Date: 25 Feb 2015, Politics and Current Affairs
Question setter: Mettletest Panellist

Arms for Ukraine?

Will the USA start providing arms to Ukraine before the end of April 2015?


Answer: Yes
Confidence level: 29%
Mean confidence level (all requests): 33.50%

The White House needs to combine psychology with military strategy when deciding how to proceed in Ukraine. Putin continues to exact revenge for the slights heaped on Russia since the break up of the USSR and for encroachment on his "rightful" zone of influence. More than that, he needs to prop up his popularity, in a mismanaged economy, by maintaining nationalist fervour. The US response needs to show resolve without provoking further egotistical expansion. Arming Ukraine is insufficient to stop the Red Army under the veneer of Russian speaking rebels. However, to do so in conjunction with strengthening NATO could send the message that Russian escalation would be too costly. To do it, Obama would have to accept the risks of Ukranian army failures, rebels parading captured US weapons and America being dragged further into the mire than it can justify at home. His ally, Merkel would need to be convinced that the danger of non-intervention, with the threat to other states, is greater than accepting a sham ceasefire. Ultimately, Putin is likely to push too far, exploiting weakness and vacillation in the West and Obama will be foced to supply limited amounts of arms and minimal training to take a stand, while pushing more resources into NATO countries under threat.

Outcome: No
Score: -29
Mean score (all respondents): -23.50

Expert opinion:

Answer: Yes

Selected Expert Answer from Mettletest Panellist:
Obama is grappling with this question amid pleas from Ukraine. Kerry is said to be pro, with many in Congress, but doubts promote Obama's natural caution. How would Putin react? Would US arms to Ukraine provoke a massive escalation of fighting as rebels rush to increase their territorial gains? Should Russian mothers, with public support, be left to discourage more intervention, rather than letting Putin harness anti-US sentiment? Will arms supplies cause a rift with Merkel when a united front is needed? Are low oil prices and sanctions enough to curb Russian aggression anyway as the economy collapses? Might US arms fall into the hands of rebels if a poorly resourced Ukrainian force is still beaten back? What training and personnel support would the US have to provide to bolster the Ukrainian army and how far would the US then be sucked in? On the other side, will inaction encourage Putin to push his adventuring into Nato states? Could the US make the cost to Russia too high? This is the view that Obama (& Merkel) will probably take - the risk of inaction is greater than supplying Kiev. Putin's own propaganda has laid a path. He claims US arms are already there and he wants to avoid war with Ukraine. Confronted, he can rest on Minsk gains without loss of face and play a longer game.

Answer: No

Selected Expert Answer from John Karslake:
Provided that Putin continues to get his calculations right, he will stop just short of provoking a reluctant Obama, backed by a resistant Merkel, into any significant intervention in Ukraine. Putin will continue to destabilise Ukraine and support the rebels in making small incremental gains to secure the Eastern portion under effective Russian control. Temporary withdrawals and obfuscation will be used to pretend a ceasefire is being respected. His gamble is that the US will stay away, uncertain about the consequences if they arm Ukraine and the risk of major escalation. Outrage in the US is offset by practical concerns. The weaker Ukrainian army could cede new weaponry to rebels, unless trained and supported by US troops. Memories of mission creep elsewhere caution against becoming drawn in. Rather than arm Ukraine, Obama is likely to contribute to increased defences in NATO allies considered to be most under threat from an emboldened Russia. Behind that the hope will rest on sanctions and economic difficulties curbing Russia's ambitions. Unfortunately, those are the same factors that drive Putin to continue his aggression appealing to nationalist sentiment to maintain his domestic popularity.

Outcome: No

Comment on outcome from Mettletest Panellist:
The US has resisted sending arms to Ukraine, despite calls from Republicans in Congress. Instead the US has provided military trainers and some "defensive, non-lethal" equipment, like Humvees. The fighting and deaths have not ceased since a February ceasefire was declared but the violence is more sporadic. Under these conditions it is unlikely that US policy will change for the time being.