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Guest Column

Ukraine: Values and Interests Should Guide Response to Putin
By Stephen P. Tryon
Apr 26, 2014 - 12:23:06 AM

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The ongoing unrest in the eastern region of Ukraine is cause for concern. Different sources conflict: some say the predominantly Russian-speaking people in this region support armed groups that have occupied government buildings, while others say these groups are simply the product of Russian special operations forces aiming to create a pretext for another annexation. Absent first-hand knowledge to which most of us do not have access, we are likely to continue to hear each side blame the other side for the continuing unrest. Given this uncertainty, the best course of action for the United States is to support multinational efforts to peacefully stabilize the region through mechanisms designed to protect the right to self-determination by the people who live there.

The principle of self-determination is consistent with the values embedded in our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution. There is no guarantee that allowing the people living in the eastern region of the Ukraine to determine their own future will align with popular views of the short-term interests of the United States or the government in Kiev. But the enduring value of the principle of self-determination is aligned with the long-term interests of the United States. As unpalatable as it may be to watch eastern Ukraine fall under the control of Putin's Russia, we should abide by our principles and let the people in the disputed region decide their own fate.

Supporting self-determination does not require direct military involvement or support from the United States. In fact, given the history and geography of the region, it is appropriate to state clearly that the United States will rely solely on diplomatic, informational and economic tools to support a peaceful resolution to this crisis. There is no place for the US military in this crisis. Given the ongoing violence and uncertainty, however, an international presence to help stabilize the situation and provide more unbiased monitoring of what is happening is important.

The agreement reached at last week's summit in Geneva was a good outcome for the United States, even if Putin and Russia ultimately do not live up to its terms. The agreement provides for increasing observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an organization comprised of 57 nations including Russia and Ukraine. Those observers should be put in place immediately and to the greatest extent possible. Expanding the presence of OSCE observers is an appropriate attempt to stabilize the region. These observers could be used to monitor a referendum wherein the provinces in question can determine their future for themselves.

Putin will almost certainly try to take advantage of the current situation to foment additional trouble in Ukraine. Yet the best long-term course for the United States is an agreement on non-military measures to increase international participation in a peaceful process to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. Last week's Geneva summit produced such an agreement. At the same time, the United States should be expanding its military presence and cooperation with Poland and other European allies. Such steps were also announced last week, as US Defense Secretary Hagel met with his Polish counterpart. The economic sanctions put in place after Russia annexed Crimea are punitive and should be continued. These sanctions have led economists to downgrade Russia's growth forecast for this year by almost 60 percent. Additional sanctions should be readied to address future aggression by Putin in Ukraine. In short, while the steps we are taking may not solve the Ukrainian problem, they are the right steps for us to be taking now.

One hundred years ago, in the sleepy summer of 1914, the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo combined with the inertia of bureaucratic governments to produce the First World War. Sarajevo is about a thousand miles southwest of Kiev: that is about the distance from Denver to Los Angeles. Those 1914 assassinations were conducted by a terrorist group of ethnic Slavs attempting to carve off the predominantly Slavic southern provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The current violence in eastern Ukraine involves ethnic Russians who allegedly want to either secede or more closely align eastern Ukraine with Russia. The similarities between then and now are striking.

The crisis in Ukraine is not an opportunity for the Republican or Democratic party bureaucracies to score political points--it is a crisis that requires a uniform, measured and coordinated response from the government of the United States. From my perspective, the Obama administration is responding appropriately. Anyone seeking domestic political gain by criticizing Washington's efforts to broker a peaceful resolution to this crisis should be challenged to provide a better course of action.

Putin is an aggressive bully. There may be a time in the future when we have to confront him militarily, but we should do so only when the use of force is consistent with our long-term values and interests. We should not give him an excuse for using force in eastern Ukraine under the present circumstances. We should support broad-based, international measures to end the current lawlessness, but we should not support efforts to compel a pro-Russian majority (if one exists) to remain under Ukrainian rule. If an acceptable resolution to the Ukrainian crisis is possible, international observers coupled with a process of referendum seems most likely to achieve that outcome.

Stephen P. Tryon
Accountability Citizenship.Org

Running for Congress in Utah as an unaffiliated candidate, Stephen Tryon was a Senior Vice President, Human Capital Management for online retailer His past assignments at included managing the company's logistics operations and international business. He joined Overstock in 2004 after 21 years as a Soldier.

He holds a B.S. from West Point and an M.A. in philosophy from Stanford University. Raised with seven siblings in a family where public service was a core value, he served as a soldier in the United States army for 21 years. At the end of his army career, he served as a legislative fellow for Senator Max Cleland, as well as a legislative assistant to the senior general at army headquarters in the Pentagon.

While in uniform, Steve served as the Legislative Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army, Director of Plans for the 10th Mountain Division, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the United States Military Academy, and commander of a company of paratroopers. He holds degrees from the United States Military Academy and Stanford University and is the author of Accountability Citizenship (2013).

A current resident of Salt Lake City, Utah, Tryon has one son Jake, and a dog Peanut. Fluent in English and able to converse in Spanish, Tryon enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, outdoor recreation, exercising, reading, and writing.

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