1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

West needs to do more to help Ukraine, ex-US diplomat says

April 23, 2021

A former US Special Representative for Ukraine has told DW preemptive measures should be taken to stave off the Russian threat. Kurt Volker also said Vladimir Putin doesn't want Ukraine to be a successful democracy.

A Russian soldier aims a gun as he takes part in military exercises in Crimes
Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to pull back from its border with Ukraine after weeks of tensionImage: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP/picture alliance

Russian President Vladimir Putin's power play near the Ukrainian border is a way of warning Kyiv to "watch out" as the West will not match the Kremlin's determination to seize control of the region, a former United States Special Representative for Ukraine said on Thursday.

Kurt Volker told DW that despite Russia's decision to halt to military operations near its border with Ukraine, the Kremlin's threat is far from over, and Putin has shown he is more willing to use force in the region than the West is.

Putin wants "to demonstrate that he has substantial military capability and the political will to act if he wants to," Volker said in an interview with DW television. "He is trying to demonstrate that the West is not willing to match that — and therefore, Ukraine had better watch out."

Volker, who served as the US Special Representative for Ukraine from 2017 to 2019, said Washington, among others, could do more to help Ukraine fend off the threat it faces from its neighbor.

Map of Russian forces on Ukraine border

"We need to be taking action to demonstrate our capabilities and our resolve. For example, we're going to be conducting a military exercise in Poland next week. Let's involve Ukraine in that exercise."

And the former US ambassador to NATO said the West needs to take some preemptive measures.

"We could be announcing in advance what sanctions we would apply if Russia were to launch a new military offensive. There are a lot of things we could be putting on the table to warn Putin about what the consequences of his actions could be."

Putin 'doesn't want Ukraine to be successful'

As for Putin's methods, ultimately the Russian leader wants to destabilize Ukraine, and make sure it doesn't become "a successful democracy," according to Volker, "because if Ukraine is a successful democracy and prosperous country — why isn't Russia? So the first thing is to block Ukraine. Part of that is blocking Ukraine from the European Union."

Previously frosty relations between Ukraine and the EU have thawed in recent years, though the bloc remains skeptical over corruption and rule of law within the continent's second-largest country by landmass.

Russia 'invaded' Ukraine and 'created' separatists

Putin's tactics have included creating a "false narrative" over supposed separatists in eastern Ukraine — separatists Putin has "created," Volker argues; and then Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has to try and resolve a problem his Russian counterpart has imposed upon him.

"Russia invaded Ukraine, created the separatists, arms them, trains them, equips them, controls them, controls and handpicks the civilian administrations there as well — and then is trying to force Zelenskyy to deal with them as if Russia has nothing to do with the problem."

According to Kyiv, the conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in Donbass has killed at least 14,000 people since 2014. 

Navalny cloud darkens Putin's mood

Putin is also having to deal with issues much closer to home, as thousands of people once again took to the streets on Wednesday to vent their anger at the president's actions over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

"Putin would not normally imprison an opponent and arrest 11,000 protesters. He's done it in this case, which demonstrates that he's clearly concerned about his domestic position," Volker said.

And so what does the future hold for the man who is currently seeking to prolong his stay at the helm until 2036?

"I don't see how he can leave power and stay alive," Volker concludes. "So I think that he is looking for a way to preserve his hold on power financially, through the power ministries and the application of force inside Russia."

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk