Arming Ukraine and the Baltics Could Prove Counter-Productive in the West’s Stand-Off with Russia

Written by | Friday, October 16th, 2015

Catherine Lefèvre (LSE European Politics and Policy Blog)

One of the most problematic issues in the relations between the West and Russia is the arming of Ukraine and the Baltic States by the United States and their NATO allies. The objective in this region is mostly to decrease the Russian aggression but this action may become counter-productive in the medium term. On the one hand, there are those who support the arming of Eastern Europe, particularly the countries’ leaders and their governments, while, on the other hand, there is Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who says that the crisis is the West’s responsibility. The West must, however, realize that if the arming continues, both the United States and the EU might be held responsible for a general deterioration of Russia’s relationship with Eastern Europe.

Every Member State has a different view on the issue of arming Ukraine. For example, Germany is vocal in its disapproval of supplying arms, whereas Cameron’s government would help the Ukrainian army with training but without supplying lethal weapons. On the other hand, Eastern European EU Member States are unanimously calling for arming those countries seen as potential targets of a future Russian aggression. From the Baltic States, the country most concerned about this possible development is clearly Lithuania, since it borders both Kaliningrad and Belarus, an old Russian ally. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that Russia and Belarus carry out joint military exercises in the area.

According to the EU, Russia would never launch a direct attack, and not only because of the NATO’s Article 5. However, experts warn that Russia could intervene under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians in the Baltics. Still, military arming should not be the final solution. It would not be the first time that military equipment such as tanks, vehicles and ammunition would end up in the wrong hands, such as in the case of the Iraqi forces where the military aid ended up in the ISIS’ hands. Arms moreover encourage war and no one can guarantee that the Baltic States or Ukraine will act responsibly. Therefore, diplomacy will ultimately be a much more important weapon in EU’s relationship with Russia.

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