Academics Say Arming Ukrainian Forces Could Make Things Worse

As fighting continues in Ukraine despite a recently negotiated ceasefire, some American leaders are calling for the U.S. to arm Ukrainian forces.

“The situation at the moment involves a ceasefire that isn’t a full ceasefire,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington. “It isn’t a freeze on violence; it’s more like a slush.”

One vocal proponent of aggressive U.S. involvement has been U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). However, he’s not the only one in Congress ready to take action, according to Mayia Shulga, associate professor of political science at Lone Star College-CyFair.

There is enough support for this position to materialize into a legislative initiative, and Cruz is not advocating a fringe position at this point,” Shulga said. “Arms deals mean additional government contracts for the arms industry, and they are rarely weak lobbyists in Washington. It is not a secret that war has always been good for business.”

As politicians continue to debate the matter in the U.S., support for American involvement continues to grow in Ukraine.

“There is considerable support among the Ukrainian population, civic leaders, army volunteers, and political analysts for receiving arms support,” Shulga said.

“Understanding that currently the Ukrainian army is considerably under-equipped to counterweigh Russian-delivered and much more modern armaments on the territory of Donbass, proponents of this step believe that meaningful armament of the Ukrainian army would help to suppress the conflict faster and deter Russian aggression. In addition, as there are no signs that Kremlin’s interest in perpetuating fighting in Donbass has decreased, the prospect of military aid to Ukraine looks as an appealing option for breaking the standstill with Putin.” – Mayia Shulga

The situation may not appeal to the American public, however.

“It’s pretty clear that American public opinion, after about 14 years of war in the Middle East, is pretty tired of war,” Farnsworth said.

Numbers from a recent Gallup survey back that up, with 54 percent of respondents opposing military aid to Ukraine, 40 percent supporting it, and 6 percent undecided. The same survey showed that the Islamic State is more present in the minds of most Americans, with 84 percent saying the terrorist group is a “critical threat” to the U.S., contrasted with 44 percent saying the same thing about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

It's pretty clear that American public opinion, after about 14 years of war in the Middle East, is pretty tired of war.
Stephen Farnsworth, University of Mary Washington
In addition to displeasing a war-weary populous at home, arming Ukraine wouldn’t go over well with America’s European allies, according to Farnsworth.

“Putin’s been very effective at building energy relationships with Europeans,” Farnsworth said. “That makes it difficult for Europeans to take a very aggressive stand against Russia over Ukraine.”

Despite those relationships, however, Europe would likely take a stand if the Russian and Russian-backed forces continue to seize ground.

“Europeans do not want a war with Russia via Ukraine, so they will sacrifice Ukraine’s territory if needed,” Shulga suggested. “But they also understand that Putin has become inadequately bold and objectively unreasonable; so if he is not stopped in Ukraine, then the fate of Latvia and Estonia is already under question, for example, which have sizable Russian minorities.”

But funneling weapons into the region could add fuel to an already dangerous fire. With public distrust for the Ukrainian government and its oligarchs, U.S. weapons could make things worse, according to Shulga.

“It would be simply irresponsible and lazy on the part of Western governments to throw more arms into a situation of civil instability,” she said.

Proximity also becomes an issue if the U.S. were to pursue such a strategy. Though America could bolster Ukrainian supplies, it could not match Russia’s next-door-neighbor status.

“If the U.S. started providing weaponry to Ukrainians, that might encourage Russia to ramp up its own military activities in the region,” Farnsworth said. “Russia is really big, and it’s right next to Ukraine.”

But while policymakers continue to haggle, a very real toll is being felt by those at the center of the conflict.

“Meanwhile, as all powers that be are busy dividing lands and making and securing their capital, human lives are lost in Ukraine every day,” Shulga said.

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