March 2022 – On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded neighboring Ukraine in an escalation widely condemned by governments across the globe.
We’ve asked Drew University faculty experts to help put the crisis into perspective.
How did we get here?
Can you briefly explain the actions the U.S. has taken and what their effects seem to have been thus far?
During the Trump years, President Trump questioned NATO’s existence. Ukraine received some advanced weapons, but support for Ukraine waned.
Biden’s decision to support NATO and to rebuild frayed relations with the European allies was an important turning point. The Biden administration increased military assistance for Ukraine. But, this assistance could not prevent a potential war. While the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine is important to highlight, preventing a Russian invasion required a different set of policies. The only way to prevent a war was to either position U.S. troops in Ukraine or to establish some type of treaty—though technically the U.S. is supposed to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum—that extended some security guarantees to Ukraine.
Even though the Biden administration deserves some credit, it is not clear what it is doing currently to try to resolve the crisis. Supporting a possible Ukrainian insurgency is good and all, but the U.S. should be doing more to try to stop the fighting. While Ukrainians have demonstrated strong resolve, the Russian military is stronger and better armed at this point. Preventing bloodshed is a worthy effort.
Whether Russia made a mistake by invading Ukraine is an interesting question, but one that will be answered by historians.
Where do you think things go from where we are now?
The Russia-Ukraine War will have many chapters and I think that Russia will eventually oust the existing government in Kyiv. It will face an insurgency that will make it difficult to rule the country. My only concern is that fighting will more than likely be concentrated in urban centers. The Russians have been more than willing to destroy city centers to end insurgencies. The Russian military’s leveling of Grozny during the Chechen wars serves as a reminder of Russia’s brutality. Russian actions in Homs and Aleppo during its intervention in Syria are also indicative that Ukrainians are probably going to face more hardship in the near future.
The UN Security Council, having failed to address the war given Russia’s veto, called on the General Assembly to hold an emergency session. This is a big deal. People forget that General Assembly authorized one of the first peacekeeping missions in history and that it also authorized the U.S.-led coalition that fought North Korea during the Korean War. At this point, I don’t think the General Assembly will take these actions, but adding the issue to the General Assembly’s agenda allows the UN Secretary-General to play some role in the conflict. We need some leadership and if Washington and its European allies are not willing to act, then it should be the UN.
Is there an historical example we can pull from when thinking about this crisis from a political/international relations perspective?
The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 also serves as a reminder that regime change is easy, but defeating insurgencies are difficult. We can say the same about Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon or Vietnam’s ouster of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.
What is clear is that regime change seldom works. It usually breeds insurgencies that are difficult to defeat. When these are defeated it happens at a very high cost, often involving serious human rights abuses and deep humanitarian crises.
What global reactions are you looking at?
President Zelensky of Ukraine noted earlier this year that one of Ukraine’s main errors was giving up its nuclear arsenal in 1992. Had Ukraine kept a few bombs it would have been able to deter Russia. Many countries are looking closely at this crisis and they are probably reconsidering their options. I am sure that some countries like South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia are strongly considering developing nuclear weapons. And having more nuclear states would be destabilizing as other states may follow the example.
China is studying the West’s reaction to the war. It is not a secret that China wants to reunify Taiwan and assert its claim over the South China Sea. China has time to build up its military and prepare its economy for that possible decision. But let’s face it. If Russia can succeed in Ukraine, China will probably start putting a plan into action to invade and annex Taiwan. The U.S. should start preparing for this possibility and clarifying its position vis a vis Taiwan.