Why Arming Ukraine Will Backfire

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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

Vladimir Putin has restarted his war against Ukraine, and the U.S. and Europe are unsure how to respond. While Europe has apparently decided that no toughening of economic sanctions is called for, some in Washington are calling for equipping Ukraine with lethal weapons.

Yet arming Ukraine is likely to backfire: It risks misleading the country — which is now pressing to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — into believing the U.S. will do what it takes to defeat Russia. It also risks encouraging Russia to expand the war, because it knows the U.S. and its NATO allies don’t have sufficient interests at stake to go all the way. The parallels often drawn with the war in Bosnia, where a U.S. arms and training program eventually turned the war and forced a peace, aren’t helpful: Serbia was a military minnow next to Putin’s nuclear-armed Russia.

The bottom line remains that the U.S. and its allies aren’t willing to fight Russia over Ukraine, and Ukraine’s interests aren’t served by escalating a fight that it’s almost certain to lose. Moreover, by the time the U.S. delivered the weapons and training needed to make a difference on the battlefield, Putin would already have taken the territory he wants to hold. The sooner Ukraine’s leaders understand this, the better.

The U.S. and its allies should make clear to Ukraine that its NATO ambitions are unrealistic. Right or wrong, the alliance doesn’t want Ukraine, and Russia sees its membership in NATO as a red line. So long as that’s the case, the U.S. should stay out of eastern Ukraine.

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