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What the Senate Gets Wrong About Ukraine

Author: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
July 12, 2014
Wall Street Journal


Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reminded us this week why no one wants Congress to run foreign policy. Both Democrats and Republicans lit into Victoria Nuland, the State Department's top official for Ukraine policy, berating her for the administration's failure to impose new sanctions on Russia.

The senators were right about one thing: The U.S. has repeatedly threatened tough new measures, only to back off when it could not persuade European governments to pull the trigger. But the result has not been what you'd expect—or what the committee was so fired up about. In Ukraine, the good guys are energized and confident; the bad guys are in retreat; Russian public opinion is newly hostile to the idea of military involvement; and Russian President Vladimir Putin seems confused about what to do next.

This is a new strategic environment, and it calls for a little recalibration. Yes, it's crucial that Moscow continue to worry about sanctions if it keeps aiding–or even allowing aid to reach–separatist groups in eastern Ukraine. (That's why President Petro Poroshenko's national security adviser, Andriy Parubiy, has urged the European Union to impose new measures when it meets on July 16.) Even so, the real test of good American policy will be what it has been since the crisis erupted: whether it can help Ukraine to succeed.

In coming weeks, that will mean everything from emergency humanitarian relief (so cities and towns held hostage by the separatists quickly see a difference when Kiev regains control) to economic support (so Ukraine can weather the impact of reforms—and Putin's trade war) and energy cooperation (Russia is still blocking gas supplies to Ukraine).

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