- Russia has over 100,000 troops on standby near the Ukraine border.
- NATO, America, and European allies have been sending weapons to Ukraine.
- Biden put 8,500 troops on heightened alert and is weighing sending them to the region.
How we got here
NATO: Since the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has strengthened its position in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. While Ukraine isn’t officially a NATO member, it operates like one.
Existential threat: Russia shares a large stretch of its border with Ukraine, and with Ukraine in the hands of NATO, Russia is vulnerable to a Western-driven attack. Russia views this as an existential threat.
The impossible demand: In declared self-preservation, Russia gave NATO two demands. If met, Russia would avoid military aggression, but the demands are theatrical and expected to be rejected. They go as follows:
- NATO must stop backing Ukraine. This is unlikely but possible.
- NATO must give Russia a say in its defense strategy. NATO could not give up its sovereignty.
Failing influence over Ukraine: Russia’s key strategy in maintaining power in Ukraine has been propping up loyal politicians. That strategy has been failing over the years, with Ukraine’s president reducing Russia’s influence significantly. With ineffective political control, military control is the other option.
By invading Ukraine, Russia would:
- Expand its territory and minimize its exposed border.
- Regain influence over Ukraine.
- Face strong sanctions, though it does not seem worried by the effects.
By doing nothing: Russia would remain vulnerable with the neighboring presence of NATO and the United States.
Independence from Russia: Since 2019, Ukraine’s President Zelensky has taken serious steps to remove Russia’s influence over the country. He removed Russian loyalists in the government and banned Russian propaganda television, among other actions.
- The country’s leadership wants political independence from Russia, and their strategy has involved NATO and America.
Ukrainian leadership doesn’t believe that Russia will invade and maintains a calm facade. In many ways, this is a conflict between Russia and NATO, with Ukraine in its middle.
By engaging in war, America would be fighting for vanity, influence, and stature. After losing its presence in Afghanistan, losing power in Ukraine would signal America’s weakness to other countries and potentially cause other geopolitical strongholds to spiral downwards.
- Because of Russia’s sizable gas control, Americans could see soaring gas prices with lengthened conflict.
- The Biden administration promised that American troops would not fight. If that turns out to be untrue, American lives could be lost fighting a non-threat.
By avoiding war, America would:
- Give up Eastern influence.
- Be able to focus on domestic issues.
- Be able to focus on the more threatening China-U.S. conflict.
Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history. Russia is set on regaining control of Ukraine and strengthening its position against the West, which it paints as an aggressive and dishonest adversary.
The United States and Russia have a complicated but shorter history. America is set on preserving its global influence and signaling its strength while whitewashing the fallout in Afghanistan that signaled the opposite.