Should we arm Ukraine to face down Putin?

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, François Hollande, the French president, and Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, all travelled to Minsk on Wednesday to discuss a Ukrainian peace plan with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

The Hollande-Merkel plan is thought to be based on last year’s Minsk agreement, which called for a ceasefire, withdrawal of artillery and “other concessions that were never fully implemented”, says Andrew Hammond in The Independent. The conflict is now at a “potential tipping point” with some, including Hollande, talking of “total war”.

More than a million have fled their homes and an estimated 5,400 have died since April, when separatists seized significant portions of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. There are fears that the Ukrainian state could become unviable, with the country facing economic collapse. Moscow seems to be calculating that this pressure will lead to falling support for the pro-Western Kiev government.

“It’s time to get real,” says Roger Cohen in The New York Times. Putin is not “about to settle for anything less than a weak Ukraine… firmly within the Russian sphere of influence”. The Russian annexation of Crimea was in “direct violation” of Article 2 of the UN Charter and “shredded” Russia’s commitment under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 to respect Ukraine’s international borders.

“There is a language Moscow understands: anti-tank missiles, battlefield radars, reconnaissance drones.” Arm the Ukrainian military and alter Putin’s calculations. “Surely Ukraine has earned the right to something more than night-vision goggles.”

Merkel is adamantly opposed to arming Ukraine, on the grounds that it risks turning it into a proxy war between Russia and the West, but the threat has “rattled Moscow”, says The Times. The proposal must be treated “cautiously”, but should be “kept on the agenda”, as should escalating banking sanctions.

Since one of Putin’s aims is to destabilise the Ukrainian economy, we must support it and accelerate reforms. “The quickest way to end a war, George Orwell once observed, is to lose it. This war cannot be ended on the basis of a Russian plan that allows President Putin to hang on to any territory he chooses to snatch. If that happens we will all be losers.”

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