Addison Wakelin ’22
In the latest developments of the geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and its NATO allies against Putin, Russia’s growing encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty perpetuates a bleak cycle of deeply fragmented regional and international relations between the global superpowers.
Russia and Ukraine have long feuded in the Eastern European region. The bilateral relations between the two states have been extremely unstable and rather pernicious in the long-term economic and social development of the region.
Following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the two have contributed to continual escalated tensions, particularly among Russia’s physical, diplomatic, and economic encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty, climaxing with the 2014 annexation of Crimea, which led to the ousting of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Although Putin has yet to invade Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden described an invasion as “imminent,” much to the dismay of current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who continues to reassure allies that Russia will not invade.
Alexander Khara, a Ukrainian diplomat and former assistant defense minister, described the unlikeliness of a Russian invasion in Ukraine, but that there are other ways that Putin will exhibit Russia’s power in the region. He further details, “Russia is not going to de-escalate, so the threat of invasion is still there. There are several variants or options that the Russians can apply to Ukraine, from escalating on the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk or Luhansk, which is the most ‘innocent’ way of not [openly] showing the signs that Russia is there.”
Sanctions play a crucial role in the maintenance of international law and diplomacy between the U.S. and its NATO allies, particularly in maintaining a secure foreign policy against intrusive state actors, like Russia and Iran.
Khara continues, “And we have huge international support [from the US and Europe], with [a sanctions] package that can destroy the Russian economy if a single Russian soldier would breach Ukrainian borders.”
Over the last several weeks, other prominent NATO allies that have engaged with the U.S. against Russia’s growing encroachment include Germany, France, Romania, and Poland, in efforts to bolster global diplomacy in the looming crisis.
Russia has faced numerous sanctions throughout the years, further reinforcing the deep extent of how their implementation has exacerbated much of the political and economic ramifications of Russia’s already stagnate long-term development. These sanctions focus primarily on Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, some of the most prominent facets of the Russian economy.
These sanctions have significant economic and financial ramifications for Russia, in which, according to the Economic Expert Group (EEG), “By mid-2016, Russia had lost an estimated $170 billion due to financial sanctions, with another $400 billion in lost revenues from oil and gas.”
The U.S. has long had a contentious diplomatic relationship with Russia. Putin’s constant encroachment of U.S.-led sanctions, including those established in 2014 after Russia had annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, raises the question of the efficacy in which those diplomatic sanctions have worked. The U.S.’ struggle in maintaining their economic and diplomatic unipolarity is representative of a larger internal struggle to reinforce Western values through their foreign policy decisions.
In the continuous threat of imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions by Western allies against Russia, Putin’s rather sporadic role throughout the Russo-Ukrainian Crisis reflects the leader’s own long-term struggle to consolidate Russia’s economic and military power within the region, largely against the presence of multilateral institutions and bilateral relations with other nations.
The potential costs of Russia invading Ukraine could lead to major political and military upheavals, including the potential ousting of current democratically-elected Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. U.S. intelligence analysts state that there could also be a significant human cost of a potential invasion; one of “potential deaths of 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, 5,000 to 25,000 members of the Ukrainian military and 3,000 to 10,000 members of the Russian military. The invasion, they said, could also result in one million to five million refugees, with many of them pouring into Poland.”
The situation remains uncertain in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian crisis, with the potential economic and political ramifications looming throughout much of Eastern Europe. The U.S. and its NATO allies have reinforced their prominent military and economic roles in the region. However, following the political and territorial upheavals in the aftermath of the 2014 Crimean crisis, Ukraine remains weary of the erratic and encroaching behavior that has defined Putin’s presidency for years.