Should the U.S. help Ukraine against the Russian invasion?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a complete shock to the world, and with war once again returned to Europe many are debating whether the U.S. should get militarily involved.
Rise of the Issue
On February 24 2022, Vladimir Putin declared the start of a ‘Special Operation to Denazify the Ukraine’. The choice to name the operation as one to “denazify” Ukraine however was a propaganda tool used to justify this invasion. The real objective of Moscow is more complex. One motive is to create a barrier between NATO bloc states and Russia, as Putin feels threatened by NATO’s enlargement. Another reason is to annex the Donbas region and to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia had already annexed in 2014. Russia launched an attack on multiple axes and threatened to encircle the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and made significant gains in the south. However, they were met with stiffer resistance than anticipated and also suffered from poor planning and logistical mismanagement.
Ukraine was also helped in this task by a unified and active international community. European nations and the U.S. supplied intelligence, weapons, equipment, and ammunition to the Ukraine Territorial Defense Force (U.T.D.F) that kept them in the fight but stopped short of actively getting involved in the war themselves. The most the West has committed to do is to continue providing support to Ukraine in the form of supplies and intelligence, as they do not want to risk a war with a nuclear power like Russia, that holds the most nuclear warheads in the world. This is the biggest reason many powers have not sent more sizable offensive weapons to Ukraine, as they fear Russia would consider it an escalation of the conflict.
Currently, Russia has refocused its offensive on the Donbas and is on the verge of achieving its objectives in the region. However, the fighting appears to be ground into a stalemate, which has caused many in the West to question how much help they can feasibly afford to give Ukraine while also managing their defense, especially if the conflict becomes another forever war or an expensive war of attrition.
Ukraine Goes Through Social Upheaval, and Turns Away from Russia to Europe
The Orange revolution of 2004 dislodged the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych who was suspected of rigging the vote. The country adopts a more pro-European Union stance and tries to distance itself from Russia, by electing Viktor Yushchenko as President.
Election of Pro-Russian President
In 2013, Yanukovych, who was elected as President in 2010, suspended the signing of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (E.U.) which triggered the massive Euromaidan protests. Yanukovych was ousted and fled to Russia.
Russia Annexes Crimea and Supports Separatist Movement in the Donbas Region
In February 2014, a referendum was held in Crimea to determine whether the Region will become a part of Russia. The results showed 95.5% in favor of joining Russia, many observers saw this referendum as illegal. At the same time, Russia, it is widely believed, began supporting pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine beginning a conflict that would continue till the invasion of Ukraine.
Feb. 2022 - Apr. 2022
Russian Invasion of Ukraine Begins
Russia launches a lightning offensive in the North, South, and East of the country, and manages to reach the outskirts of the capital of Kyiv. President Zelenskyy refuses to flee and requests international aid in the form of weapons and gear to equip the U.T.D.F. Russia is sanctioned by the U.S., the E.U., and other partners.
Apr. 2022 - Today
War Enters its Second Phase
Failure of Russian forces to take Kyiv and force a capitulation, they settle for a more protracted campaign in east Ukraine. The West starts providing Ukraine with more advanced weaponry. Russian aggression through relentless shelling of cities causes many civilian casualties. In response, the West accuses Moscow of war crimes and sanctions them further.
The risk of nuclear war is sobering for many who have pushed for escalation and active involvement, however, the mutually destructive capability of such a conflict is enough to make even Vladimir Putin reconsider such an option.
Costs of Supporting Ukraine
The U.S. just approved a $40 billion package in aid for Ukraine but critics of this strategy fear that if the war becomes a frozen conflict, the West would be funneling billions into another forever war that has little to show for it at home.
Effectiveness of Sanctions
The U.S. and the West have subjected Russia to one of the most damaging sanctions packages in history, which has forced Moscow to default on debts and has resulted in multinational companies pulling out of the country. The pressure from these sanctions many would hope would cause Russia to reconsider their actions, however Russia has contingency plans in place to blunt the effect of these sanctions.
Increased Food Insecurity
The Russian Navy has been blocking grain shipments and inflating the price of bread worldwide. The U.S. has an imperative to ensure supply lines remain open. However, breaking the Russian blockade is not accomplishable without serious escalation, which has made many hesitant to do so.
By supporting Ukraine, the U.S. remains committed to preserving liberal democracy.
The aggression of authoritarian leaders cannot remain unchecked, as it could enable similar aggression by other illiberal states like China and North Korea on neighboring democracies.
Targeted sanctions can pressure Russia to back down without major western intervention.
By sanctioning government officials, oligarchs, and major government institutions the U.S. and its allies can put more pressure on the key figures of the regime and pressure them into quitting the war or opposing Putin.
Providing Ukraine with weapons allows them to fight and win on their own.
By providing Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, the West does not have to get itself involved militarily. This is because Ukraine has proved itself to be a country that can fight and hold back Russian aggression, and so by supplying it with what it needs the West reduces the chances of a Russian victory.
By supporting Ukraine, the U.S. is denying Russia from repeating such actions in the future.
Russia has been annexing and invading its neighbors since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2001, and so by stopping them now the U.S. shows that the international community will not tolerate any more such actions.
By helping Ukraine the U.S. gains a valuable partner in the region.
Assisting Ukraine and modernizing their army would make them a valuable ally against any future Russian aggression, and a valuable ally of Europe and the U.S.
Russia will turn off the gas supplies to Europe.
Putin has threatened to cut off the gas supplies to Europe, which would deny them essential services like heating in the winter. This strategy could pressure leading allies like Germany to back down, as most of their gas is supplied by Russia.
There is a risk of escalation and nuclear war.
By providing more and more weapons with offensive capabilities, the U.S. and the West risk escalation with Russia, which could potentially start a nuclear conflict between superpowers.
Many question the effectiveness of sanctions on Russia.
Russia has demonstrated multiple times that it has many ways to get around U.S. and Western sanctions, especially through its partnership with China and close relations with India. Sanctions could have the opposite effect of galvanizing the population against the West.
If the war becomes a dragged-out conflict, there is a risk of fracturing within the West.
If the war drags on and more Western weapons are needed, there is a risk that the economic strain could start causing Western allies to turn away from supporting Ukraine, which would cause divisions within the E.U.
The War becomes a ‘monetary black hole’.
With somewhat of a stalemate already occurring, continued fiscal support to Ukraine would be inadvisable as Washington would be sponsoring another forever war. U.S. citizens could be against this as less money would be available for domestic purposes.