The Russian troops at the Ukraine border are part of a larger ploy
What can the US do to change Putin’s political calculus?
In the last month, Russia has placed at least 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. NATO has called the buildup “unprovoked and unexplained,” but for Ukrainians few explanations are needed. They watched Russia annex the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 when it gambled, correctly, that Europe and the United States would do nothing in response. They’ve been fighting Russian-funded separatists in the Donbas region since 2014 and absorbing refugees from the war zone into Ukrainian society. During the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, Americans saw how callously the former president sought to use Ukraine’s vulnerability for political gain.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has also been involved in the movement of Iranian refugees to the Belarus-Poland border. While it claims that these movements of troops and refugees are unrelated, few in the region are convinced. The Kremlin’s aim is to destabilize Ukraine while also destabilizing the borders of the European Union, to punish those it sees as preventing Russia from accomplishing its objectives in the region. It also seeks to increase the political and financial cost of NATO support for Ukraine.
Russia is counting on internal social divisions to weaken Ukrainian resolve. But most Ukrainians want closer ties with Europe. They want what US diplomat Daniel Fried calls “prompt solidarity.” Ukraine, a fragile democracy, has been working hard to attain the anti-corruption standards required to become an EU member. Such reforms are difficult in a country where corruption is deeply entrenched.