Image courtesy of NYTimes - an excellent feature on the military steps in seizing Crimea. Image courtesy of NYTimes – an excellent feature on the military steps in seizing Crimea.

**NOTE: this is War Council’s second cadet submission – an important step in a soon-to-be military officer’s strategic self-study.

By Cadet Eric Murray

A NATO response to even the boldest Russian action in Crimea and the Ukraine would be a terrible idea.

The Ukraine is politically and economically divided along an urban-rural front.[1] There is no significant ethnic division, but those who live in rural areas have a primarily agricultural economy while those in cities have, unsurprisingly, a more industrial economy. Rural Ukrainians, despite having less in common with EU countries economically, are more in favor of a deal with the EU and diplomatic and economic distance from Russia. The price tag or that distance, however, is extremely high. In order to extend a much-needed loan to the Ukraine, the IMF has asked for extremely harsh anti-corruption and austerity measures. Furthermore, Ukraine is extremely dependent on Russia for energy resources, importing three fourths of its energy from across the Russia border.[2] Another reason that Ukrainians who work in urban areas favor a trade deal with Putin over the EU is that Ukraine owes a lot of its economic diversity and growth to Russian investment, particularly in its eastern cities.

Russia, unlike the EU or the US, has several pressing economic interests to maintain control over Ukraine at all costs. In addition to concerns over being able to keep its buffer states regionally aligned with itself, Russia maintains an extremely important warm-water port in Crimea. Similarly, Russia relies on the Ukraine to be politically friendly so that it can force oil pipelines that travel to Europe through Russia instead of through Ukraine, typical behavior for a petrostate.

The EU, however, has very little economic or political interest in Ukraine. Except for addressing a humanitarian crisis, there are no good reasons for the EU to engage with Putin in Ukraine. Similarly, the US has no political or economic interest in the conflict save for the opportunity to punish Putin on the international stage for being a bully. Given that, Russia is extremely committed to keeping its control over the Ukraine for several extremely crucial economic reasons, it becomes obvious that Russia is willing to use force, and a lot of force if necessary, whereas NATO allies are not.

NATO involvement in the conflict would have tremendous domestic political backlashes due to lack of long-term interests at stake and potential for an extremely high military or monetary cost. Therefore, even getting ready or threatening the use of force or hinting at intervention is a humungous step in the wrong direction, and the US should use its diplomatic power to discourage anyone from intervening on the part of Ukrainian protestors.

Unfortunately, this leaves any evolving humanitarian aspects of the conflict completely unaddressed. Furthermore, the Ukrainian protestors (now rebels) are committed enough to their cause to pick up arms and throw their conservative counterparts out of government, but they picked a fight with a group of people that has a very committed and powerful international ally. The only way to help them is to call a ceasefire, agree on constitutional reforms to take more power away from the executive, and let the country join the Russian Customs Union.

[1] Glenn Kates, “Ukraine’s East-West Divide: It’s Not That Simple,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 27 February 2014. (accessed 1 March 2014).

[2] Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook,” 2013. (accessed 1 March 2014).