The Columbus Dispatch
Opinion: We must give Russia multiple reasons to ‘think twice’ before attacking Ukraine
At times, mired in corruption and with ongoing challenges in numerous areas of society, Ukraine — a former Soviet republic — is a country many people typically overlook.
Yet, despite these challenges — many of which were inherited under its time in the Soviet Union — Ukraine maintains a broadly democratic structure that tries to uphold the rule of law and provides a level of liberty and freedom for its citizens.
There is no treaty that binds Ukraine’s defense to the United States as the former is not a member of NATO. And while the United States is a signatory on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which effectively handed over nuclear weapons from Kiev to Moscow in exchange for promises to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity, it is not a treaty obligation for Washington that promises protection by American troops.
But if Russia invades Ukraine again, as it did in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the stalemated frozen conflicts in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, or installs a puppet pro-Russian regime in Kiev, it threatens much of the existing world order enjoyed since the end of World War II.
That order is messy and has sometimes caused economic upheavals, but the world since 1945 has been made much safer for the expansion of the free market, constitutional rights, and liberty, in many parts of the globe.
As such, policymakers in the United States and its allies should do as much as possible to dissuade Vladimir Putin from further territorial breaches of Ukraine.
Failure to at least assist Ukraine emboldens other autocratic regimes around the world like China, Iran, and Turkey to engage in similar behaviors. Suddenly, there may be a lot less liberty and far fewer protections for constitutional rights and the free market.
Vladimir Putin has long claimed that NATO’s expansion in eastern Europe is an inherent threat to Russia’s security. Historically, Russia has been invaded from the west on several occasions: by Poland-Lithuania in 1610, Sweden in 1709, Napoleon’s France in 1812, during the Russian Civil War in 1917, and Hitler’s Germany in 1941. Yet, this argument is a “straw man” in many respects.
First, Russia’s assertion that it needs a buffer is historically misplaced.
Joseph Stalin negotiated such a buffer with Roosevelt and Churchill at the end of World War II, citing the massive death toll on the Soviet Union in fending off the Nazis.
While this is true, Stalin himself allowed his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, to sign an agreement with his German counterpart, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, to divide eastern Europe (also known as the Nazi/Soviet non-aggression pact). Stalin himself assumed that Hitler would be of no threat to him.
Second, democracies and democratic aspirants throughout eastern Europe are far more threatened by Russia than the other way around, as evidenced by numerous incursions to the airspaces of Russia’s neighbors as well as ongoing and increasingly sophisticated cyber espionage coming from Moscow. No country in eastern Europe in modern times has considered the prospect of attacking Russia.
The United States and many NATO allies have done much to arm and train Ukrainians to defend themselves against the threat of Russian militarism. Yet, much more could be done, especially in terms of sanctions and pressuring Putin in the energy sector.
A return to North American energy independence and/or an increase in the global energy supply will help, noting that Putin generally does not act out on the world stage while the supply of oil and natural gas is high around the world, pushing down his profits in the energy sector.
Next, NATO should refuse all concessions to Russia except for trying to assure the Kremlin that the West has no ambitions to ever engage in an unprovoked attack against it.
Finally, further helping Ukrainians is another key deterrent. Although Russia is on paper far more powerful than Ukraine, lessons of the 1939-1940 Winter War are apparent. In that conflict, the small country of Finland fended off an abrasive attack from the Soviet Union and fought the superpower to a draw.
Pressuring Vladimir Putin on several fronts and reminding him of this history is a useful way to have him think twice before attacking Ukraine. Although the current world order certainly has its shortcomings, it is a system where the free market, constitutional rights, and liberty, have generally expanded.
Glen Duerr is associate professor of International Studies at Cedarville University.