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The Conflict in Ukraine – Three Questions for Keith Darden

Associate Professor Keith Darden (copy)

International efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine have accelerated as the conflict in eastern Ukraine between separatists and government forces has worsened. We asked Associate Professor Keith Darden, an authority on Ukraine, for some insights:

Q: The leaders of Ukraine, Germany, and France are pushing for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Minsk in a bid to halt escalating bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. What might the contours of a deal look like?

A: There isn't likely to be a deal, but if there were, it might look like this:
1. A new line of settlement that would allow rail links between Donetsk and Luhansk to be under the control of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR), and possibly including the port city of Mariupol.
2. Withdrawal of forces from the line of settlement to a distance that would eliminate the shelling of civilian areas on either side of the line.
3. Securing water, electricity, and other supplies to Crimea.
4. Recognition of Donbas autonomy -- including control over the external border with Russia.

Q: Ukraine's president is seeking a ceasefire in his country's east and also defensive weapons from the West -- as Ukraine's economy continues to falter. What does Ukraine need to do to stabilize its economy and reform its political system?

A: Ukraine needs to decentralize political authority, so that governors are elected and its provinces have considerable control over taxation and budgetary issues. It needs to eliminate most of its regulatory framework, since this framework was not designed to "regulate" economic activity in the public interest but rather to secure political control over economic assets -- which meant that no one ever had an incentive to invest in the country. It needs to free energy prices, which means letting producers/sellers and consumers come to their own agreements about the supply of gas and electricity. If Ukraine took these steps, it would be a very positive step. Since the Maidan demonstrations, Kiev has shown no signs of moving in this direction.

Q: There is an increasing clamor in Washington calling for the United States to arm Ukraine. What might the consequences of U.S. "lethal aid" be?

A: The most likely consequence of U.S. lethal aid would be Russian escalation. I think we'd see the use of Russian air power and there might well be Russian troops on the Dniepr before the end of October. U.S. weapons would not deter Russia or the separatists from taking more territory. It would give them incentives to push further than they might otherwise intend to go.

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