Ukraine has always been a land divided. The northern and western portions of the country edge closer to the rest of Europe, while the southern and eastern portions attempt to maintain ties with what they consider their Motherland: Russia. Russian is spoken with far greater frequency in the latter portions of the country, and many of Vladimir Putin’s most partisan supporters live there as well. The recent protests in Kiev over the nation’s fate — will it unite with Europe or with Russia? — sparked a series of events that led to outright military aggression by Russia.
On the morning of March 1, Russia’s lower parliamentary chamber, the Duma, affirmed its support of President Putin’s plan to “stabilize” Crimea. Unanimously, the upper chamber voted to endorse military action in all of Ukraine to ensure Russian interests are protected. The Russian military immediately took action, spreading its forces from bases in the region. Within three days, the Russian military, which now controls the provincial government, airports, roads and other important infrastructure, has essentially conquered the region.
This invasion comes at an incredibly inopportune time for the Ukrainian government. The provincial Crimean government has no means to defend itself beyond light armor and troops, the miniscule Ukrainian fleet in Sevastopol is cornered by the significantly larger Russian fleet based there and the Ukrainian military has failed to keep a leader for long.
In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama, the invasion flies in the face of his assertion that sending military forces to the Ukraine would be a “breach of international law” and a “clear violation” of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. This is not the only action undertaken by Moscow to push against the U.S. The Federal Council also recalled its ambassador to the U.S. the same day it voted for military action.
What will come of this unfolding crisis? The Obama administration has created another “red line” against Russia, which, if the situation develops as it did in Syria, will be futile if unenforced. Military intervention, therefore, must remain an option if Russia directly threatens the sovereign government of Kiev.
If the U.S. does send military forces, it would be ironic to target Russian tanks with the A-10, an extremely effective tank-killer designed to eliminate Soviet tank columns. The aircraft is on the chopping block in Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s budget proposal. This desperately-needed supplement to the weak Ukrainian military will be phased out with the introduction of the F-35.
The group most affected by Ukraine, the European Union, has failed to reach a diplomatic solution between the parties. NATO is set to convene this week to discuss the situation, which could lead to productive action to punish Russian aggression. Regardless, the crisis cannot be ignored.
The economic importance of the pro-Russia regions of the Ukraine cannot be understated. A large share of industry, wealth and economic infrastructure is in the southern and eastern portions of the country, meaning Russian dominance in those portions will leave the economy of pro-Western Ukraine in shambles. If Crimea is annexed by Russia, the remainder of the country will remain dependent on the charity of other nations. Already, the government has asked for $35 billion by the end of 2015. The U.S. has promised $1 billion. With Russia holding a $15 billion preapproved loan, it seems the Kremlin is willing to watch the nation wither in economic ruin to crush anti-Russian sentiment.
With the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government challenged by Russian aggression, the reestablishment of a Russian sphere of influence seems inevitable without tough action from the West. Whatever nations emerge from the conflict, Moscow will have an iron grip on their future. The only hope for stability in the region is for the great powers of the world, primarily the U.S., to mitigate the situation through diplomatic and, if necessary, limited military involvement. The most appropriate military response would be similar to U.S. involvement in Libya, with cruise missile bombardment and multilateral cooperation. Regardless, it is clear that Russia has no intention of losing influence in its old stomping ground — it hopes to regain the power it lost with the Soviet Union’s collapse.
—Brennan Mancil is a freshman studying political science and international affairs
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