Ukraine’s future

It is in the strategic interests of the United States and Western Europe that Russian aggression in the east be countered and that a credible measure of deterrence be established in Ukraine. The west needs to increase the cost to Russian President Vladimir Putin of further aggression in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea is a chilling precursor of what Putin might do if left unchecked. However, Ukraine must earn western support by establishing the rule of law and eliminating corruption. 

Thus far, deterrence supported by the west has come in the form of sales of defensive weapons to Ukraine, including from the United States and Canada. In December 2017, the Trump administration approved the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles and Model M107A1 Sniper Systems. These actions raise the stakes for further Russian aggression, but additional defensive measures may be necessary to prevent Putin’s pursuit of his overriding goal of restoring Russian control over the buffer states that adjoin Russia. He has made clear his goal to reunite the Slavic lands that were once part of the U.S.S.R. In 2008, Russian forces invaded and occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and the western response was equivocal. In 2014, Russian forces invaded and occupied the Crimean Peninsula and Donbas in Ukraine, proving that without implementation of a credible and enforced threat of deterrence, Russian aggression will continue. It might even extend into the Baltics.

{mosads}Nonetheless, Ukraine has a responsibility to justify an increase in western support; it must enforce its customs laws and eliminate pervasive smuggling. Reports of widespread corruption along all of the Ukrainian border, not just in the east, are disturbing. Ukraine’s geographic location along major trafficking routes into Western Europe makes it a hub for transferring Afghan heroin and South American cocaine. Additionally, the Black Sea port of Odessa is historically a center for weapons smuggling. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has expanded black market opportunities for racketeers, especially for the illegal arms trade.

Further, Ukraine is deepening commercial ties with Iranian airlines, such as Mahan Air, that have been sanctioned by the west for their use to smuggle illegal arms to Iran. How can Ukraine seek western support while aiding sanctioned entities? It must stop assisting regimes that threaten the region and the world. Past United States assistance has gone toward improving Ukraine’s law enforcement capabilities and justice sectors, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has worked well with the Ukrainian police and security services.

The second challenge for Ukraine is to reduce rampant corruption and reinforce the rule of law. A 2017 poll conducted by the Center for Insights in Survey Research found that corruption is the top political issue for Ukrainians, edging out the conflict with Russia. The poll also found that the corrupt judicial system is unpopular, with over 80 percent disapproval. Former President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted during the 2014 revolution, built an opulent mansion for himself with state funds in 2011 while the Ukrainian economy was saddled with debt and struggled to climb out of a recession. He also moved approximately $70 billion from Ukraine’s financial system to offshore accounts and $37 billion in loans somehow disappeared. Current President Petro Poroshenko and his government also have shown corrupt tendencies, meddling with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, a Ukrainian government organization, created in 2014 to help clean up corruption.

Ending Russian aggression in Ukraine is important for western security. Ambassador Kurt Volker, the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, has proposed a UN peacekeeping deployment to eastern Ukraine to de-escalate the conflict, which, if accepted by Russia, will be a major step forward. Concomitantly, however, the amount of western support to the Ukrainian government should be contingent on Ukraine’s implementation of domestic reforms, offered as a reward for democratization and rooting out corruption. Accomplishing these goals will stabilize the region and contribute to greater security of the west. 

Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th District. He is the Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.

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