With heavy fighting occurring near the Donetsk International Airport, it's clear that Russian-backed separatists have no intention of adhering to the ceasefire. While Western nations have no interest in embroiling themselves in a direct military intervention with Ukraine, stymying Russian expansion and establishing a firm precedent against subversion both fall squarely under NATO and EU security, economic, and political interests.
An Impetus for Intervention
While noted scholars have argued for Western nations to create a neutral buffer state out of Ukraine, such plans will not address underlying issues plaguing the nation. Nations like Sweden played an important role during the Cold War as neutral buffer states separating NATO and Warsaw pact nations, but oftentimes the life of a buffer state is difficult and uncertain. Frequently, the internal political systems of such states are subject to intense external competition and meddling. Afghanistan in the 19th century was a center piece in a Russian-Anglo vie for clout in Central and South West Asia, for example. While Poland swallowed up by Germany despite its status as a neutral state during the early stages of World War Two.
(Note: Many will rightfully point out that Sweden leaned towards the West, like Finland did towards the East. This is true, but they were largely neutral actors that did not facilitate the militaries of other nations)
Furthermore, there would be a need for external intervention to mold Ukraine's government into a successful buffer state. Such attempts to craft a domestic system in a non-receptive political atmosphere is fraught with uncertainty and danger. Sweden actively want to be a neutral state, as did Finland. Ukraine does not--its pro-Western population is dominated with individuals seeking to more closely cooperate with the West, including insofar as membership with the NATO alliance. Take the American sponsored coup against Iran's government in 1953. Not only was it strategically questionable (like the establishment of a neutral Ukraine), but it was a temporary success offset by the 1979 Iranian revolution. In the 1920s and 30s, the British empire supplied weapons to Sunni militias in a bid to suppress Shiite insurrections in Iraq, leading to a monopoly on political power and violence by Sunni minorities. Even if Ukrainian nationalists aren't prone to adopt anti-Western sentiment like the previous elements were, the best of strategic goals can come with the worst of unintended consequences.
Moreover, there are several factors which firmly differentiate Sweden and Ukraine. During the Cold War, Sweden was not a primary target for Soviet control. Instead, similar to Russian concerns today, Moscow was preoccupied with the prospect of the nation becoming a staging point for NATO military operations. Contrarily, the potential for Ukraine becoming a NATO member is only a segment of Russian calculus today. More importantly, Russia has irredentist machinations which can end in two ways from their perspective. If ongoing subversive operations fail at securing a pro-Russian pseudo-state which firmly falls within Russia's orbit, then they have completely lost a nation which was previously partial towards Moscow. If they succeed, however, then a new addition to Russia's geopolitical arsenal is ascertained. Eastern Ukraine features an extensive industrial capacity which is vital to the Russian military and would be led by a heavily pro-Russian government more willing to be conducive to Moscow's long term goals.
They've already displayed their aims earlier this year, when unmarked Russian forced stormed Crimea and staged a faux election. While transpiring events threaten core Russian interests in Ukraine, they simultaneously present an opportunity to consolidate power in the East portions of the country and weaken pro-Western power structures in the Western half.
Finally, by enabling a Ukrainian victory in Eastern Ukraine, we deny Russia a viable model to be used in the Baltic states. Creating a precedent wherein Russia can successfully utilize a Russian speaking population to expand its territory or geopolitical influence threatens the alliance's integrity.
(Alternatively, an Eastern Ukrainian state may be swallowed up into Russia like Crimea was)
What the West should do
Oftentimes, we get bogged down in issues of weapon systems, but Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnisance (ISR) is just as important. Having accurate information about enemy positions is integral in maneuver warfare, counter insurgency operations, and accurate fire support. Having better information on the actions of Russian troops along the border, for example, could help the Ukrainian military better cope with developments like the one last month which pushed them so back far.
Following the 2008 South Ossetian War, Georgia's government invested heavily in modernizing its military. However, a deeper analysis revealed that their poor performance was not necessarily connected to its legacy equipment. Rather, it was primarily centered around poor doctrine and a lack of ISR capabilities. As a result, Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania has reallocated resources to bridge the ISR gap within the Georgian military.
Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Jim Gerlach have both recognized this problem. In an interview with CNN, Kaptur stated,"The Ukrainians have to fight their own battle, again, against Russian forces without intelligence." Their bill proposes to supply Ukraine with military supplies and increased intelligence capabilities. This would be a wonderful development for the Ukrainian military, but there are other avenues for support as well. "Military supplies" is a somewhat nebulous descriptor, though the implication is that it will be lethal aid. Equipment supplied should go far beyond bullet proof vests and personal weapons. The United States and its allies should also supply Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), mortars, Mine Resistant Ambush Proof vehicles (MRAPs), medical supplies, humanitarian aid, and various pieces of logistical equipment.
If policymakers were willing to pursue a more risky path, then supplying some of the many M1 Abrams battle tanks, MiG-29s, artillery pieces, Armored Personnel Carriers, and patrol ships that we have sitting idly by in scrapyards or testing centers could also go a long way in strengthening Ukraine's military capabilities. However, this could also draw the NATO alliance too far into the fray.
To NATO's credit, Ukrainian officials have purported that Western nations within the alliance have provided arms to Kiev. That said, the exact nature of said shipments remains unknown.
Despite the risks associated with support, Western nations need to support Ukraine in its endeavors against separatists. Our primary impetus for this is to further secure NATO member states and stymying expanding Russian influence. To do this, the West ought to supply arms and enhance the ISR capabilities of the Ukrainian Army.