Avoiding Another Cold War

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The unrest in Ukraine has reached a fever pitch. Following the departure of President Yanukovych from Kiev, Russia has sent troops to three military bases in Ukraine, and the country’s new government has mobilized troops in response to what some have called an invasion.” [1]

Naturally, the conflict has adopted an international character. Politicians on both sides have staked their claim to the Ukrainian people. The Tally’s Kai-Erik Jensen has already done an excellent job of explaining why such claims don’t add up. [4] However, now that Russia has sent troops into Crimea, the debate over what the Ukrainian people want has taken a backseat to the question of what the United States should do. As always with issues involving Russia, a good number of voices weighing in on this problem will be angry and otherwise bellicose, but the United States would do well to remember an oft-ignored but critically important option: Do nothing.

Of course, in a perfect world the United States would be able to force Russia to back down and rescue democracy in Ukraine. We would do so with no bloodshed and only a moment of anxiety as the good ol’ US of A stares Vladimir Putin down and forces him to back off. That would be fantastic.

Unfortunately, it would also be a work of fantasy.

Much more so than to the United States or even its European allies, Ukraine is crucially important to Russia. It serves as a buffer between East and West, and Crimea especially has long been home to critical Russian military bases. That’s why, when Ukrainian opposition leaders kicked President Yanukovych out of office over his refusal to join the EU, it made sense that Russian officials would grow uneasy. Dubious as Russia’s activities have been, they are no different from what the United States did to the Middle East after 9/11. As Russia sees it, it’s a matter of national security and military self-preservation.

That’s why the United States has to tread very carefully in Ukraine. This is not Russian military adventurism that can be easily discouraged with a show of force. Confronting Russia now would be like charging a cornered animal.

Of course, Russia’s position in global affairs also complicates the issue. The United States could probably force a country like the Ivory Coast or Latvia to follow its orders if it so chose, but Russia is no average country. It is an international superpower. The last time the United States and Russia faced off, it led to a decades-long Cold War. Of course circumstances have changed since the Cold War ended, but they haven’t changed that much. Russia is still a force to be reckoned with, and the United States should treat it as such.

There is no such thing as a good option in the Ukrainian crisis. There are, however, bad options, and trying to stare down Russia is one of the worst. The United States should recognize the gravity of the situation as Russia sees it. Russia has a lot more to lose that the United States and Europe do. In cases like this, avoiding conflict, not causing conflict, will prove the wisest course of action. Doing nothing, though frustrating, will reduce the level of violence in Ukraine and avoid the dawn of a new Cold War.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/02/world/europe/ukraine-politics/

[2] http://thetally.org/2013/12/19/ukraines-protest-problem/

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