America Should Not Interfere with Russia’s Domestic Problems

Rahul Bhatia, Staff Writer for Spokesman

An important question facing the West in the recent crisis in Ukraine is whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should aid Ukraine militarily in order to deter further Russian aggression. When we ask the question of whether NATO and only NATO has the capability to deter further Russian aggression, we find that this organization is not the right mechanism. First, expanding NATO into Ukraine would result in a Russian military response and a severe deterioration of relations with Russia, including drawing NATO members into a potential direct conflict with Russia. Secondly, many NATO members have let their armies fall into disrepair, making it very difficult for them to fight an effective war against Russia. Lastly, sanctions imposed by the West and the recent crash in oil prices are hurting the Russian economy and are likely to pressure the Kremlin to become more conciliatory towards Ukraine. However, there are also counter- arguments to support NATO’s involvement, including that the West has a responsibility to aid Ukraine, and NATO needs to take action to restore its legitimacy in the region and globally.

As NATO expands closer to Russia, Russia is more likely to retaliate. In the past, the Kremlin has tried to use diplomacy and other soft power strategies to convey its concerns regarding NATO’s expansion closer to its borders. However, it has found that Russia’s concerns and warnings have been ignored. Ukraine in particular has a special significance for Russia as it was part of Russia for a long time. With NATO’s expansion following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin feels that the West is trying to contain and subdue Russia. In the past, Russia has retaliated as a result of NATO involvement in post- Soviet areas. When NATO gave membership to Georgia, Russia intervened, waging war against Georgia (Russo- Georgian War) which claimed over 240 lives and displaced at least 150,000 civilians. Hence, if NATO provides Ukraine with military aid, Russia will view it as a threat to its security and influence, and respond militarily, further escalating the conflict and possibly causing a larger war between nuclear powers.

Many of Europe’s armies are weak as a result of low spending defense budgets over the past few decades, and it would be difficult for NATO to counter Russia. In fact, according to Philip Seib, professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Southern California, “The agreed-upon benchmark for defense spending by NATO’s member states is 2 percent of GDP, but as of 2012 only four of the organization’s 28 members reached this [benchmark].” In contrast, according to IHS Jane’s, Russia’s defense spending has nearly doubled since 2007 and is expected to rise by 18.4 percent this year. We see that Russia has been spending much more on their army than many NATO members, and would be a formidable force against NATO.

Sanctions imposed by the West are working, and we need to let them have an impact. These sanctions have caused pain because bankers have not only restricted the business of Putin’s associates, but also that of a much bigger group of Russian companies. Furthermore, the recent decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on December 27, 2014 to not cut the production of crude oil has led to a significant decline in the price of oil from 110 dollars per barrel to under 51 dollars as of April 11, 2015. The crash in oil prices has had a severe impact on the Russian economy, which is expected to enter into a major recession in 2015 with a GDP decline of almost 4.7 percent.

There are some arguments that however that promote NATO’s involvement in the region. First, NATO can restore its image by successfully combating Russia’s victimization of Ukraine. If NATO can reestablish its legitimacy as a powerful military bloc, then it would gain deterrence credibility against other potential aggressors. Second, the West had implicitly promised to safeguard Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity when Ukraine agreed to give up its arsenal of 2,000 nuclear weapons as part of the Budapest Memorandum. If NATO fails to act, it will lose legitimacy in the region and Russia may become emboldened to reclaim other former Soviet regions. On the other hand, if NATO has a responsibility to aid Ukraine, how far would NATO and the West be willing to go? As Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger bluntly put it, “Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That’s a fact of life.” So, if we aren’t going to fight Russia for Ukraine, then why supply the Ukrainians arms or other military supplies?

This is why NATO should not supply Ukraine with military aid because they are unable, unwilling, and the wrong mechanism to instrument such change. Instead, the West should let sanctions and the falling oil prices bring Russia to the negotiating table, and then aim to solve the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy and the threat of further sanctions.