The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ukraine stood with the West in 2014. Today we must stand with Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers build a bunker on the front line in Zolote, Ukraine, on Dec. 12. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Rob Portman, a Republican, represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate.

Seven years ago, in what Ukrainians call the Revolution of Dignity, the people of Ukraine stood up to their Russian-backed leaders and made a conscious decision to turn to the West.

Ukrainians chose a free, democratic and independent future. Today, that yearning for freedom is even more pronounced. Recent surveys show strong support among Ukrainians — especially youths — for joining the European Union and NATO.

This is despite unrelenting attempts by Russia to undermine Ukrainian democracy through disinformation and military intimidation, including the illegal annexation of Crimea.

Russian troops invaded the Ukrainian border regions of Donbas in 2014 under the guise of protecting Russian citizens, and they continue to aid separatists fighting there. Ukraine has stood strong and shown remarkable restraint. By contrast, Russia’s aggressive posture has recently increased significantly, with as many as 100,000 Russian troops and 100 battalion tactical groups, including armored tanks and artillery, amassed on Ukraine’s border. Media reports warn that Russia could invade Ukraine as early as January.

Moscow would have the world believe that Russia is merely trying to shore up its border against a threat from Ukraine and NATO. This argument has no merit. Ukraine’s military posture has always been purely defensive in nature. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has upheld its commitments under the Minsk agreements between Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which were designed to ensure a cease-fire in Donbas.

Russia has shown its intent to violate its international commitments by demanding NATO cease expanding to sovereign countries that wish to join, and calling for Ukraine to grant more of its sovereign territory to Russia.

The Biden administration has placed diplomacy at the forefront of its efforts to deter Russia. However, these efforts must be combined with the necessary economic and military measures that would strengthen a diplomatic approach and give it greater credibility.

First, the United States must increase the military weaponry it sends to Ukraine to enhance the country’s defensive capabilities and tailor that weaponry to the threat Ukrainians will face. Since 2014, the United States has provided more than $2.5 billion in security assistance, and since 2017, we have provided lethal assistance such as antitank missiles and heavy machine guns. This aid was designed to prepare Ukraine for an active conflict in the Donbas — not a full-scale Russian invasion. In Congress, we have advocated to increase security aid: The United States must speed up the pace of assistance and provide antiaircraft, antitank and anti-ship systems, along with electronic warfare capabilities.

Second, the Biden administration should not support any attempts to force Ukraine to cede control in Donbas outside the Minsk agreements. The Russians are using the same playbook there as they have in Crimea and the occupied Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — seeking to normalize their illegal occupation by backing separatist forces, encouraging the creation of local, pro-Russian governments and issuing Russian passports to local residents. President Biden should not urge Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to grant any concessions outside of the Minsk agreements process, and he must require Russia to withdraw troops from the border before further negotiations begin.

Third, Biden should seriously reconsider the imposition of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. It is clear that Vladimir Putin is willing to flout international norms to advance what the State Department has described as an emotional agenda to reunite the Soviet Union. Russia has recently used its outsize energy resources as a weapon by exacting geopolitical concessions from the government of Moldova and by refusing to increase outflows to Europe during the recent supply crunch. The administration should work closely with the new German government to keep the pipeline from becoming operational; it is in Europe’s best interests to deny Putin another arm of influence over our allies.

Finally, the United States must continue to build an international coalition of partners in Europe and elsewhere who see this threat with clear eyes. There is bipartisan support for such an approach in Congress because our colleagues understand that transatlantic unity is critical in responding to the threat posed by Russia.

Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic states and other former “republics” of the Soviet Union chose to seek a free and democratic future — they chose to look to the West, not to Russia. Failure to support these nations acquiesces to Russia’s desire to once again rob independent Eastern European people of their identity and destiny.

How the West responds now will define the trajectory of our relations with Russia and Putin for the next decade. Standing with our allies alongside Ukraine will help ensure a free and stable Europe, which is in the best interest of the people of democracies and American allies around the globe.

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