Michael Carpenter on Russia’s Kerch Strait Attack
4 December, 2018

When Russia decided to launch a maritime attack on Ukraine on November 25, which resulted in the capture of Ukrainian vessels and naval personnel, as well as the imposition of martial law in Ukraine, its goals were “pretty severe,” says Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement Michael Carpenter.

According to Carpenter, Russia is not only aiming for “complete dominance of the Sea of Azov,” but also intends to “economically starve or suffocate Ukraine,” which would have negative consequences on Ukraine’s ambitions for European integration and a destabilizing effect ahead of the March 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine.

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Facing this threat from Russia poses a great challenge for Ukraine. However, Carpenter believes that so far, Ukraine’s “calm and cool” approach has been positive and shown that Russia is entirely responsible for the escalations. In any case, Ukraine is at a serious advantage in comparison to Russia when it comes to naval forces, Carpenter adds.

Ukraine’s most significant move so far has been the imposition of martial law in the at-risk regions of the country for a period of 30 days, something Carpenter believes needs better explaining to both inside and outside of Ukraine.

“I think the authorities have been a little bit slow to explain to their own public, but also to the international community why they have adopted this martial law resolution,” he states.

In terms of the international community’s role in supporting Ukraine, Carpenter believes diplomacy is the key, and that Ukraine needs to push for further sanctions against Russia as well as military support. At present, many of Ukraine’s allies in the west have simply issued statements of support and condemnation of Russia’s actions.  

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“If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin sees that the international community issues statements and does nothing beyond that, he will escalate this even more because he will then understand that he's able to get away with this sort of aggression,” Carpenter told Hromadske.

With regards to sanctions, Carpenter believes that the least Ukraine can expect is for international partners to renew the current sanctions. It’s still unclear, however, how much further the United States in particular is willing to go.  

“If the U.S. were to apply full asset freezes on major Russian banks, the impact on Russia's economy would be devastating and it would be immediate,” Carpenter commented, adding that “it's an open question whether the Trump administration has any appetite for pursuing that kind of bold action.”

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What’s more, the international community has a tendency of only really taking a stronger stance against Russia when it threat is closer to home, for example, the downing of Malaysian airline MH17 and the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal on U.K. soil.

“Unfortunately, we have a pattern here, whereby western European governments only get tough with Russia when they see an immediate impact in terms of their citizens and their equities,” he said.