The crisis in Ukraine poses a big headache for European leaders who have agonized for months over how forcefully to respond to the fighting. But the latest actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin call for strong sanctions, and European countries — not the United States — must take the lead against the threat to stability on their continent.
On Thursday, Russia sent tanks and military vehicles into southeastern Ukraine, opening a new front in the months-long insurgency in the eastern part of the country, largely fueled by Russia. In the past, European nations have protested Putin’s actions but been skittish about alienating Russia, a major trading partner and energy supplier. Although European officials increased sanctions this summer after pro-Russia rebels shot down a civilian aircraft, they’ve stopped short of some major steps like canceling a large French sale of helicopter carriers to Moscow. It’s become increasingly clear that European hesitancy and mixed messages gave Putin license to keep up his interference in Ukraine.
Some voices in Ukraine have called for direct American help to Kiev, but the US role in Ukraine is, and should remain, limited. The United States can’t want stability in Europe more than the Europeans themselves do. And any hint of American unilateralism would play directly into the hands of the Russian government, which is already trying its hardest to deflect blame for the crisis to the United States.
Of course, the United States should be ready to help. But Europe has to take up the primary burden for addressing the escalating chaos on its doorstep.