The escalating situation in Ukraine has strained Russia’s relations with the United States and provoked what some have called the greatest challenge to Europe in a generation.
Ambassador Paula Dobriansky served as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs from 2001 to 2009, the longest-serving run in history.
She is currently a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Dobriansky discussed the crisis in Ukraine, including the nexus between energy policy and national security, with VOA’s Carol Castiel.
Castiel: Do you agree that the battle over Ukraine and Russia’s aggressive posture pose what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called the greatest challenge to Europe in a generation? How do you assess what is at stake?
Dobriansky: There’s a great deal at stake here. It’s not only Russia’s illegal invasion and unlawful annexation of Ukraine, but that country’s destabilization and attempts to weaken [the government in Kyiv] as it strives to become associated with Europe and put in place political and economic reforms. There are also other ramifications that affect the [entire global community]. International law, legal norms as we know them, the entire international order is at stake…but also, [the continued viability of] nuclear non-proliferation. In 1994, the US, UK and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons – the third largest arsenal in the world at the time – in return for respect for its territorial integrity and its sovereignty. So, [Russia’s recent moves in Ukraine] send a very bad message that undercuts non-proliferation efforts. Other countries in Asia and the Middle East are all watching these steps closely.
Castiel: The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian individuals involved fomenting violence – but Germany, in particular, is reluctant to push too hard given business interests and fact that the EU depends on Russia for one-third of its gas needs. What more should the United States do – what tools do we have at our disposal to deter Russia from further aggression?
Dobriansky: First, I think it’s very important for the West to stand united on this issue and make it clear that we cannot recognize this unlawful aggression in Crimea as we go forward. And if Russia takes further steps that violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, I think we should hold firm in being politically united. Secondly, you’ve mentioned targeted economic sanctions…. But there are other measures the West should look at, such as shutting down credit and other financial markets to Russians seeking loans, etc. Then, you have the military arena. [In] the Baltic states, Latvia’s population is 27 percent ethnic Russian, 26 percent in Estonia. [These governments] want to see a forward deployment of NATO troops on their borders to deter any further aggressive actions by Russia. Ukraine has also asked for military support. Finally, there’s the energy option. Russia relies heavily on its energy exports – particularly oil and gas. Europe relies heavily on Russia [in this area], but could begin to look to the U.S. for imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Castiel: What do you think Russian President Vladimir Putin wants in Ukraine? What is he looking to do?
Dobriansky: Putin – and he himself has said this – is seeking to establish a Eurasian Union that would bring together countries that he would like to have embracing values that are not the values of the West. He is seeking to force a situation on Ukraine that did not exist. Ukraine has been a united country. There have no secessionist movements there since independence, and Ukrainians – including Russian-speaking Ukrainians - have been living peaceably together. The recent incidents have been provocations. Ukrainians [who demonstrated in Kyiv and other cities] want an association with the EU and the end of corruption… I think the people of Ukraine should be able to put together their own program in a way that unites the country.
Castiel: Do you think Putin is creating a pretext for additional military action by covertly fueling unrest in eastern Ukraine, and when the U.S. warns of consequences, “a high price to pay,” what does that mean?
Dobriansky: I think one has to be gravely concerned when you have troops massed at the border. And then you have provocations taking place internally. Plus, you have regional countries who are worried. This demands a strong, united response. Poland, the Baltics, have put a concrete appeal forward to NATO for an on-the-ground deterrent. I know some actions have been taken, but more, critically, needs to be done. Also, a weak Ukraine is trying to shore itself up in the face of targeted actions. So that’s another area where the U.S. and Europe must be vigilant to provide the kinds of assistance that’s being solicited here.
Castiel: Some analysts are talking about echoes of a Cold War again despite the lack of an ideological dimension and the fact that no nuclear weapons are trained between the U.S. and Russia. How do you see this analogy?
Dobriansky: We clearly are witnessing a serious kind of tension. I think that if Russia opts to pursue these aggressive goals further, experts will conclude that this is a revival of the Cold War. But let me also add something: Putin is redefining the international order. This is of grave concern. It sends messages to others around the globe that there isn’t a respect for international law. All kinds of disputes are playing out around the world. So, what the United States does here matters greatly, not only for this region, but others as well.
Castiel: What about your work on unconventional energy sources, particularly the boom in shale gas here in the United States, which is set to surpass Saudi Arabia in the production of oil and gas, perhaps in the next 5-10 years? This has tremendous implications for energy security and national security, particularly vis-à-vis Russia. Is the long-term strategy to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe a viable option?
Dobriansky: It’s a very viable option and one that should be pursued. Why does it matter? We need a diversified approach. LNG exports to Europe benefit the U.S. economically and also benefit Europe – decreasing its dependence on Russia. I think it’s [a policy whose] time has certainly come. The time is now to diversify our energy portfolio.