Mike Sigov: U.S. should turn the table on Putin in Ukraine

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May 2—Bent on keeping the initiative in a perceived tug of war with the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin really pushed his luck this spring when he faked a mass invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Putin amassed in excess of 150,000 troops on Ukraine's eastern border, heavy on tanks and assault aircraft.

Understandably, he had the world's attention as Ukrainian leaders and their Western allies, including the United States, tried to guess his intentions.

Those most likely included testing the new Biden Administration and prodding it to go easy on sanctions.

The plan was to give President Biden a new headache — just as he started to deliver on his promises to punish Moscow for election interference, aggression in Ukraine, hacking U.S. organizations, and poisoning and arbitrarily jailing opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who dared to challenge Mr. Putin's hold on power by exposing his corruption.

That effort backfired.

Not only did the United States double down on the sanctions by finally adding some of Mr. Putin's closest oligarchs to the list of sanctioned Russian officials and organizations, but so did the United Kingdom.

True, sanctions per se have yet to prove effective in getting Mr. Putin to change his bellicose behavior.

But this time around, the U.S. response to Mr. Putin's transgressions is taking more effective forms that may turn the table and make Ukraine a major headache for him, following the passage of the Ukraine Security Partnership Act of 2021.

Reintroduced in March, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 21.

Most important, the measure includes authorizing up to $300 million in military financing of Ukraine — including for lethal military assistance — expedited transfer of surplus military to the country, and $4 million a year to train its military officers.

It also has a bipartisan amendment to provide $50 million in nonmilitary assistance to Ukraine as well as provisions on sanctions on entities helping Russia construct the lucrative NordStream 2 pipeline to carry more natural-gas into the European Union.

Of course, $300 million is just enough to buy 3 1/2 F35s, while Ukraine needs billions of dollars' worth of advanced defense systems to be able to inflict serious damage on the Russian aggressor.

But that's a start.

Congress would be wise to realize that the sooner it authorizes such an investment into Ukraine, the more lives and money it saves down the road. Hopefully, so does the European Council.

Mr. Putin has demonstrated an ability to quickly whip up and move a military force capable of a mass invasion of any country in NATO's back yard. The de facto dictator can easily and quickly do it again anytime he likes — even if he delivers on the promise to pull those troops back from the Ukrainian border.

Ukraine has long been pressing NATO to admit it as a member, but the defense alliance has been reluctant so far to expedite the long process of extending its membership to Ukraine, without openly denying it one.

NATO membership would all but secure Ukraine from Russian aggression but also would mandate that all the member countries — the United States included — treat such an act as a war on each one of them as well.

To be sure, Ukraine's accession to NATO would increase the stakes for the United States and other members of the alliance in Ukraine.

The alternative may be worse, however.

That's because Ukraine recently made a troubling announcement through Andrij Melnyk, its ambassador in Berlin. In an interview with a German radio network, he said unless Ukraine becomes a NATO member, it may think about reacquiring nuclear weapons.

In the early 1990s, Ukraine used to have the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal — a leftover from the Soviet times

In 1994, Ukraine transferred the arsenal to Russia, in exchange for assurances by the United States and the United Kingdom — and ironically by Russia as well — to assure Ukraine's security, as reflected in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.

It's about time we delivered on those assurances.

Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer at The Blade.