As Russian troops stood poised on the Ukraine border, a bipartisan group of seven U.S. Senators — four Democrats and three Republicans — met with the Ukrainian president and top government officials last week to reaffirm U.S. support for their country. I applaud their effort and am glad that leaders of both political parties are demonstrating a strong front against Russian aggression.
Make no mistake about it: Vladimir Putin would like nothing better than to rebuild the Iron Curtain, one republic at a time. In the Obama administration, I led all U.S. democracy and conflict programs in crisis areas around the world. I served in former Soviet republics in Central Asia and know firsthand what old Soviets like Mr. Putin are seeking to do in Ukraine and elsewhere. Ukraine is the most recent. If it falls, Mr. Putin and the Russians will be emboldened to invade other neighboring countries and reassume control, whether or not the people of those countries want to return to Russian rule.
The United States cannot allow that to happen. The people of the former Soviet republics have shown growing interest in establishing democracies and building Western-style economies. With U.S. support and investment, they can become significant American allies and provide growing markets for American products and technology, including the kind of new energy technology we can produce in Maryland.
More importantly, the days when the Soviet Union can bully its neighbors are over, and we cannot just sit and watch as Mr. Putin unilaterally tries to bring them back. The people of those countries deserve the chance to determine their own sovereignty and economic futures.
We must join with our NATO allies to provide military equipment Ukraine needs to defend itself from Russian invasion. In addition, the United States and its allies must impose the harshest economic sanctions possible on Russia if it advances. Russia must know that invading Ukraine will be costly — too costly, too long and too difficult.
Just consider the implications of a Russian assault on Ukraine. It could trigger a conflict throughout Ukraine and become the largest ground war in Europe since World War II. Refugees would flee into neighboring countries. Military action might cross borders, too. The Russians must understand that they will suffer severe consequences by launching Europe into war, and if they nevertheless do so, they must be made to feel the pain.
This does not mean we should send combat troops to fight in Ukraine. Equipment? Yes. Military advisers to help train the Ukrainian armed forces? Yes. Humanitarian aid to help the civilian population? Yes. Work with our NATO partners to share strategic intelligence in support of Ukraine’s military defense? Yes. But no troops.
Ukraine is not Afghanistan. Their military forces are willing to fight on their own and capable of it. Ukraine has a long history of fighting for its independence from Russia. They have a stake in it and a commitment to it. Moreover, they have demonstrated a strong desire for democratic self-rule and participation in European Union and Western commercial matters. They want to break away from Russia. We should do everything we can — short of sending in troops — to help them.
Most importantly, Mr. Putin must understand that while his efforts to sow division in the United States have worked on some levels, they will not work when it comes to Russian aggression overseas. In matters of national security, the United States must be united. At a time when the political parties cannot seem to agree on anything, it is heartening that in this instance Democrats and Republicans are showing that they can and do work together against a common adversary. We must stand against Putin and Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Dave Harden (email@example.com) is a former U.S. foreign service official and is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Maryland’s First Congressional District.