December 12, 2014

US Senate Approves Bill to Deter Russia and Support Both Ukraine & NATO Allies

The US Senate’s approval of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 (S-2828) is an extremely important step not only for Ukraine—as it struggles with the annexation of Crimea and the Russia-led insurgency in the Donbas—but also for the Baltic states, including Estonia. One of the bill’s key points is its designation of countries that are likely targets for Russian hybrid war: “Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Central Asia republics,“ stipulating economic and political deterrence measures to support these countries, and clearing the way for the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine.

The US Senate’s approval of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 (S-2828) is an extremely important step not only for Ukraine—as it struggles with the annexation of Crimea and the Russia-led insurgency in the Donbas—but also for the Baltic states, including Estonia. One of the bill’s key points is its designation of countries that are likely targets for Russian hybrid war: “Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Central Asia republics,“ stipulating economic and political deterrence measures to support these countries, and clearing the way for the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine.

The bill specifically opens the way for the supply of lethal weapons for Ukraine, alongside non-lethal equipment and training. The amount that the US Congress authorized to allocate for military aid to Ukraine apperas to be fairly modest: $100 million (€80 million) in 2015 and $125 million (€100 million) per year in 2016 and 2017. If not spent in the preceding years, the remainder can be spent in 2018. The Act also cites priority needs for the Ukrainian military: anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, small arms and ammunition, counter-artillery radars, artillery fire control, and optical and guidance and control equipment, tactical surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment. Importantly, some items in this list of priorities require accompanying training to be provided to the Ukrainian military. Alongside the possible training of Ukrainian special operations forces, such training measures will likely have a force multiplier effect that could strengthen Ukraine’s deterrence capabilities. In a way, Ukraine, not being a member of NATO, is still on the edge of European security system, effectively applying military measures to prevent Russia’s further expansion westward.
The bill is further noteworthy for its broader strategic view, recognizing that of Russian foreign policy as such has become a source of several international security challenges. Not only does the Act provide for taking measures in the designated countries, but it also counters the Kremlin’s support of the Bashar al-Assads regime in Syria while authorizing the US government to investigate possible Russian violations of the INF nuclear disarmament treaty. Such an approach is especially relevant given the relative absence of an effective. American or European strategy on Russia; at times, the West granted Vladimir Putin the advantage of strategic surprise wins in staging unconventional operations in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine.
In contrast, the bill signals that the US will not acknolwledge Russia’s “interests“ in the former Soviet republics nor its policy of challenging NATO on its northern, eastern, and southern flanks. Moreover, as stated, it seeks to prevent Vladimir Putin from playing the ISIS threat card against the West. Importantly, the scope of this law also extends to the energy sector, so often used by Russia as a political weapon: it provides for “contingent sanctions“ relating to the state company Gazprom “ if the President determines that [it] is withholding significant natural gas supplies from member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or[if it] further withholds significant natural gas supplies from countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova.“ This provision is especially relevant given that Russia is still attempting to play divide-and-rule in Europe; after having declared dead the South Stream gas pipeline project to Southern Europe, it now seeks to construct a hub on the Greek/Turkish border. The purpose of this deal is block Europe’s energy supply diversification while preventing the integration of Ukraine’s gas transit system with the European energy market.
For now, the Act awaits President Barack Obama’s signature in order to become law. If Obama does not sign the bill within ten days, it enters into force automatically. Thus, the administration has little time in which to decide whether to veto the law. While pro-Ukrainian activists in the US are actively pushing the bill, the pro-Russian lobby is of course against it; we may see Russian influence operations to discredit the bill in the eyes of the White House or the American public.
Yet, the odds are relatively high that the bill will become law: not ony did it pass with a large bipartisan majority, but it provides the White House with flexibility in applying its provisions. It also gives the Obama administration a chance to demonstrate resoluteness in defending the people and values of the European community.
The importance of S2828lies in the law’s contribution to NATO cohesion, as it underscores America’s willingness to protect its Baltic members. It also encourages European NATO members to follow the US lead and further contribute to maintaining the current order on the continent and around the globe.

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