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Everything You Need to Know About Ukraine

Political Scientist Steven Fish on why Russia invaded, the U.S.’s role, and the future of this conflict

June 6, 2022
by Dhoha Bareche
Steven Fish

Why does Russia want to take over Ukraine?

Russians don’t want to take over Ukraine—Vladimir Putin does. Even most of Putin’s top officials knew this couldn’t work. Putin has had a dream all his career of re-establishing historic Russia, this myth of what he calls Kievan Rus. Many hundreds of years ago, Kyiv was the capital of this ancient land called Rus—a medieval confederation of Eastern Slavic tribes. For Ukraine to be left outside of Russia for Putin is like New England to be left out of the United States to us. 

What role has the United States played in the conflict? Should it play a role in the future?

President Biden has masterfully led the organization of resistance to this invasion. First, he constantly shares what our intelligence is showing, basically weaponizing the truth. Second, he united the Western alliance and NATO like never before. He has gotten all the world’s democracies behind this effort. The Japanese, for example, are imposing sanctions, and they’re not NATO members. Biden also established a very good relationship with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine and let him take the lead. 

The United States should continue to push sanctions and even double down because they’re working beautifully. Above all, Biden needs to go to the American people and say, “My fellow Americans, we’re at the hinge of history. We are now leading the global charge against an evil that is starting to look like Hitler’s evil in some ways. We are going to have to pay for this. And I know we’re ready.” 

When Biden mentioned the war in his State of the Union, he denied there’d be any cost. He said that gas prices might go up, but we’re releasing 30 million barrels from our strategic reserve of oil to help keep oil prices down, and left it at that. He was basically blaming Putin for higher gas prices. Winston Churchill didn’t go on radio and say, “Blame Hitler, not me.” He said, “I’m leading you through a truly great moral struggle, and we can do it.” That’s what President Biden has to do. 

What are the global implications of a Russian victory in Ukraine? 

If Putin is able to actually conquer and hold even parts of Ukraine, it will validate the vision of the world that Putin, his Chinese dictator friend Xi Jinping, and Trump want to usher into existence where might makes right. It will establish a world in which it will be safe for China to invade Taiwan and annex it, just as Xi Jinping plans to do. It will validate a world in which corruption, criminality, violence, and imperialism run amok. 

Could this conflict escalate into another world war?

It’s possible that Putin could actually, in his desperation, use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. He could possibly even threaten a NATO member by moving a few troops into Estonia, for example, which would be very easy for him to do. At that point, the United States would be obligated to respond, according to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, as if it were an attack on us, which definitely means a nuclear confrontation with Russia. Putin has gotten so crazy recently that we can’t rule out any possibility. 

But I’m optimistic. One of the main reasons is that Biden has been skillful at standing up to Putin while also minimizing the risk. He has resisted, and I think rightly, President Zelenskyy’s calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. If we did that, we would find ourselves shooting down Russian airplanes. Then you’d have a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia and a casus belli

How should we move forward? Are world leaders responding effectively?

Western leaders, for the most part, have done a magnificent job. Germany, for example, has increased their military spending by $113 billion over the coming few years. In Italy, Prime Minister Draghi has said in no uncertain terms that they are going to drastically reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas. Other EU leaders have said this as well. That’s basically a death threat for Russia’s economy. These are European countries that, even a month or two ago, people doubted were willing to do anything that might endanger their energy supply. Now they’re saying we’re willing to do whatever it takes. It’s a spirit of sacrifice and determination that the West has not shown since World War II.

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