Valentyn Ogirenko / Courtesy Reuters Newly mobilized soldiers take part in training in Ukraine, February 13, 2015.

Facing a Fragile Ceasefire

If the Deal Doesn't Hold, Don't Arm Ukraine

Despite the promises of the ceasefire brokered on February 12 in Belarus to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, it could fail like the one before it in September 2014. Though the agreement will take effect on Saturday, already, intense fighting has been reported in strategic towns like Debaltseve. If the peace deal is not honored, the administration of President Barack Obama will then be under even greater pressure to send lethal weapons to the government in Kiev, since the separatists in the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine have been making headway on the battlefield thanks to Russia’s supply of troops and weapons. Although the precise numbers remain in dispute (and notwithstanding the Kremlin’s steadfast and now comical denial), regular Russian troops have joined the fray. Moscow is also sending increasingly sophisticated weaponry to rebel forces.

Given that Russia has stepped up its intervention, a number of prominent U.S. leaders, including Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, have called to arm Ukraine. They claim that doing so will level the playing field, put pressure on Russia and the rebels, and give Ukraine a fighting chance. That’s the gist of the report published this month by a group of former senior officials in cooperation with the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

But arming Ukraine would be a serious misstep, and the rationale for doing so is founded on two flawed assumptions.

The first one is that Russian President Vladimir Putin will advance when he encounters weakness and retreat only when he faces imminent defeat. Only the United States, it is said, has the will and wherewithal to provide Ukraine with the power it needs. Arming Ukraine will likely make Putin yield, or at least accept a political deal that preserves Ukrainian independence and territorial cohesion. Without Russian support, the rebels would no longer be able to sustain their fight.

The second premise is that an American-armed Ukraine will

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