Countering Russia in Ukraine
Written by Marren Haneberg
The United States has implemented two major policies to aid Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion: sanctions and military support. In September 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order to “ensure the full implementation” of U.S. sanctions against Russia (“Trump strengthens sanctions…”). Since 2014, the United States has used sanctions to combat Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. The idea behind sanctions is that the measures will weaken Russia’s ability to fund its Ukraine military effort, and this weakness will eventually force Russia to withdraw from the conflict. For military support, in September 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump approved $250 million to support Ukraine in military exercises, the provision of military equipment, lethal weapons and logistics support… the replacement of previously provided weapons or military goods… [and] reconnaissance support of Ukraine’s armed security forces” (“Trump signs Pentagon’s…”).
Through sanctions and military support, the United States has equipped Ukraine to defend itself. The United States should continue defending Ukraine against Russian invasion. However, Ukraine has battled internal problems since its post-Soviet beginning in 1991. The United States needs to invest in a strategy beyond ending this particular conflict in east Ukraine. Even if Russia withdraws, Ukraine is left with a legacy of corruption. Corruption and poor economic policy made Ukraine vulnerable to Russian control in the first place. This issue stems from Ukraine’s lackluster governance. In a 2018 report, Freedom House (FH) reported “little political will to combat” corruption in Ukraine, despite pressure from civil society. FH also found that judicial corruption “remain[ed] a problem.” Overall, FH gave Ukraine’s government 1 out of 4 in safeguards against corruption; the lowest score is 0 (“Freedom in the World 2018”).
As Ukraine’s top foreign aid contributor, the United States holds clout over Ukrainian policy (Welt 2). To support anti-corruption in Ukraine, the United States must makes its aid contingent on Ukraine’s anti-corruption measure implementation. So far, Ukraine has failed at implementing such measures. In October 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko approved an anticorruption court. However, in 2018, the Ukrainian government had yet to form this court (“Freedom in the World 2018”).
By boosting Eastern Europe’s regional stability, lowering corruption in Ukraine matches U.S. security interests. This policy does this by building government self-sufficiency, which reduces weaknesses which Russia could otherwise exploit to gain power. By reducing opportunities for Russia to take over governance in Ukraine, the United States reduces the risk of nuclear conflict, as NATO, of which the United States is a member, and Russia are both nuclear powers.
Ukraine’s lax anticorruption measures allowed corrupt officials such as Viktor Yanukovych to gain power through bribes. Rather telling is Yanukovych’s logbook tracking bribes he paid while in power; these bribes averaged $1.4 million per day (Tucker). Using the network of political power he built on bribes, Yanukovych led Ukraine in the opposite direction its civil society demanded. As a consequence, civil society pushed back after Yanukovych rejected a deal improving Ukraine-EU relations. This conflict between Ukrainians and their government, known as the Euromaidan Revolution, set the stage for the instability which triggered conflict in Crimea and Donbass (Kurkov).
By tying foreign aid to anticorruption measures in Ukraine, the United States can help Ukraine build safeguards for a stable society. By increasing Ukraine’s ability to maintain a stable society, the United States will decrease Ukraine’s vulnerability to Russia and will improve prospects for security in Eastern Europe.
Image below shows a mock Spanish galleon found on the property of Yanukovych’s mansion. Yanukovych paid an average of $1.4 million in bribes daily during his time in power. Source: The Telegraph.
“Freedom in the World 2018.” 2018. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/ukraine.
Kurkov, Andrey. “Ukraine’s revolution: Making sense of a year of chaos.” 2014. BBC. November 21. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30131108.
“Trump signs Pentagon’s budget for 2019 providing for $250 mln in security assistance to Ukraine.” 2018. UNIAN. Septmeber 29. https://www.unian.info/politics/10279734-trump-signs-pentagon-s-budget-for-2019-providing-for-250-mln-in-security-assistance-to-ukraine.html.
“Trump strengthens sanctions against Russia imposed for aggression in Ukraine.” 2018. UNIAN. September 28. https://www.un n.info/politics/10269066-trump-strengthens-sanctions-against-russia-imposed-for-aggression-in-ukraine.html.
Tucker, Maxim. “Ukraine’s fallen leader Viktor Yanukovych ‘paid bribes of $2 billion’ – or $1.4 million for every day he was president.” 2016. The Telegraph. May 31. https://www.telegraph .co.uk/news/2016/05/31/ukraines-fallen-leader-viktor-yanukovych-paid-bribes-of-2-billio/.
Welt, Cory. “Ukraine: Background and U.S. Policy.” 2017. Congressional Research Service. November 1 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R45008.pdf.