- - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

With Vladimir Putin’s recent declaration that Russia has developed very sophisticated hypersonic intercontinental missiles, he has not abandoned aggressive action at the lower spectrum of warfare. Russia’s apparent nerve agent attack in the U.K. is the latest and most brazen in a long list of hybrid warfare against Western democracies.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament, “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.”

In 2006, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London with a poisonous radioactive isotope, and a subsequent British government inquiry found he had “probably” been assassinated on Kremlin orders.

In one of his last statements as U.S. secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said, “From Ukraine to Syria — and now the U.K. — Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”

Russia’s long list of rogue activities include annexation of the Crimea, military aggression in eastern Ukraine, cyber-attacks and hacking in Ukraine, Europe and the U.S., assassinations of opponents at home and abroad, and financial support for anti-European, nationalist populists. Ukraine is on the front-line of Russian aggression and deserves U.S. support in its defense of democracy and national sovereignty.

This month marks the four-year anniversary (March 18) of Russia’s military invasion into Ukraine and the first land grab in Europe since the 1930s. Russia’s military aggression has led to 30,000 civilian and combatant deaths, 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons, and untold destruction to property, infra-structure and the economy in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

The Obama administration, by design, was weak on Ukraine and President Obama’s foreign policy “red lines” were mere words for public consumption but were never intended to alter Moscow’s behavior. Although the U.S. had not only a moral duty, but, in effect, a treaty obligation to support Ukrainian security under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal.

Both the United States and Russia agreed to support Ukraine’s sovereignty. Mr. Obama’s response to Russian aggression in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine was to outsource the problem to Germany and France.

With Mr. Obama vetoing bipartisan congressional support for defensive military equipment to Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, elected in May 2014 as Russia was invading Ukraine, felt isolated internationally and received little concrete support.

Mr. Obama and the compromised State Department under Secretaries Clinton and Kerry sought to appease Russia with a reset after Vladimir Putin had invaded Georgia, and they failed to develop a coherent strategy on Ukraine. Support for the Magnitsky Act was opposed by Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry, but supported by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Mr. Obama’s ultimate dereliction of duty as commander-in-chief was in ignoring Russian cyber-attacks during the 2016 election campaign, only expelling Russian spies during his last month in office. Mr. Obama could not have set-up a more daunting transition for his predecessor on matters related to Ukraine and Eurasia.

The Trump administration’s strong support for Ukraine defies the false, ongoing media narrative that it is allegedly “pro-Russian.” Indeed, if anything, this label should be assigned to his predecessor. Mr. Trump and Mr. Poroshenko have both infused substance into the empty shell that the Washington-Kiev strategic partnership had been.

Today, the mood in Kiev among Ukrainians is optimistic because of President Poroshenko’s domestic reforms, the building of a powerful army and, most importantly, the strong support Ukraine is receiving from the United States.

Mr. Poroshenko should be credited with overseeing a country that since the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution has undertaken the greatest number of reforms since its 1991 independence. Mr. Poroshenko’s support for domestic nation-building, de-communization, security sector reform and the building of a powerful new military has breathed new life into once moribund U.S.-Ukraine relations.

Mr. Poroshenko has transformed the Ukrainian military into what the Center for Eastern Studies, a Polish think tank, described as the “best army Ukraine has ever had,” but it needs help with defensive equipment.

Mr. Trump and his national security team have demonstrated they are strong supporters of Ukraine, appointing skilled negotiators to key Russia policymaking positions, including Fiona Hill as the senior director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council and former Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker as the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Mr. Trump’s Russia team is viewed as the most experienced and knowledgeable since the Reagan administration.

The radical change in approach from empty rhetoric to concrete support is evident in the administration’s approval of Javelin anti-tank missiles and sniper rifles, scopes, and ammunition to the Ukrainian military. The U.S. commitment to combatting Russian aggression is also reflected in its support of bolstering NATO forward rapid-response units along Russia’s border, particularly in the Baltics and Poland.

U.S. trainers are embedded in Ukrainian units, assisting them in reforming and modernizing their command and control, battle tactics and military operations. Ukrainians experienced in Russian hybrid warfare are training NATO troops to counter future Russian aggression. DARPA, the Pentagon’s high-tech office, is now working with Ukraine’s military to counter Moscow’s hybrid warfare and cyber capabilities.

The threat of Russian aggression to Ukraine and Western democracies is real and must be opposed by a reinvigorated U.S.-Ukrainian strategic partnership led by Presidents Trump and Poroshenko. Clearly, it is time for all European countries to follow suit.

James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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