By Rohan D. ’25
It has been over one month since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian troops have been advancing toward Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. A war of aggression, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the largest military attack on a European state since World War II (ABC News). It has caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since WWII; 3.7 million Ukrainians have escaped the country, and millions more have fled their homes. This has prompted international outcry, including a United Nations (UN) resolution condemning Russia, the International Court of Justice ordering Russia to cease military operations, and sharp criticism from many countries. Thus far, the Ukrainian military has held its ground and now has even greater support from the United States (US) and NATO. The US has been assisting with Poland and levying sanctions against Russia, but the question remains: what can President Biden and the United States do to help end this war without risking further escalation and the start of WWIII?
Because of Vladimir Putin’s military operations, over 20% of Ukrainians have been displaced and 2 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland in the past month. The United States has sent troops to Poland to reinforce the NATO defense by increasing American presence and to add in the humanitarian relief of the refugees. Poland and other surrounding NATO states, such as Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, are under threat of a Russian invasion. Because of this, on March 24th at the 2022 NATO summit, President Biden stated that “Article 5 [of the NATO charter] is a ‘sacred commitment,’” which states that if a NATO member is attacked, every other NATO member must consider itself attacked and assist the attacked NATO member. President Biden has also deployed the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to Poland, continuing the buildup of troops in the region, numbering 10,500. Importantly, these troops will not engage in Ukraine. Rather, President Biden told the troops in Poland that they are “the organizing principle around which the rest of the free world moves” (NPR). The US has affirmed this commitment through supplying Ukraine and Poland with advanced weaponry and aircraft, including Javelin anti-tank missiles. This has prompted “a new pastime for families [in Ukraine] this month of going to one of the region’s two airports to get a look at the American machinery and manpower arriving daily in the country” (Military Times). To further support Ukraine, the US Congress enacted an $800 million package to support Ukraine, including anti-aircraft systems, anti-tank weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, and drones.
In addition to military support, the US has also levied multiple, severe economic sanctions against Russia. Their sanctions have targeted Russia’s Joint Stock Exchanges; they are Russia’s two largest financial institutions which combined make up more than half of the total banking system in Russia. Each day, Russian financial institutions conduct $46 billion of global transactions, and 80% of those foreign exchanges are in US dollars; these will now be disrupted (Treasury.gov). In this way, the Russian economy will slowly cripple under the weight of its lack of growth and funds. In addition, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has also imposed blocking sanctions on three additional major Russian financial institutions: Otkritie, Novikom, and Sovcom” These institutions hold assets worth $80 billion. “These designations further restrict the Russian financial services sector and greatly diminish the ability of other critical Russian economic sectors from accessing global markets, attracting investment, and utilizing the U.S. dollar” (Treasury.gov). According to Zack Beauchamp, senior political correspondent for Vox, these sanctions will prolong the war for Russia, “potentially galvanizing anti-war sentiment among the Russian elite and population. Ukraine doesn’t have to win outright; it just has to hold out long enough for Russia to be convinced to change course. To help the Ukrainians further, then, the United States and its allies can simply build on what they’re already doing.”
The key question is: what can President Biden and the United States do for this war without starting World War III? The first idea is to continue to raise sanctions by the US and Europe, which has shown to be working somewhat effectively. However, the Russians are still receiving a steady stream of revenue from two necessities: gas and oil. The next critical step is to wean Europe off Russian oil and gas, which as President Biden said, Russia uses to ‘coerce and manipulate its neighbors’ and to ‘drive his war machine.’” The US should help to decrease European dependence on Russian energy sources. As Frida Ghitis of CNN states, it is necessary “from a moral standpoint,” and “it’s going to put us on a stronger strategic footing” (CNN). To do this, NATO recently created a new task force for moving liquid gas to Europe to diversify energy sources. If Europe stops buying Russian oil and gas, Russia will suffocate from a lack of military funding and may have to halt its invasion. Furthermore, President Biden can build on his multi-pronged strategy: better weapons for Ukraine, a stronger military force on NATO soil (mostly in Poland), strict economic sanctions against Russia, and humanitarian support for Ukrainian refugees (CNN). Another idea is to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is advocating for. There are some benefits to a no-fly zone as it halts aerial warfare, protects civilians, and demonstrates defensive solidarity within Ukraine (The Week). However, there are also multiple disadvantages to a no-fly zone over Ukraine, such as unclear humanitarian benefits while increasing the very real risk of escalation war, which the US is seeking to avoid (The Week). The US needs to be very concerned about how any action comes across to Putin. “Provoke Moscow too much — convince them a Western military intervention is imminent, or that sanctions are part of a broader US regime-change operation — and you risk Putin striking back against NATO targets. That could plausibly escalate to a nuclear war that no one wins, Ukraine included” (Vox).
President Biden’s best course of action is to proceed with his multi-pronged plan: to support Ukraine as it defends itself while also weakening Russia financially, all without escalating the current state to the brink of World War III. In addition, President Biden and NATO should proceed with their plan to diversify European energy supplies to lessen dependence on Russian oil and gas; this would be the knockout punch after the US sanctions that will choke Russia’s economy and hopefully bring Russia to the negotiation table in earnest.
Recently, President Zelenskyy requested in a speech for America to give Ukraine the jets they believe they need, which would be a valuable asset to Ukraine’s defense strategies. This bears a very strong resemblance to Britain’s then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech on February 9, 1941, where he pleaded to the US, “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” In both speeches, the leaders appealed to the United States for military supplies. At the time of Prime Minister Churchill’s speech, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the US were abstaining from World War II. Eventually, however, the United States joined the war because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy were later defeated. The case at hand today is nearly history repeating itself. Following the footsteps of former President Roosevelt, President Biden should continue to assist Ukraine with sanctions, armaments, and strategy in order to definitively and categorically defeat Putin’s forces and preserve democracy. Hopefully, the prediction of Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State will ring true: “invasion of Ukraine would be ‘a historic error’ that would leave Russia ‘diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance’” (New York Times). This war also demonstrates the power of NATO; Ms. Albright “saw it as a political alliance, not just a military pact, cementing democracy in countries that had only recently freed themselves from authoritarianism” (New York Times). This is the truest test of diplomacy.