Donilon: US has 'a great deal of leverage' in Ukraine

Former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on Thursday said the West “has a great deal of leverage” in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, contrary to recent analyses. 

During an event at Brookings Institution, Donilon rejected claims that the United States can’t do much to influence the situation.

“There’s a lot of commentary that, in fact, the West and the United States doesn’t have a lot of leverage. That’s just not true,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin can “stand defiantly in political posture,” Donilon explained, but he can’t do that with Russia's economy, which Donilon said would be “vulnerable” to sanctions.

“I think that the West has a great deal of leverage, frankly.”

Some experts have said imposing sanctions against Russia would not have a major effect on Putin. 

Donilon served as President Obama’s national security adviser from 2010 until last June, when he left the administration. Susan Rice succeeded him.

Asked how the conflict will play out, Donilon said “I don’t think it’s clear,” but added the U.S. and the rest of Europe are “on the right track.”

Shoring up Ukraine’s new government financially, deescalating the crisis and reinforcing the U.S. commitment to NATO could spur progress, Donilon said. 

“[The U.S. must] indicate to President Putin that acting illegally can upend the post-Cold War order of borders and acting without international law — that there’s a cost to that.” 

The U.S. has already pledged this week a $1 billion aid package to help Ukraine’s new government transition. On Thursday, the Obama administration also announced sanctions against Russia’s government as a consequence for invading Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in Ukraine.

Donilon also touched on the war on Afghanistan, explaining that in tandem with the White House, he’s in favor of a leaving a small residual force behind after Dec. 31. 

If the U.S. leaves completely, Donilon warns of a “cascading effect” in which the Europeans, NATO allies and aid organizations would leave, too. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused so far to sign a bilateral agreement with the U.S., which would outline an American military presence there after 2014.

The likely president to succeed Karzai would probably favor an agreement, Donilon said.

“President’s Karzai’s posture on this has been reckless, quite frankly,” Donilon said.