The Shoot Down of Malaysian Flight 17
And The Escalating Crisis In Ukraine

By on August 13, 2014

A Joint Subcommittee Hearing:
Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

29 July 2014
Opening Statement by Ian J. Brzezinski
Resident Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security Atlantic Council

Chairman Rohrabacher, Chairman Poe, Ranking Member Keating, Ranking Member Sherman, thank for you for the privilege of appearing before this hearing to discuss the ramifications of the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.

That tragedy is the consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and specifically the Kremlin’s stoking of an insurrection in eastern Ukraine. The MH17 shoot-down should prompt us to carefully assess the effectiveness of the West’s response to these provocative acts of aggression.

The invasion of Ukraine began in February. Today, some six months later, Russia still occupies Crimea. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, which has intensified, has been led and fought by Russian operatives, enabled by Russian weapons, and reinforced by Russian military forces massed along Ukraine’s border.

Yesterday, US and West European officials announced agreement on a new set of sanctions against Russia. As we learn more about these sanctions, I hope that they will mark a departure from the empty warnings, brooding ministerials and the hesitancy and incrementalism that have characterized the West’s reaction to this invasion.

Indeed, over the last six months, US policy appears to have been shaped more by the lowest common denominator of our what our allies are willing to do rather than by initiative and decisive action on the part of Washington.

And, it has been counterproductive. It actually emboldened Russia.   After each increment of targeted sanctions, Russia has increased its support to its proxies in Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s deployment of irregulars with small arms is now complemented by training and recruitment centers in Russia and its transfer to its proxies of tanks, rocket launchers, surface-to air-missiles – including, most notably, the Buk SA-11 air defense system — among other equipment

If the pending decisions by the US and EU are a continuation of past hesitancy and incrementalism, they risk leading to a stalemate in Ukraine, another frozen conflict that will leave Ukraine crippled and unable to pursue its European aspirations. Worse it could embolden Putin to press further into Ukraine and pursue similar strategies toward Moldova and the Baltic States.

The West needs a comprehensive strategy targeted on the following objectives:

· Persuading Putin to remove his forces from Ukraine;

· Deterring Russia from further aggression against Ukraine and other neighboring countries;

· Reinforcing Ukraine’s capacity for self-defense; and,

· Assisting Ukraine to become a prosperous democratic European state.

Toward these ends the US should undertake the following initiatives:

First, stronger economic sanctions against Russia are in order. The overly selective scope of current sanctions has failed to inflict the systemic economic pain necessary to make an authoritarian regime rethink its actions. Sectoral economic sanctions should be imposed, and the key targets should be Russia’s energy and financial sectors. There should be no loopholes and no exceptions.

Second, a more robust effort is needed to shore up NATO allies and Ukraine.

In early June, President Obama announced the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) to reinforce Central European allies and to build the military capabilities of East European partners.

This is an important initiative, but almost two months later it still remains unclear exactly what it will yield. It would be useful if the ERI established a strategically significant US enduring military presence in Poland and the Baltic States.   It would be even more useful if NATO’s West European Allies contributed to this initiative.

Third, we need to provide military assurance to Ukraine. To date, NATO and the United States have unwisely done the opposite. They have drawn a red line on the Alliance’s eastern frontier that leaves Kyiv militarily isolated. Now that Russia is firing artillery into Ukraine, erasing that red line has become more urgent.

Toward that end the US should:

· Grant Ukraine’s request for lethal military equipment and include anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

· Deploy intelligence and surveillance capabilities and military trainers to Ukraine.

· Conduct military exercises in Ukraine to help train its armed forces.

None of these initiatives would threaten Russian territory.

Fourth, the West needs to step up its efforts to counter Russia’s aggressive propaganda campaigns. The Kremlin’s efforts against Ukraine has been the most intense we have seen since the end of the Cold War.

Fifth, the West needs to support Ukraine’s effort to reform its economy and integrate into Europe: To its credit, Washington has done well in mobilizing international financial support for Ukraine. Freeing up U.S. LNG exports to Central and Eastern Europe would be another important way to reinforce the regions security and help Ukraine diversify its energy base.

Finally, the West needs to reanimate the vision of a Europe whole, free and secure. The situation in Eastern Europe today necessitates that NATO make clear its “open door policy” is no passive phrase or empty slogan.

The shoot-down of MH17 is a stark reminder of how a regional conflict can have immediate implications far beyond its immediate geography.

I hope the sanctions being rolled today will reflect a firmer response and stronger leadership on the part of the United States. That will be necessary if the West is going to convince President Putin to reverse his dangerous course.