them not with weapons, but with economic progress. This is what scares the Kremlin the most, a prosperous Ukraine associated with the West.
Correctly, the International Monetary Fund is attempting to force Ukraine internally to change its corrupt system. This is the only way forward, to break the Soviet legacy of bribes and graft. The West should be firm in this goal and continue along this path. If Ukraine wants to continue along the Soviet model, then let them go. We can’t save them. That model is not worth spending American blood and treasure. We simply can’t afford that conflict. A corrupt Ukraine will implode eventually anyway and fit right in with the Russian system. So change is the only way forward.
The West needs to be much smarter and more effective in the information warfare campaign. We have Madison Avenue for goodness sake. Get creative. Tell the story of freedom, not just to Ukraine but to Russia as well. We used to do this — why not now? Reinvigorate the Voice of America in the Internet age. Put Silicon Valley on the job. As Patton said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Regarding arms, again, America should be much smarter. There are plenty of greedy arms dealers in the world. Let someone else sell them weapons. Find a different way. It would be stupid to get overtly involved.
The Ukrainian government is considering a law to allow foreign fighters in its military. Bravo! There is more than one way to skin this cat. Mercenaries anyone?
In closing, I’ll just add this one suggestion. Consider how you would feel if Russia were actively arming Mexico in a bid to reclaim former Mexican territory in the United States. I’m not saying that is a correct view, but that is the way Russians feel internally. Think about it.