- US officials continue offering security assurances to Ukraine amid escalating Russian military pressure.
- Biden must honestly assess if it’s worth starting a war over a territory with little significance to US security.
- Sascha Glaeser is a research associate at Defense Priorities.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Washington and declared that the US commitment to Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity is “ironclad.”
The meeting between the two officials came as Moscow stationed 90,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, leading many to fear that a large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent. Ukraine has been mired in a war with Russia and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region of the country since 2014.
Blinken’s comments are just the latest example of a top Biden administration official failing to accept the geopolitical reality of Ukraine.
In September, President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reiterated that “the United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression.” A joint statement released after that meeting declared “the United States supports Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the same during a visit to Kyiv in October.
Is Biden really prepared to send young American men and women to fight and die over Ukraine? This kind of rhetoric from the Biden administration does not serve US interests and counterproductively increases the risk of the United States being dragged into a war with Russia.
By continuing to provide quasi-security guarantees to Ukraine, Washington is playing a dangerous game of escalation with Moscow. Russia’s deployment of 90,000 troops near the Ukrainian border is likely Moscow calling Washington’s bluff.
The United States has provided $US2.5 ($AU3) billion in military aid to Ukraine since hostilities broke out. Despite this significant investment, the war has continued because the underlying geopolitical causes of the conflict have not been addressed — namely Russia’s concern that Ukraine will be granted NATO membership.
Moscow fears Ukraine’s accession into the alliance will result in US and NATO troops stationed directly on Russia’s border. Moscow views the prevention of this outcome as a vital strategic interest and will do whatever is necessary to achieve its objective — including direct military intervention in Ukraine.
Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that NATO expansion in Ukraine would cross a “red line.” Crossing that red line risks a sudden Russian attack on Ukraine which has the potential to escalate out of control.
With Russia already at war in eastern Ukraine, adding Kyiv to the alliance could result in catastrophe. NATO’s collective-defense clause could require the United States and all other NATO allies to militarily defend Ukraine.
Given the risk of nuclear escalation, the Biden administration must honestly assess if it is worth starting World War III over a territory with little significance to overall US security.
Russia has proven that it is willing to bear significant monetary and human costs to prevent a western-aligned Ukraine. Years of tough economic sanctions and the estimated loss of several hundred Russian soldiers has done little to change Russia’s objectives in Ukraine.
Unlike Russia, the United States simply does not have a strong enough interest in Ukraine worth risking a potential nuclear war over.
Ending the conflict will require a comprehensive political settlement that takes Russia’s geopolitical anxiety into account. One may not agree with Moscow’s security concerns; however, it is necessary to address them in pursuit of a peaceful resolution. Such a settlement should see Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty restored and position Ukraine as a neutral buffer state, neither aligned with Russia nor the West.
A neutral Ukraine would not seek membership in NATO or any Russian security institution, nor would it allow either side to station military forces on its territory. Instead, this policy would reflect Ukraine’s precarious geographical reality of being a large, but relatively weak, state situated between Russia and NATO Europe.
It is natural to feel sympathy for Ukraine’s unfortunate circumstances. Continued US military aid and offering Ukraine false hopes that NATO will come to its defense only prolong the conflict and increase the risk of war between the United States and Russia.
Working toward a realistic resolution in the form of a neutral and non-aligned Ukraine could provide an opportunity for the world’s two largest nuclear powers to form a stable and predictable relationship. The Biden administration would be wise to reverse its current escalatory course with Russia and pursue a US-Ukraine policy that actually increases US security.
Sascha Glaeser is a research associate at Defense Priorities. He focuses on US grand strategy, international security, and transatlantic relations. He holds a master’s in international public affairs and a bachelor’s in international studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.