MUNICH – It has become something of a mantra among diplomats and other foreign-policy analysts that there is no military solution to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The only viable path to peace and stability, observers almost unanimously proclaim, is a diplomatic one. But, despite the recent ceasefire agreement announced in Minsk, ongoing violence – reflected in the violent expulsion of Ukrainian forces from the town of Debaltseve – strongly suggests that it is time to consider what is needed to block any Kremlin-imposed military solution.
Three influential American think tanks have already done so, and arrived at the conclusion that the United States should begin supplying Ukraine not only with more non-lethal aid – such as drones, armored Humvees, and medical equipment – but also with “lethal defensive military assistance," in the form of light anti-armor missiles. European governments, however, remain unwilling to reconsider their position on supplying defensive equipment to Ukraine, and have instead reiterated that a diplomatic solution is the only option.
Of course, from Ukraine's perspective, a one-on-one military confrontation with Russia is not a viable option. Last year, when separatist forces in the Donbas region appeared to be crumbling under the weight of Ukraine's counter-offensive, it seemed possible that Ukraine would be able to reassert its sovereignty over the area. But the Kremlin quickly deployed battalion-size tactical groups from the Russian army to support the rebels. Ukraine's relatively weak forces did not stand a chance.
The move exemplifies Russia's commitment to do whatever it takes to prevent a military defeat of the separatist entities that it has incited and forged into fighting units – a determination that has endured, even as the conflict has placed considerable strain on its armed forces. Given this, the prospects for Ukraine to reassert control over the Donbas region militarily are so slim that even trying to do so would be foolish.