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Sanctions Against Russia Have Failed To Achieve Political Goals


For more on a possible diplomatic solution in Ukraine, we turn to former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer. Welcome to the program.

STEVEN PIFER: Thank you for having me.

RATH: First off, you know, there's a basic disagreement about the facts here. Russia is still not acknowledging the forces that NATO and Ukraine insist are there in Eastern Ukraine. How does a diplomatic dialogue even begin?

PIFER: Well, that's one of the difficult things. But it's becoming increasingly untenable for the Russians to maintain that there are not Russian forces operating in Ukraine. There's just too much evidence of this coming not only from U.S. sources - from NATO, from the Ukrainians - to disbelieve that the Russian are now on the ground.

RATH: So far the U.S. and the E.U. have said that economic sanctions are their main tool in deterring Russia from further incursions into Ukraine. Yesterday on NPR, the NATO Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow, implied that it's unlikely to escalate to military intervention anytime soon.


ALEXANDER VERSHBOW: Obviously a direct conflict with Russia could escalate. I think at the moment we're trying to steer things by increasing the costs to Russia through economic sanctions, through increasing international isolation, so that we can steer things towards a political solution.

RATH: Mr. Pifer, are current sanctions working?

PIFER: Well, I think current sanctions, which have been primarily economic, are definitely having an impact on the Russian economy. But so far, they've failed to achieve their political goal, which is to get Vladimir Putin to shift his policy course towards Ukraine. So I would argue for two things now. First, I think it would be appropriate for the West to adopt more stringent, more robust economic sanctions on Russia. But also it's time for the West to be in considering supplying to the Ukrainians lethal military assistance - things like light anti-tank weapons, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles - things that would allow the Ukrainian Army to perform better in terms of defending Ukrainian territory against what increasingly looks like a Russian invasion.

RATH: In terms of the stricter economic sanctions, is that something that might be difficult given that it could potentially hurt E.U. economies that benefit from trade with Russia?

PIFER: Well, certainly there has been caution on both sides of the Atlantic about how far and how fast to go with regards to economic sanctions. It's now very clear that there has been the crossing of a threshold with regards to this crisis, where you now have such evidence of overt Russian military involvement in Ukraine. And that's having an impact, I think, on the thinking on both sides of the Atlantic.

RATH: What do you think a diplomatic solution in Ukraine would look like? Would it involve land concessions?

PIFER: Well, this is the point. I mean, the goal of the sanctions and even providing military assistance is not to necessarily win the war, but to cause a change in the calculation in Moscow and bring the Russians away from their current course towards some kind of an approach that would facilitate a negotiated settlement. Ukraine and the European Union have already had a conversation with the Russians about how to ameliorate any economic impact on the Ukraine-Russian trade relations from Ukraine's drawing closer to the European Union. So there are pieces out there that clever diplomats could put together and form the basis for a settlement that I think would allow all parties to say they've won, but they would also allow Ukraine to maintain sovereignty over Eastern Ukraine.

RATH: Do you have a sense of what Russia's goal is in the diplomatic talks and is there any concern that they might just be trying to run out the clock with the diplomacy?

PIFER: Well, again there hasn't been much Russian real diplomacy in this case. The problem thus far seems to be that Mr. Putin's objective is simply to create a degree of chaos in Eastern Ukraine that destabilizes the government in Kiev and among other things makes it more difficult to for them to proceed with a more normal relationship with the European Union and deal with the other very real economic challenges and political challenges that it has to face.

RATH: Steven Pifer is a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Steven Pifer, thank you very much.

PIFER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.