Written by: Annika Lilja
In 2008, during the Summer Olympics in Beijing, Russia invaded Georgia. The then Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, declared from Beijing, “War has started.” In 2014, just days after Putin returned from Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian troops moved into Crimea. Now, in 2022, with the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and with Putin in attendance, the world is left to wonder whether Putin will invade Ukraine.
The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has ordered large amounts of troops, tanks, and artillery to the border with Ukraine as well as Crimea (the peninsula extending into the Black Sea that was annexed by Russia) and Belarus (a close Russian alley), essentially surrounding Ukraine with Russian forces. Putin has made high stake demands of what would need to happen to prevent him from invading Ukraine. These demands are viewed by some as so bold that they think they were designed for Ukraine and NATO to reject them, allowing Putin to claim that his attempt at diplomacy has failed and that invasion is necessary.
According to several different estimates, there seem to be about 100,000 to 130,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine.
Biden has sent 3000 troops into East Europe as a show of force and has 8200 more on standby to reinforce NATO allies. While the US would help NATO allies, and the US and NATO would supply weaponry to Ukraine, Ukraine would still be fighting Russia without troops from the West because it isn't a member of the alliance.
American officials have estimated that if Russia does invade Ukraine, it could mean up to 100,000 civilian casualties and could produce up to 5 million refugees. So far, both the US and Russia say they are still willing to pursue diplomacy, but the consequences of a full-scale invasion will hang over the heads of officials in the weeks to come.
Russian and Belarusian forces move across frozen terrain towards the border of Ukraine for an invasion that may or may not come. American officials believe that Putin is undecided on whether he will invade Ukraine or not.
Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, met with Putin on February 4th and publicly offered strong support for Russia against the West. The two released a statement on Friday saying the following.
"Friendship between the two states has no limits."
For President Putin, invading Ukraine presents a chance to restore what was lost when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. It's an opportunity to ensure a sphere of influence his influence in Europe and a chance to prevent the Westward drift of many countries surrounding Russia that were once in the Soviet Union. Putin believes that Ukraine is the heart of the old Soviet Union, and is a core part of Russian identity. President Putin has demands, most of which center around his issue with modern Russia being encircled by countries with western orientations. He hopes to restore a large buffer zone around Russia with countries that are subject to his influence or simply not aligned with the west.
NATO, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was designed to contain the Soviet Union and prevent it from expanding. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russians believed they had commitments from US officials that NATO would not be allowed to expand to its borders. The US says there were no such commitments, and at the end of the day, the agreement was signed in 1997 between the President Clinton of the United States and President Yeltsin of Russia that allowed any country, even those that used to be in the Soviet Union, to decide for themselves if they would join an alliance with NATO. 15 countries have joined since then, and Ukraine is not one of them. However, in its constitution, it lays out that it wants to become a member.
Demands from Putin include that Ukraine will never join NATO and that NATO will deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet Union states, which completely contradicts the 1997 agreement.
Another one of Putin's demands is that the US and NATO remove all weapons and troops from former Soviet Union states. That means no heavy weapons, no nuclear weapons, and a withdrawal of NATO forces back to the lines set before the 1997 agreement. This would mean a withdrawal from Poland, Romania, the area that used to be East Germany, and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Putin is essentially holding Ukraine hostage to accomplish his goals.
This leads to huge stakes with the future of Eastern Europe on the line.
Military equipment on the border can only make it across when the land is frozen and the land will only stay frozen for a month or two before mud season kicks in, giving Putin the narrow window of February to March to invade Ukraine.
Ukraine is not in NATO, and the responsibility to defend a country only extends to members. This means that if Russia were to invade Ukraine that the country would be left to fight on its own, NATO would not fight for them.
Three types of sanctions have been brought up to make the cost of invading Ukraine so high that Putin will hesitate to go through with it.
The first type of sanction is financial. The idea is that financial sanctions would disrupt the Russian economy so much that the value of their currency would decrease and that it would cause terrible pain to their government.
The second type of sanction is technological. Because Putin has "sanction-proofed" Russia to a certain extent (meaning he has set measures in place to support Russia even if sanctions from the US and NATO were imposed), something new needed to be tested. This is where we bring in technological sanctions. The US would cut off microelectronic parts that make industrial goods and jet planes. Anything technological that relies upon US patents, or ideas would be frozen and the Russians would run out of parts to make goods. This would mean cutting off tech coming in from Europe which would stop the access to American design components. Ordinary citizens of Russia wouldn't have access to this technology and the people would be forced to realize the reasoning is because Putin has invaded Ukraine.
The third type of sanction is a warning to the Russians that if they do invade, NATO would provide weaponry to Ukrainian insurgents who are fighting a Russian occupying force. The US and NATO already provide military goods, mostly defensive goods, to the formal Ukrainian military. It is thought that if the Russians do invade, an insurgency, "An active revolt or uprising" (Oxford Languages), would develop that would need stinger missiles to take down Russian jets and helicopters, as well as offensive weapons that would make invading Ukraine a bloody fight for the Russians.
This is called the "Porcupine Strategy." If you make the country a porcupine, it's going to be really painful for you to try to eat it.
We don’t know if the supposed sanction proofing Putin has done will succeed in helping Russia should sanctions be imposed if he goes through with this. The support offered by the Chinese is another factor in how the sanctions will play out.
The question is whether or not there's a diplomatic process that could relieve this tension and prevent Russia from invading Ukraine while also giving Putin a face-saving way to get some of his demands met.
The real trouble is if can we get this done and deescalate the situation in a short period of time. The future of Eastern Europe is resting on the shoulders of the officials in this conflict.
"Russian and the U.S. Face Off Over Ukraine." The Daily, David E. Sanger, Annie Correal, The New York Times, 12 January 2022, https://open.spotify.com/episode/192lDXmXxPXJRNVYCBAUrB. Accessed 6 February 2022.
"Meet The Press Broadcast (Full) - Feb. 6th." Youtube, NBC News, 6 February 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdx4KSmu_mU. Accessed 6 February 2022.
"European allies urge for diplomacy between U.S. and Russia amid fears of an attack in Ukraine." Youtube, CBS Mornings, 5 February 2022,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBe3sltZInA. Accessed 6 February 2022.
Matthews, David. "“It’s not about Russia. It’s about Putin”: An expert explains Putin’s endgame in Ukraine." Vox, 6 February 2022,
https://www.vox.com/22917832/vladimir-putin-ukraine-military-invasion. Accessed 6 February 2022.
Mapchart.net was used to make the second map.