Alexei Navalny, a key Russian opposition figure who has faced numerous prison and house arrest sentences, told the Washington Post Wednesday that arming Ukraine in its war with Russia will not “change the situation dramatically.”
Many in Washington have proposed the shipment of lethal arms to Ukraine, including a bipartisan cross-section of Congress and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey. But according to Navalny, a staunch opponent of Russian land grabs in the country, “a military victory of Ukraine over Russia is impossible.”
In fact, if the United States become more closely involved, “Putin will get new facts that Americans are fighting the war in Ukraine and not Ukrainians” — in other words, a key propaganda victory for President Vladimir Putin (with untold consequences).
Since Ukraine’s revolution began in early 2014, Russian state media have repeatedly suggested that the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and subsequent clashes with Russia were a CIA plot, and did not reflect the popular will of most Ukrainians.
Were Washington to overtly provide lethal support for Ukraine, it would give credence to Moscow’s narrative, trustworthy or not, and possibly more political currency toward escalation in the region.
The worry over the ultimate viability of sending American arms to Ukraine was also reflected in Foreign Policy’s recent interview with Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of all U.S. Army assets in Europe.
Hodges told Foreign Policy that arming Ukraine was “not a strategy,” and though it would certainly exact a higher cost on any Russian advance in Ukraine, that he wasn’t even confident Moscow was imminently planning such an advance.
Navalny suggested to the Post that the various proposals of U.S. military aid to Ukraine were “for the American public opinion,” so that politicians could tell their constituents, “[w]e armed Ukrainians so that they could resist.” But in practice, he said “I cannot assume that the Ukrainian army, even armed with American drones, will win a victory over the Russian army.”
Instead, he said, the U.S. should expand its economic and travel sanctions against top Russian officials. So far, the Treasury Department has blocked financial transactions and travel to the U.S. for a group of individuals and heads of companies linked to Putin’s administration.
Navalny claimed that the Russian government was initially skeptical of Western willpower to impose sanctions, which ultimately helped cripple Russia’s economic and military capabilities. (RELATED: Russian Economic Crisis Disrupts Daily Life)
He suggested that further sanctions are needed, “not against 12 people but against the party of war, against a thousand people.”
Navalny, 38, has been involved with Russian politics since the early 2000s and is especially active online. He first came to international prominence as the leader of massive public protests against the 2011 election, which were widely seen as fraudulent, and where he popularized the phrase “party of crooks and thieves” to describe Putin’s United Russia party.
Since 2012, Navalny has faced numerous convictions by Putin’s government on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Despite these obstacles, he has suggested an interest in running for president. In 2013, he came in second in Moscow’s mayoral race, losing to a Putin appointee.
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