The longstanding goal of the United States and its European allies has been to create a Europe whole and free, yet Russia’s actions in Crimea are a direct threat to that objective. There is little reason to believe Putin’s statement about having no desire to further divide Ukraine. Not only is Ukraine at risk, but potentially so are Georgia and Moldova, and, possibly, though less likely, the Baltics. Comprehensive, quick and coordinated action by the United States and its allies is needed.
In light of the Russian action, the objective should be the maintenance of a free Europe in as integrated a whole as can be accomplished. The focus should not be on Crimea. Rather, Russia’s actions in Crimea should provide a strong incentive to assure full freedom to the rest of Europe, a result that would redound to the benefit of the countries at issue as well as to the United States and its transatlantic allies and partners.
To accomplish this result, the United States should lead a combined military, diplomatic and economic strategy in combination with its allies and partners to draw the line against further Russian military actions, integrate Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova into the transatlantic community, and strengthen the security of allies and partners.
Militarily, the United States, through NATO, should enhance planned exercises in Ukraine and, equally importantly, expand military training and education. Enhanced exercises could be accomplished via the NATO Response Force led by the United States or on a more ad hoc basis. NATO (including U.S.) forces should at the same time undertake expanded training and education that would create a more capable force better able to conduct self-defense and to integrate with NATO forces.
On a longer term basis, the NATO "framework nation" concept should have as one of its key elements a focus on collective defense, ideally led by Germany and Poland, and which would undertake the requisite planning, exercises and logistics that would allow an alliance of 28 to respond to any future Russian actions. Among many other requirements, such a framework would include organizing host-nation support, establishing prepositioned capabilities and acquiring deterrent capacities such as cost-effective air defense.
Diplomatically, NATO and the European Union should be ready to offer membership to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia conditional on meeting governance, economic and military criteria. The association agreement just signed between Ukraine and the European Union is a strong first step, and agreements with Georgia and Moldova, as well as further elements of the Ukraine agreement, are expected to be accomplished by the summer. Ultimately, however, the goal should be greater integration, including with NATO. In that regard, focus on conditionality is essential since all have long ways to go — and it will be important to focus all political elements in each country on a common way forward as well as for the citizenry to understand what is required to accomplish the end goals of membership.
Economically, the United States and Europe need to first provide emergency backup for gas now coming from Russia, and then, a more diversified gas supply. Liquefied natural gas from the United States can be part of that plan, but the effort needs to be more comprehensive.
Sanctions have already been put in place by the United States, the European Union and Canada, but they cannot be expected to cause the Crimea situation to be rolled back. While unlikely to change the situation on the ground, sanctions against individuals serve as a very useful signal as to the transatlantic community’s common purpose, and expanding their coverage would be valuable. In this regard, it is important for Europe, which is the most threatened, to be willing to step forward with the United States.
There are additional sanctions that would hurt Russian interests, including freezing and seizure of assets. Certainly, the sale of military equipment should be halted. Freezing assets in financial centers such as London and New York would have punitive impact. Other sectors such as energy could be targeted. If such expanded sanctions are undertaken, it should be expected that Russia would undertake responding measures, perhaps affecting gas flows or perhaps seizing U.S. or European assets in Russia. The key will be determining how sanctions fit into a strategy for what will be a long and contentious period with Russia.
Finally, apart from Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, Russia may seek to further expand its influence in the former Soviet Union. Generally, those countries have no desire to integrate back into Russia. The United States and Europe should develop a geopolitical strategy that will help maintain their independence. For a variety of reasons, especially surrounding energy and counterterrorism, China will play a role in such efforts in Central Asia, less as an explicit partner than as a parallel actor with somewhat common interests.
The Crimea is, illegitimately, now part of Russia. But Russia’s actions lay the groundwork for a significant expansion of “free Europe” so long as the United States and its transatlantic allies and partners are ready to respond decisively.