OPINION | Ukraine: Time to Start Thinking About "Plan B" by C.K. Mallory IV

OPINION | Ukraine: Time to Start Thinking About "Plan B" by C.K. Mallory IV






















By C.K.Mallory IV
Executive Summary:
The West will likely fail to negotiate an acceptable end to the Ukraine crisis. However, with Russiaʼs fundamental war goal of a land corridor to Crimea as yet unattainable, Moscowʼs liquid reserves likely to run out within about a year and a leader who has escalated after every setback during this fifteen-month crisis, now is not the time for Western military counter-escalation. Instead, the U.S. and its European allies (the “Allies”) should acknowledge that short-term striving for a return to the status quo ante is unrealistic and start building the consensus for a united long-term response to Russiaʼs revanchism: a positive joint future vision for the vestiges of Ukraine; openness for reconciliation with Moscow, but only under certain conditions; maintaining and institutionalizing the Kremlinʼs isolation and sanctions; and an accelerated program to shore up NATOʼs conventional defenses.
Why “Plan A” Will Likely Founder
The Charter of Minsk Agreement II
Multiple negotiations over the last fifteen months have utterly failed to resolve the Ukraine crisis. Putin has deliberately drawn out the talks while continuing to arm and support his proxies. Merkel has talked with Putin over forty times and met with him regularly to no avail, giving Russia and its proxies vital time to enlarge the territory under their control—by some 50% since the Minsk Agreements were signed in September 2014. Thirty-eight countries have imposed sanctions. The ruble has fallen by 50%, despite Russian interest rates soaring from under six to seventeen percent. Over $150 billion has fled the country. GDP will contract by 3% or circa $80 billion in 2015. The loss in trade with the EU in 2014 alone was valued at $50 billion. A 55% collapse in crude oil prices has exacerbated Moscowʼs economic plight and Russiaʼs remaining liquid foreign exchange reserves of circa $203 billion will probably run out in just over a year. Yes, sanctions are definitely biting, but Moscowʼs pain threshold and endurance will likely continue to exceed our own and sanctions have not changed Moscowʼs behavior. Putinʼs track-record to date is one of escalating in response to setbacks. As Russia probably has no more than a year in which to attain its war goals, significant escalation on Moscowʼs part and/or miscalculation leading to a more general conflict are definite risks. Most of the Allies lack the stomach for supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine, kicking Russia out of the SWIFT financial communication system, or including Ukraine in NATO. The perceived escalation risks are too high and the Allies are less unified than Russia in their willingness to bear the associated pain. The asymmetry in interests between the two sides almost ensures that the Allies will blink first.
A Positive but Realistic “Plan B”
We should lead with a positive goal of working together with the Allies to empower the next generation of Ukrainians to build a functioning democracy. Although it is a generational undertaking, a truly “Free Ukraine” would comprise our strongest future asset. At the same time, it is in our interest to have a cooperative relationship with Russia. We should signal that we remain open to an improved relationship, but not at the price of our principles. If Russia feels that its interests have been trampled on, we are more than willing to discuss what can be done to address these concerns. It must be noted, however, that we have already been doing this for some time and it has not gotten us anywhere. Talks should not cause us to interpret the invasions of Ukraine that have occurred as dis-positive. We are willing to talk about improving relations if potential future alternative, compromise solutions for Crimea and the Donbass are included among the items “on the table” for negotiation. Autonomy for Crimea within a federal structure in which the Donbass remains within Ukraine is an example of a possible path towards closure. As freedom and the standard of living in Ukraine improve, the residents of Crimea and the Donbass will eventually vote with their feet.
US troops with their Ukrainian Counterparts 
The U.S.ʼs short-term priority should be to contain the conflict by achieving an end to hostilities. We should avoid repeating signals sent in the aftermath of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia that convinced the Kremlin that the West was willing to forgive and forget and return to normal ways of doing business quickly. This encouraged the subsequent invasions of Ukraine. Moscowʼs isolation and sanctions must be maintained and institutionalized and its soft-power must be curbed until Putinʼs policy changes. To be able send our message to a large Russian audience directly, U.S. International Broadcasting must be reorganized fundamentally to stand up 24x7 direct broadcast satellite television news services into Russia and other key countries. This is a 5-10 year endeavor. Whether we like it or not, the idea of a “rollback” of Russian and insurgent gains in Ukraine is unrealistic and cannot be achieved. We are being confronted with the fact that we have to prepare for tensions with Russia that will last years.
The Risks
There is a risk that Moscow and others will misinterpret the policies advocated above as naive and/or a climb down and feel emboldened to take further risks. To guard against this, the Allies must find the determination, cohesion and funds to strengthen weaknesses in new NATO member states and to accelerate planning for the contingencies of renewed Russian intervention in the Baltic, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia or elsewhere in the Caucuses.
NATO is not currently in a position to mount an extended conventional defense against a Russian incursion in the Baltic republics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia)—whether hybrid or conventional. Putin may gamble that NATO membershipʼs deterrent value to these countries is questionable, because Moscow senses the U.S. will not put its homeland at risk by using unconventional weapons to protect these states. This question mark hanging over the U.S. security guarantee also extends to the Central European tier of countries (in first order Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, but the Czech Republic and Bulgaria as well). Given Russian behavior in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltic republics, it is conceivable we might once again be confronted with “little green men” or hybrid warfare on NATOʼs Eastern borders as early as this year.
The Insurance
NATO Head Quarters
One way of mitigating these risks is to base significant numbers (i.e. multiple divisions or a corps) of existing European- and U.S.-based U.S. forces on the Eastern borders of the Baltic and Central European NATO states. These forces would have a defensive posture designed to destroy columns of conventional armor and/or heavy equipment crossing into NATO territory, but could also be structured so as to be able to boost internal policing activity against hybrid insurgent forces. In either event, significant air support will be required. “Boots on the ground” are not optional—they are the sine qua non. In small numbers, U.S. Army Europe is already there; however, it will have to be training along NATOʼs Eastern borders in much larger numbers well into the future. A big U.S. Army presence is designed to serve as a trip-wire. In the event of invasion or hybrid warfare, a large U.S. television audience would be confronted with U.S. casualties and fatalities fomented by Moscow. This in turn will force U.S. politicians into action, thereby reducing the risk of these countriesʼ abandonment.
NATO can strengthen its deterrence of Russian intervention in the Baltic area, if it can call upon logistical support and basing in Finland and Sweden in the event of incursion or war. Similarly, basing forces on NATOʼs Eastern borders can only be achieved if over-dependence on existing routes of supply and Slovak and Hungarian political recalcitrance can be surmounted. Finlandʼs and Swedenʼs reservations about closer alignment with NATO center around: their traditional neutrality; discomfort about possible Russian retaliation; unease about past and potential future NATO out-of-area operations; the domestic implications of a large and high-profile NATO in-country footprint; and limitations on national sovereignty associated with basing agreements. What has been missing to date is top level engagement designed to dispel these misgivings, and emphasize U.S. commitment in order to induce the leadership of these countries to cross the Rubicon. Diplomatic engagement can be used to obtain logistical corridors into Poland and Romania. Concerted, repeated political and diplomatic intervention by their larger neighbors and the European great powers will be required to redirect Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague from their lukewarm solidarity against Putin.
Implementation
Moscow does not face the challenge of holding a disparate coalition of twenty-eight NATO member states together. Consequently, its tactical flexibility to make speedy decisions within the year or so left to achieve its goals before its liquid reserves run out is significantly greater than that of the Allies. To complicate matters further, the EU is seriously bogged down trying to rescue its supra-national Euro-zone project and is internally divided over how to deal with Russia. While the steps required to implement the fundamentally positive vision described above are individually straightforward, in their totality, they are complex.
A discreet listening tour where a frank and unofficial exchange of views can take place with experts could be meaningful in helping an incoming administration achieve buy-in to a shared U.S.-European future vision for policy towards Russia and Ukraine. Unofficial reactions can be solicited and governments can be sounded out in a non-binding fashion.
Time is of the essence. If ever there was a moment that called for visionary, discreet, expeditious, inclusive, solutions-oriented U.S. leadership it is now.
This article was published on April 26, 2015 at LinkedIn Pulse 
Author - C.K.Mallory IV, former CEO of The Aspen Institute Germany can be reached at his LinkedIn Profile
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