It’s official from the White House: Russia has invaded Ukraine. Russia deployed troops to two regions in Eastern Ukraine, calling it a “peacekeeping force” after declaring their independence. Meanwhile, U.S. deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said, “I am calling it an invasion.” President Biden has just announced severe sanctions on Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has up to 190,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides. Putin has multiple ways he can strike Ukraine, and he can take as much of Ukraine as he wants. But he cannot hold it: 45% of Ukrainians will fight back with weapons.
Ukrainians will resist, and there will be many dead Russian soldiers. Putin knows this, and the strengthening of Ukraine’s insurgency constrains Putin’s ability to take all of Ukraine.
What happens now? Refugees? NATO?
There are several possible combinations of scenarios:
►The first horror could be a massive refugee crisis in Europe. Putin could easily go all in and seize a third of Ukraine, everything east of the Dnieper River, including the capital Kyiv. Europe would be flooded with refugees. Analysts say up to 3 million Ukrainians would seek refuge in Poland if Putin took a large chunk of Ukraine.
►Ukraine survives but in a smaller form. Putin might successfully pry away more of Ukraine through force, but Ukraine’s sovereignty remains and its Western aspirations only grow by the minute.
►NATO could admit Ukraine promptly. The West knows that it should have admitted Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, rather than leaving the door open for Putin to exploit. Even if Russia occupies Crimea and parts of the Donbas, Ukraine can be admitted into the organization because there is no legal prohibition. And last, Finland and Sweden will gladly (and finally) join NATO. The crisis breathes new life and purpose into NATO, and we see more NATO forces in Eastern Europe.
Putin’s threat may continue for years
There are easier ways for the Russian president to end Ukraine’s Westernizing drive and rewrite the rules of the European security architecture. Putin’s tanks only need to sit on the border and menace Ukraine for the next three to six months to destroy the economy and break Ukrainians’ resolve.
The issue will need to be a priority for the Biden administration and his successor’s.
The Biden administration made it clear that it wanted to “park” the relationship with Russia and focus on China, COVID-19 and climate change. But that’s not how the world works. Crises and madmen determine our priorities.
It’s shocking that an administration with such burnished foreign policy credentials had to learn this lesson the hard way.