Europe’s New Threat: The Ukrainian Crisis

By Cullen Knowles

With the highly unstable climate that much of our world exists in today, Russia’s aggression over the past few months has strained an already tenuous relationship between the United States and its Eastern counterpart. After thwarting the U.S. in situations such as the Edward Snowden fiasco and the Syrian Civil War, ukraineRussia strained relations with the West to an even greater extent the recent annexation of Crimea. This action was a blatant violation of international law, and the United States, the European Union, and Canada responded with a plethora of sanctions and warnings. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has displayed nothing but disdain for international law, and Moscow has completely ignored the sanctions put in place by the U.S. and its allies. As a result of this response, it is obvious that the current economic and political pressure being placed on Russia will have little effect on Putin’s actions, and the international community is struggling to find an adequate solution for the crisis.

Economic sanctions have been an extremely popular method of countering the aggression of expansion-minded countries in the past, and the international community would rather use sanctions against Russia instead of resorting to military pressure. The U.S. and its allies have already imposed visa bans and asset freezes on many Russian officials and corporations (Gumuchian), but Russia has merely mocked these actions. Using broader economic sanctions to cripple Russia’s energy-dependent economy would easily solve this problem, but the U.S. and the European Union have refrained from using these sanctions for a variety of reasons. For example, any sanctions imposed by the U.S. alone would have a relatively insignificant effect on the Russian economy, as we conduct very little trade with Russia. On the other hand, sanctions imposed by the E.U. would decimate Russia’s economy, because “The EU does ten times as much trade with Russia as the United States, and it is the biggest customer for Russian oil and gas” (Gumuchian). However, sanctions on Russia’s energy sector would be a doubled-edged sword for the EU, as cutting of trade with Russia would rapidly deplete the oil and natural gas supplies of many countries in the EU. Several U.S. officials have proposed a solution that would allow the U.S. to supply these countries with oil and natural gas, but the United States is also struggling to obtain its own energy independence. As a result of these complications, the U.S. and its allies are exploring other solutions to the crisis in addition to economic sanctions.

While using military forces to curb Russian aggression is unfavorable, it should not be completely ruled out as a possible solution for the Ukrainian crisis. War with Russia should be avoided at all costs, but using the U.S. military and NATO to intimidate Russia could cause Putin to back down without starting a conflict. For example, we could provide Ukrainian troops with weapons and training or renew missile defense contracts with Poland and the Czech Republic, and neither of these actions would result in a war between the United States and Russia. However, a diplomatic solution is another possibility. Putin recently called President Obama to discuss a possible diplomatic solution for the crisis (Watkins), which could indicate that Russia is ready to come to the negotiating table and thus remove its military forces from the Ukrainian border. This would be an ideal solution to the crisis, but Russia’s unpredictable behavior has soiled its reputation, and we cannot trust Putin to remove Russia’s soldiers from the Ukrainian border once an agreement has been reached. Overall, both diplomacy and military pressure should be considered as potential solutions for the Ukrainian crisis, but the U.S. and its allies cannot use both at the same time.

As a result of Russia’s aggression, the United States and the European Union must be prepared to use economic, political, and possibly military pressure to prevent Russia from seizing more Ukrainian territory. When the pro-Russian government of Ukraine was toppled at the beginning of the crisis, Putin assured the rest of the world that Russia did not desire to use military force to influence the fate of eastern Ukraine. However, Russian forces did enter Crimea, and Putin formally annexed Crimea despite opposition from the international community. In fact, Putin’s actions have been completely unpredictable, and the presence of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s Eastern border is extremely alarming even though “Moscow has continuously stated Russia has no intention to move further into Ukraine” (Gumuchian). Despite Putin’s promises, Russia has shown no sign of backing down, and we must take action in order preserve the peace and stability of the region.

 Works Cited

  • Gumuchian, Marie-Louise. “Ukraine Crisis: Is Russia Done after Crimea?” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
  • Watkins, Tom, Greg Botelho, Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Radina Gigova, Brian Walker, Alexander Felton, and Victoria Butenko. “White House: Putin, Obama Discuss Possible ‘diplomatic Solution’ in Ukraine.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.