Ukraine is losing the war. Read it on BBC or CNN and you will see Ukrainian troops withdrawing from Debaltseve. While accurate, those stories mask the real situation on the ground. To combat this surge of separatist forces, the U.S. is weighing whether to arm Ukraine or not. Such a notion is idealistic at best and will not solve Ukraine’s current problems, will fail to make Ukraine’s armed forces effective and will not bring peace to the situation in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s troop numbers are dwindling, and their best troops got caught up in the meat grinder that became the Donetsk airport. Each recruitment drive yields lower troop numbers. The last drive picked up a five percent success rate. While Ukraine reinstated conscription last May, the military recently began drafting women to fill its ranks.
On top of this lack of troops, Ukraine can hardly keep its head above water economically. The Ukrainian economy has not reported real growth since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, whatever economic potential did exist in Ukraine continues to erode. GDP for Ukraine shrank last year by five percent, with next year’s predictions posed at an eight percent loss.
In order to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund IMF, which is now a prerequisite to having a semi-functional Ukrainian government, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk proposed cutting the national budget by 10 percent. These cuts take out hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, cut gas and electricity subsidies, hack pension checks and increase taxes. In addition, the proposal cuts out the few goods things to hold over from the Soviet Union: free health care and education. Yatsenyuk’s plan begins with the privatization of education and health care, students experiencing tuition payments for the first time in history and the pharmaceutical market shedding all regulation control. After the proposal passed, a new wave of protests swept through the streets of Kiev to stop the country from ignoring its populace.
Ukrainians now flee in massive numbers. Even the former Maiden protesters are leaving. Ukrainian refugees in Russia now number around 700,000. Many of those refugees turn to separatist forces, not as much for ideological reasons but as a means to survive. Many refugees flock to the $500 monthly salary for fighting with the separatists, a sizeable sum in Eastern Europe. To stop faltering numbers, Ukraine authorized the shooting of deserters and retreaters on site.
Now, separatist forces are closing in around Mariupol, a coastal city in the east where the elite Azov battalion is stationed. A new wave of social protests is gaining steam against the harsh austerity measures. Ukrainians are fleeing their homeland for better lives. Yet, the U.S. believes that equipping a military that can’t keep its troops supplied or in the field will beat back separatists.
Any armament campaign would give Russia a clear reason to intervene in Ukraine. No matter how well-equipped or trained Ukraine forces are after American assistance, Russian forces could enter Kiev in a matter of weeks. One must only look at the 2008 Georgian conflict, during which the U.S. supplied and trained a Georgian army that lasted three days against the Russians. The U.S. needs to understand that provocation will only cause the situation to spiral out of control. Weapons won’t solve the gutting of pensions or Ukrainians’ dissatisfaction with the right-wing government in Kiev. Weapons won’t keep soldiers in the field or keep them from switching sides for better pay. The only thing more weapons will do is cause more death and destruction in Ukraine.
Seth Ellingson ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in history and Russian.
Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER