The Ukrainian crisis: Action memo to President Obama

By Joshua Noonan


The Obama Administration has made a series of mistakes in the Ukraine Crisis. The first of these mistakes is the issuance of empty threats to the Russian Federation concerning its hostilities in Crimea and Southern and Eastern Ukraine. The second problem is that President Obama has not reassured NATO satisfactorily and thus many allies are questioning the durability of US promises. Finally, international trust in United States has been sullied by Russia without proper retaliation as US guarantees towards the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This was guaranteed with the Budapest Declaration of 1994 tying Ukraine’s territorial integrity to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty as well as the good word of the United States. The purpose of this memo is to suggest policy actions to deal with the Russian menace, reassure NATO allies, and repair the systemic damage to the non-proliferation regime and the good word of the United States.

Repairing the Frayed “Red Line”

The Obama Administration has started with the Syrian Crisis and throughout the Ukraine Crisis issued multiple “Red Lines” against various actions. In Syria the President issued a warning concerning chemical weapons and an undefined US retribution tied to Syrian use. Concerning Ukraine there have been multiple statements along the same line by President Obama with little Western retaliation against Russian provocation. Starting with 28 February, President Obama stated “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine“. On 1 March, President Obama stated “Russia must face “significant costs if it does not change course”. On 12 March he stated “if Russia continues on this path, it would be forced to apply a cost”. On 14 April he stated “further transgressions will come with a cost”. Finally, on 2 May he stated that “if the situation in Ukraine isn’t stabilized by 25 May (the date of the Ukrainian presidential elections), the US is determined to impose costs”.

To restore deterrence the United States must take immediate action against interests of the Russian Federation. The freezing Russian bank accounts in the United States as well as prohibiting banks dealing with Russia from dealing with the United States must be enacted. This will deny business, finance, and individuals in Russia from accessing the US financial system. Similar financial sanctions have taken place in Iran to great success. The US must work to bolster the Ukrainian economy by giving it preferential access to the United States.  Moreover, the Department of the Treasury, USAID and the Department of State must deploy financial, development, and diplomatic resources to troubled Ukraine to help make the economic reforms through advisors, development assistance, and diplomatic troubleshooting. The Ukrainian military must be supported. The Russian government has started to arm pro-Russian separatists MANPADS which led to the shooting down of Two Ukrainian Mi-24 ‘Hind’ combat helicopters while a Mi-8 ‘Hip’ transport was attacked by groundfire. Equipping and training the Ukrainian military would signal the resolve of the United States to the pro-Russian separatists while increasing the cost of Russian actions.

Reassuring the NATO Allies

The United State’s second line of action concerns reassuring NATO allies in Eastern Europe.  The Obama Administration has been working towards cooperation with the Russian since the policy of “The Reset” was promulgated in March 2009.  This included joint anti-hijacking drills, the passage of New START focusing on the nuclear dimension, and the deepening of the Northern Distribution Network.  The Obama Administration also pulled out of plans for basing missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic, trading it for promises of the deployment of an AEGIS systems in 2018. This was intended to better the relationship with Russia as the Kremlin poured much ire out on the possibility of an anti-ballistic missile system in Europe. Despite US goodwill towards Russia, The Reset has run its course and now the priority is to reassure NATO allies.

The has started through the deployment of aircraft and some troops to Poland and the Baltic allies. Nonetheless, these are not permanent actions and must be followed through the forward-deployment of troops and the construction of bases in the Baltic countries and in Poland. This would be coupled with decommissioning bases in Western Europe in order to save space and encourage indigenous defense capacity.  More detailed war-plans for scenarios to defend the Baltic states and Poland must be developed as well. Finally, the President should prioritize the integration of Finland and Sweden into NATO. This will create a more Russo-skeptic climate, allowing for a more muscular NATO policy while focusing policy Baltic security.  The European Union must work to link the Baltics by rail while the construction of joint nuclear plants and LNG terminals is hastened. This would give Russia fewer leavers to grasp as it seeks to manipulate the Eastern neighbors.   Finally, the negotiations for TTIP and TPP must be concluded quickly to reinvigorate the European and Asian alliances by providing an economic pillar to bolster the political and military dimensions.  This would strengthen US allies in both the Atlantic and Pacific, creating more vibrant economies and politics in all of our partner states while fostering our strength at home.

Fixing Systemic Damage

US inaction in Ukraine have threatened a core policy of the President, nuclear nonproliferation. Remedial action in Syria must be taken place to restore the word of the United States. Russia must be sanctioned in the OSCE and the European Commission in its illegal annexation of Crimea, Ukraine. The EU and the United States must support a permanent deployment of OSCE observer to Eastern and Southern Ukraine as well as to Moldova. Joined with police and rule of law trainings, regional and national governments will be strengthened to resist the manipulation of agent provocateurs. These would be useful to monitor the situation in regions in which Russia may act.  Moreover, PfP training missions must be strengthened in all willing countries. This will enhance interoperability, creating capacity to act internally, while injecting a deeper sense of professionalism within the ministries of defense.

President Putin, by violating the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which traded Ukraine’s nuclear weapons for security guarantees and aid, Finally, enhanced safeguards for the Non-Proliferation Treaty such making the “Nuclear 123 Agreements ‘Gold Standard clause’de regur.  These agreements could be updated over a five-year time horizon, allowing the nearly 25 signatories to prepare themselves both procedurally as well as politically. This would demonstrate the US position on Nuclear Non-Proliferation through the use of enhanced protections throughout the regime.


Russian actions in Ukraine has given the world a pause on the structure of post-WWII settlement as a whole.  Through the actions of President Putin, US security guarantees in Europe have been greatly challenged. The actions of the Russian Federation have created a systemic danger to both the non-proliferation regime and ensuring the value of a promise from the United States. I have given an outline of actions which President Obama should carry out in order to restore the presence of the United States in the face of President Putin’s actions. If President Obama does not start acting to push-back the forays of the Russian Federation, the credibility of the system of alliances as well as the post-WWII settlement may come into question. The cost of this will be made manifoldly larger if Russian action ever crosses into NATO-territory. Thus by taking measures now, the cost can be controlled along with the Russian menace.

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Joshua Noonan

Joshua Noonan is an Azerbaijan News Analyst; John Hopkins SAIS MA Candidate in Russian and Eurasian Studies, International Economics and is the Presidential Management Fellowship Finalist. Joshua Noonan is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News.

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