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9 December 2021

Tensions continue to mount between Russia and Ukraine over allegations of a future Russian invasion, as President Joe Biden meets with Vladimir Putin over the situation.

Russian forces have been amassing at the country’s border with Ukraine, with estimates placing the figure at around 90,000, although Putin denies all allegations of any plans to invade Ukraine.

In a meeting with Putin, Biden warned that any attempts by Russia to escalate the situation would be met by economic measures, although the US government has refused to outline these measures publicly.

Putin has expressed concern over NATO being able to use Eastern European countries as staging grounds for operations against Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has suggested that Russia is preparing to launch a coup to topple the Ukrainian government, a claim that Moscow has denied.

If the West is unwilling to take a strong stance against Russia, it is likely that the world will see a repeat of the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Although the world condemned the Russian military for seizing control of the Crimean peninsula and does not recognise Russian control of Crimea, they were unwilling to take action and prevent it. Failure to act this time means that Russia may be able to annex Ukraine completely, without opposition.

By doing little to stop Russia in 2014, the West showed that their bark was worse than their bite, and gave Putin confidence that the West would not stop his expansionistic policies. This is not too dissimilar from the reaction of the UK and France to German, Italian, and Japanese expansion in the years before World War 2, which gave those three countries confidence that they would not be opposed. It would be unwise to risk a repeat of that.

Russian paramilitary forces, including Neo-Nazis, have been involved in the Donbas War, a conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, since 2014 with the UN estimates in 2019 putting Ukrainian losses at 3,300 since 2014.

The most radical solution would be for the US to declare war on Russia over Ukraine. Doing so would potentially lead to a destabilising conflict like we saw in Syria, fought between US-backed and Russian-backed factions. Such a conflict would probably worsen the migrant crisis facing Europe. Fortunately, Biden has stated that going to war unilaterally is not something that he is considering.

An alternative solution is the one being considered by the US and their allies, which would focus on economic sanctions. That would likely lead to similar sanctions from Russia. Sanctions would do little to dissuade the Russian government, however. Sanctions target the civilian economy, only indirectly affecting the military capabilities of a nation like Russia, which has considerable natural resources.

They curb civilian economic output by raising prices or forcing Russian businesses to look to other more expensive markets. If Russia was a democracy, the power of public opinion might be able to convince the government to abandon its militaristic policies but because Russia is not a democracy, sanctions would have to completely cripple the Russian economy just to have any real effect. Author Justin Raimondo notes that when this policy was used against Iraq, it destroyed the middle class. And yet conflict still rages on there.

However, failing to take action would be even more devastating. By refusing to take action, Biden would be following in the footsteps of Obama, who was unable to stop the annexation of Crimea. If Biden and his allies failed here, it would open up the rest of Ukraine to Russia.

This mimics the failure of Britain and France to stop the German annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938, allowing the Nazis to occupy the rest of it the following year. That directly led to World War 2, and is something that the West cannot allow to be repeated.

So if a proactive war and economic sanctions are off the cards, where does this leave us?

Obviously, action needs to be taken, lest Russia is given free rein in Eastern Europe. Diplomatic avenues are the preferred option to resolve this conflict, as it avoids any bloodshed. Russia and the West should be willing to compromise. If Russia withdraws from the Ukrainian border and stops supporting the separatists, the US should be willing to meet Russian requests to not expand NATO further into Eastern Europe. Ukraine will stabilise, and Russia will still have faith in its national security.

However, if diplomatic options fail, the West must be willing to take a more defensive stance. Europe has signaled a willingness to present a united front against Russia over Ukraine. This is important, as Russia believes Ukraine is its own territory, treating it in a manner that follows China’s stance over Taiwan. This reflects his desire to recreate the Soviet Union, which would require annexing Ukraine.

For example, the tension between Ukraine and Russia only started once Ukraine’s pro-Russian president lost power in 2014. The US and NATO therefore need to be willing to coordinate with countries like Poland, Belarus, and Romania on how best to approach Russia. These countries need to be consulted, because if Ukraine caves, Russia will turn its attention to these countries, and they need to be reminded that they have friends in the West.

This likely means supplying and aiding those countries without provoking Russian violence by expanding NATO. It needs to be clear that this is only a temporary move, and once the situation is de-escalated, US support will be withdrawn.

America needs to reflect on its failure to stop the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This means the US needs to demonstrate that it is willing to meet Russia as equals, rather than trying to exert power over Russia, provoking aggression. And ultimately, Eastern European countries need to be consulted by US on any policies America adopts, because if Ukraine falls then those nations are next in the firing line.

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Stuart Jeffery, aka LibertyDownUnder, is the founder of the Australian Liberty Network. He is also the host of the Gumtree of Liberty and Gumtree of Liberty Live podcasts, and is editor of the Liberty Review. Stuart is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, majoring in international relations, at the University of Southern Queensland.

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