With ousted Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych having fled to Moscow for protection, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warning Russia to stand down, and pro-Russian gunmen taking over Ukraine government buildings in its southern peninsula, we wondered whether the escalating Ukraine crisis might lead to a U.S. military conflict with Russia.
We asked geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group what is likely to happen.
Fortunately, Bremmer says there is a “near-zero” chance of a direct US military conflict with Russia.
Instead, Bremmer says, a portion of Ukraine might secede and align with Russia, while the rest of the country will remain intact (and aligned with Europe). There might be local violence and verbal skirmishes along the way, but no military action between the U.S. and Russia. If Russia decides to invade Ukraine, Bremmer says, the US will likely condemn the behaviour but do nothing.
“If Ukraine pursues a Europe all-in strategy and Russians in Crimea secede, Putin could easily recognise them and provide ‘support’ to Russia’s besieged compatriots. At which point the West protests loudly…and does very little…
NATO is setting redlines on Ukrainian sovereignty/territorial integrity that we aren’t prepared to defend — and it’s not useful to give the new Ukrainian government those expectations.
Crimea seceding is [not] Ukraine splitting in half. It’s a Russian peninsula with a restive minority (Tatars) and a military base. Most of southeast Ukraine would stick with Kiev (though we could see violence in some of those cities).
[The] likelihood of a US direct military conflict w Russia is near zero. Like Georgia, if Russians decide they want to go all in, in their backyard, the US isn’t about to fight for it.”
The Kremlin is positioning itself to defend its interests in Crimea, which is the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority and home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet.
About 150,000 troops are performing war games near Russia’s border with Ukraine and its fighter jets are on alert. Russian troops are on the streets of Crimea’s regional capital of Simferopol as the Russian flag flies about its parliament building.
Crimean politicians are talking separatism and denouncing the interim government in Kiev as illegitimate. Meanwhile, the new leaders in the capital are trying to figure out how to keep the country unified and solvent.
This map, which shows the common native languages in urban and rural councils as of 2001, illustrates Crimea’s closeness to Russia. Blue is Ukrainian and red is Russian.