HALIFAX – A high-ranking Ukrainian official warned that less support from the US to Ukraine – as it battles Russian aggression – could contribute to a much more destabilized region and have farther reaching effects.
"This equilibrium, if it is ruined, then it could actually lead to drastic consequences in other parts of the world," Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, the vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, told Defense News in an interview Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum.
With a Donald Trump presidency looming, there is much uncertainty in terms of decisions he may make related to assisting Ukraine and building a new relationship with Russia. Should Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin strengthen, it could translate to weakened support for Ukraine's defense against Russia.
Klympush-Tsintsadze said the hope is to show Trump the importance of not accepting the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, and that supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia helps to stabilize the entire region.
The official noted Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 with assurances from the US, major European powers and from China, that it would be protected should its independence or sovereignty be threatened.
"If Ukraine is not protected, if we are not continuing, for example, non-recognition policy of illegal annexation of Crimea, if we are ruining this, just one single part of it, how do you ensure the non-proliferation regime working further," Klympush-Tsintsadze questioned.
She also noted that the lack of a strong reaction from the Western world to Russia's invasion in Georgia in 2008, "made it possible for Putin to invade Ukraine in 2014," and that is now translating to an intense fear among the Baltic States that they are Putin's next target.
Baltic countries have recently fretted that there is a high danger that Putin – taking advantage of the changing-of-the-guard in the US – could choose to move in on one of their territories before Trump takes office in January.
The Baltic States also acknowledge the need for Ukraine's stability "and right now are also raising their voices because they understand if the West gives up on unity and support to Ukraine and its struggle to defend itself from Russian attack, then Baltics are the most visibly vulnerable potential target for the Russian federation and we share this concern," Klympush-Tsintsadze said.
Trump, since his election, has had phone conversations with both Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Klympush-Tsintsadze said the president invited Trump to visit Ukraine. She noted that "even though we have had the luxury of attention and clear engagement on a very high level of [US] Vice President Joe Biden," President Barack Obama never visited the country during his eight years.
When asked what Ukraine might do should Trump pull back US support of Ukraine, Klympush-Tsintsadze said, "First and foremost, we are counting on ourselves, so it's not that we are sitting there and waiting for someone to help, that is very important to understand. It is the Ukrainian Army that is holding the Russian aggression right now without foreign boots on the surface, on the ground."
The Ukrainian army is 250,000 soldiers strong and has made drastic improvements in bringing independent battalions of volunteer soldiers into the official military framework. This unity, Klympush-Tsintsadze said, has helped to improve equipping soldiers uniformly and in a more timely way, but more work is to be done there.
Klympush-Tsintsadze added Ukraine has devoted 5 percent of its GDP to defense and security spending in its country, far above the 2 percent required for NATO countries. Ukraine is not a member, but, in the past, has expressed its desire to be inducted.
However, Ukraine can’t go it alone. Russia "only understands the language of unity and the language of power and that is why we will continue with all the foreign partners in order to make sure there are no fractures between them and Russia does not exploit those fractures because they are very good at that," Klympush-Tsintsadze said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.