America’s Goal Must be Ukraine’s – The Sovereign Borders We Assured in the Budapest Memorandum

Robert McConnell
December 7, 2022

The headline from today’s Wall Street Journal is distressing – at best.Would that the United States had ever defined its objective as giving Ukraine what it needs to defeat Russia and acted accordingly, this war would be over. Lives would have been saved, captives – including children – would not have disappeared into the hell of the Russian Federation. And I am not talking only about the current Administration. Since 2014, we have circled a possible commitment to Ukraine from varying distances but never defined our goal as seeing that Ukraine can defeat Russia.The pre-February 24th borders are not the objective. And among the failures of Washington is that it has never unequivocally made the unmistakable case to the American people as to why Ukraine and Ukraine winning is in the vital national security interests of the United States. Sorry, but given Russian propaganda and domestic isolationists there are doubts in our country and in the Congress. That should not, and must not be. We heard this in our annual Ukraine in Washington and Beyond event last week at the National Press Club. The case must be made; facts and reality stated clearly over-and-over until the whole country understands why we need Ukraine to defeat Russia.

U.S. Goal in Ukraine: Drive Russians Back to Pre-Invasion Lines, Blinken Says

Kyiv must decide itself later whether to try to reclaim Crimea and Donbas

The Wall Street Journal

William Mauldin | Dec. 6, 2022 1:36 pm ET

‘For us the number one principle is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the WSJ’s CEO Council in Washington on Monday evening. PHOTO: RALPH ALSWANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON—The U.S. priority is helping Kyiv drive Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory they have seized since the full-scale invasion in February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, leaving to Kyiv a future decision on whether to press the fight on to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula and eastern Donbas region.

“Our focus is on continuing to do what we’ve been doing, which is to make sure that Ukraine has in its hands what it needs to defend itself, what it needs to push back against the Russian aggression, to take back territory that’s been seized from it since Feb. 24, to make sure as well that it has the support economically and on a humanitarian basis to withstand what’s happening in the country every single day,” Mr. Blinken told the WSJ CEO Council Summit late Monday.

The chief U.S. diplomat was referring to the current battle over territory taken from Ukraine since Feb. 24, a senior State Department official said, adding that how far Ukraine pushes south and east is a future decision for Kyiv.

“For us the number one principle is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken told Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray at the event. “And that means that fundamentally Ukrainians are making the decisions about where they want to go.” [Observers could listen to the entire discussion and/or read this entire report and be left with different bottom-line impressions on American views/positions. That is not helpful – period, end of discussion. No matter how many times U.S. officials say it is Ukraine’s decision how far it will push the Russians and/or what will it will be accepted as the end of Russia’s war against it, stating that the United States’ priority is to support Ukraine’s getting back all the “territory that’s been seized from it since Feb. 24” is to set a wedge between Washington’s priority and Kyiv’s priority as stated over-and-over by President Zelenskyy. Just as every ill-advised refence to possible negotiations give oxygen to the Kremlin’s dreams, suggesting Washington’s priority is short of Ukraine’s can only be of comfort to the Kremlin, certainly no one else.  RAM]

Ukraine has insisted from the outset of the war that it will recapture all of the territory it has lost to Russia, including parts of the Donbas region controlled by Moscow since 2014 and Crimea, annexed the same year.

“Russia began its crazy aggression in 2014 specifically from Crimea. It was the prologue to full-scale war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Crimea Platform summit in Zagreb on Oct. 25. “Russia’s aggression potential will be destroyed at the root when the Ukrainian flag is once again in its lawful spot: in the towns and villages of Crimea.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Zelensky visited troops fighting in the Donbas region and once again pledged to retake the territory from Russia along with Crimea. But Mr. Zelensky hasn’t discounted the possibility of taking back Crimea by diplomatic means. Asked in an interview with Reuters on Sept. 17 whether Ukraine can retake the peninsula, he said “there’s no other way.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins WSJ Editor in Chief Matt Murray at WSJ CEO Council to discuss the geopolitical, economic, and foreign policy challenges faced by the U.S. abroad.

“It may turn out that Crimea will be returned by diplomatic means. It is clear that people in Ukraine prefer diplomatic ways of solving this question,” he said. “What circle of people will discuss this question and when this will happen, I can’t tell you right now.” [Anyone and everyone would prefer getting Russia out of Ukraine without further bloodshed. But it is wrong to suggest there is such a possibility at this point when there is no  evidence Putin has lessened his determination to destroy Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. Even mentioning “diplomatic ways” is to insert into the discussion a fantasy and suggest a hope that could cause hesitation for full throttle Western delivery to Ukraine the right weapons, in the right place, at the right time for Ukraine to defeat Russia. And defeating Russia must be the priority under the reality of the current circumstances.  RAM]

The debate over what Kyiv should retake is largely academic now. Though Ukrainian forces have recaptured the regional capital Kherson and territory in western Donbas, without an effective navy or dominant air force they won’t be able to reoccupy Crimea without first pushing Russian forces back through the territory they took this year.

Only after recovering the recently conquered territory south and east of Kyiv could Ukrainian ground forces reach Crimea or the eastern Donbas regions occupied by Russia and separatist leaders in 2014.

A separate issue under debate is whether Ukraine should attack Crimean or Russian targets with missiles in an effort to destroy Russian vehicles, planes and materiel, or to apply military pressure on Russian territory after Moscow’s widespread attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.

Ukrainian drones hit two Russian air bases on Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, while Ukrainian officials hinted at a capability to strike deeper within Russian territory. The U.S. secretly modified the advanced Himars rockets it gave Ukraine so they can’t be used to fire long-range missiles into Russia, U.S. officials said.

Some Western officials said Tuesday that the status of Crimea and the Donbas should be up for negotiation in eventual talks between Moscow and Kyiv. The U.K. feels the absolute minimum needed for Russia to demonstrate it is serious about negotiating would be for it to withdraw to positions that it occupied on Feb. 23, before the reinvasion, officials said.

“The longstanding issues of Crimea and the status of the Donbas might be something which are spoken about thereafter,” said a Western official. The person added, however, that the negotiation would be a matter for Ukraine, and that the country continues to state that its objective is a full return to its internationally recognized 2014 borders. [Negotiations – always said to be a matter for Ukraine but Western officials keep bringing it up. That decision must be Ukraine’s and everyone else should stop mentioning it. The mention of negotiations, the suggestion Western leaders are thinking about negotiations gives Putin hope and has to plant doubt about the support needed in Zelenskyy’s mind.  RAM]

British officials have previously stated that while Britain continues to support Ukraine in its war aims, the country needs to define its own red lines on issues such as Crimea and necessary security guarantees should talks begin.

Some members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization have expressed more full-throated support for Ukraine’s broad war aims. Polish President Andrzej Duda has backed restoring all the captured and annexed territories to Ukraine, including Crimea.

German officials say that it is up to Ukraine to set its red lines and that Berlin will support Kyiv together with the NATO allies for as long as it takes. However, officials in the Chancellery say they believe it is unrealistic to expect that Russian troops will be fully expelled from all the occupied territories, and they think that an attack on Crimea would be potentially an escalation that could prompt the Kremlin to use weapons of mass destruction. Crimea has long hosted a key Russian navy base on the Black Sea, and the return of the peninsula to Moscow’s control in 2014 was widely popular among Russians. [The fear of “escalation” is so old, so tired, so pathetic. Ladies and gentleman Putin has escalated time-and-time again. From an unprovoked war against Ukraine Putin’s Evil has escalated to unrestrained barbarism, indiscriminate war crimes and genocide. Any official still expressing concerns about Russian escalation should be embarrassed. Instead they should be proclaiming unequivocally their support for Ukraine to defeat Russia on the battlefield, to retake all Ukrainian territory assured to it under the Budapest Memorandum, and to have all of its citizens – including the thousands-upon-thousands of its children seized by the demonic Kremlin returned.  RAM]

Germany, like the U.S., has asked Kyiv not to use the weapons systems they provided to target Russian territory. [Worse the United States refuses to give Ukraine weapons with the range to take out Russian positions pounding away at Ukraine and its citizens. This policy is not only wrong, it is silly. Among other things Ukraine is finding ways to hit critical targets inside Russia but, because of Western constraint on weapons, it can only do so on a limited basis. Hello!  Look at what the people of Ukraine can do with a military hand tied behind their back. We should give them what they need to end this war sooner rather than later. Lives will be saved – lives will be saved – lives will be saved!!! RAM]

Berlin believes that a cease-fire can be reached only by a settlement, the alternative being a protracted and devastating war of attrition. German officials say they don’t have illusions about Russia sticking to any cease-fire for a longer period, but they say the West would use the lull to arm Ukraine in what one official compared with creating a “ring of steel” around the country that would help deter Moscow from restarting the conflict. [“the lull” – what lull. Ukraine is on the offensive despite our reluctance to commit to its defeating Russia and tactics might adjust but there is and will not be a winter lull.  RAM]

A possible escalation triggered by a Ukrainian advance into Russia or Crimea is part of the reason why Germany hasn’t provided main battle tanks to Ukraine, the primary reason being, however, that no other western ally has agreed to do so. [The Germans should know better and need to get over the legacy of their decades old games of footsie with the Kremlin. Arm Ukraine and let Ukraine defeat Russia.  RAM]

Bojan Pancevski and Matthew Luxmoore contributed to this article.

The introductory and parenthetical views expressed are Mr. McConnell’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and/or it Friends of Ukraine Network.

Bob McConnellCoordinator, External RelationsU.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network

Robert A. McConnell is a co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and Coordinator of External Relations for the Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network.