Saturday morning, it was announced that Russia’s parliament had unanimously voted to send troops into Ukraine. Given Russia’s long history and border with the country, it is not surprising that Russia has a strong interest in what happens next in Ukraine. Given Russia’s desire to control their neighbors and previous invasions in the name of stability and protection of Russian citizens, it is not surprising that Russia is sending troops under the guise of an interest in independence for Crimea. President Obama warned Russia that there “will be costs” for invading Ukraine, and the State Department’s spokesperson said “it would be a grave mistake”, and that former President Yanukovych “has lost legitimacy as he abdicated his responsibilities” after he fled to Moscow and left behind a “vacuum of leadership”. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry been communicating with Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and with Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov respectively.
There have been many comparisons between this conflict and the 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia, where Russia invaded Georgia to “free” two breakaway republics (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) from the Georgians. This resulted in a full out war between the countries. Despite the close relationship between the US and Georgia, nothing was done. It has been noted that President Obama has avoided the aggressive democracy promotion favored by his predecessors (though this democracy promotion was set aside by Bush during the 2008 war). Given the tense history between the United States and Russia, it is unclear whether we will take any direct action if the conflict elevates. The US, along with the UK, France, and Canada, has suspended participation in preparatory meetings for the G8 summit, hosted by Russia. If any direct action is taken, it will likely be carried out by NATO. The crisis in Ukraine could be solved if both sides agree to stand down militarily, and if both sides agree to let Crimea vote independently for their independence. Putin has no justification for invading Crimea, and the United States has made that very clear. However, the international community must make their position very clear, through sanctions and through a boycott of the G8 summit. Obama has largely chosen to leave democracy building to the country in question, but given the potential scope of this conflict, he may unfortunately have to take more direct action than phone calls.