Ukraine: The Playground of Empires

With the ranging suspicion of what Russian president Vladimir Putin’s next move will be, NATO should continue its aid to Ukraine through the arming and training of their soldiers.

Alexander Richter

Ever since the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted during the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014, Ukraine, with its new pro-western government, has been a thorn in the side of revitalized Russian geopolitical ambitions. In response to the revolution, Russia subsequently launched an invasion and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea. In an attempt to destabilize Ukraine and restore Russia’s former geopolitical position, Russia has been backing separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Russia’s ambitions are further indicated through their military incursions in Georgia, and Putin’s description of the collapse of the Soviet Union as being “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

In the backdrop of Russia’s desire to restore it’s former sphere of influence, the Russian government has mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian and Belarusian-Ukrainian border. While the United States and its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies do not have any treaty obligation to Ukraine, in order to foster a world safe for democracy, NATO must continue providing lethal arms to Ukraine, provide training to Ukrainian soldiers, and engage in intelligence cooperation with the Ukrainian government.

The United States should not risk Nuclear war over Ukraine; however, the US should fulfill its treaty obligations to NATO, as defending the norms of collective security have partially brought a degree of unprecedented stability to Europe. The stability in Europe through NATO’s collective security in the first place is premised on the idea that all member states will defend each other from an armed attack. If the US is not willing to defend NATO, US treaty obligations and the norms of collective security would be rendered meaningless.

Ukraine is on the other side of that line, and while the protection of Ukrainian democracy is vital to both US strategy and humanitarian interests, there is comparatively less at stake. Instead, the US should adopt a policy of making Russian military action against Ukraine as difficult as possible, meaning the US should engage in all actions short of war to protect Ukrainian democracy—similar to the policy the US has towards North Korea. This can be done through deploying military personnel in Ukraine only for intelligence cooperation, the delivery of lethal arms, and the training of Ukrainian insurgents in the event of a Russian occupation of Ukrainian (or portions of it).

Realists such as John Mearsheimer argue that NATO expansion “ignored Russian interests, helping spark the conflict over Ukraine and driving Moscow closer to China.” He claims that, with the rise of China, “Europe does not matter very much at all,” and therefore, the US should not concern itself with Ukraine. Mearsheimer argues for the US to instead “[cultivate] amicable relations with Russia” because Russia “seemed to be a natural ally of the United States in containing Beijing.”

But Mearsheimer is wrong. The Ukraine crisis is not a product of NATO expansion towards Russia, Europe still matters, and Russia is not a natural ally against China. To trace back a chain of events until one singular moment in which US policy has threatened Russia and blaming the Ukraine crisis on that singular moment not only lays undue moral condemnation on US foreign policy, but is completely arbitrary and pretends that no other nation has the same agency the US does. Russia is a nation with its own agency, meaning Russia’s hostile policy towards Ukraine is not a product of NATO encroachment, but a product of Russia’s hostile policy towards Ukraine.

Secondly, Europe is still very much relevant on the international stage. The European continent contains the greatest amount and most prosperous democracies in the world, the EU and the UK are some of America’s largest trading partners, and Europe contains countries with some of the world’s most sophisticated militaries. In this sense, Europe still matters, and American power is partially tied to European security. Finally, because of Europe’s relevance and Russia’s destabilizing influence in Europe, Russia does not serve as a natural ally against China. By cultivating amicable relations with Russia at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty, the US would be reinforcing the norms of territorial imperialism, while simultaneously ensuring the deterioration of the post-WWII liberal norms that facilitated an unprecedented prosperity in the world.