The slippery slope of Russia-Ukraine

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By Aishi Debroy, Opinion Editor Who would have thought that it would take Vladimir Putin’s impulsive attempt at displaying power to prompt Switzerland to emerge from their cave of neutrality to take a stance? It seems like every Western country is taking significant action — whether it be through verbal condemnation, economic sanctions or donations...

By Aishi Debroy, Opinion Editor

Who would have thought that it would take Vladimir Putin’s impulsive attempt at displaying power to prompt Switzerland to emerge from their cave of neutrality to take a stance? It seems like every Western country is taking significant action — whether it be through verbal condemnation, economic sanctions or donations — against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

It would be an understatement to say tensions are high. For the past month, many political leaders have made some sort of statement addressing the inhumanity of the situation. But I’ve noticed an unsettling trend: the messages are infused with emotionally-charged language incorrectly implying that only aggressive measures, such as debilitating Russia with sanctions or military prowess, can end this conflict.

I completely understand the natural inclination to fight fire with fire — matching Putin’s violence and ruthlessness with our own. But when one party consists of a leader with an unsettling grin, unpredictable war strategy and an arsenal of nuclear weapons, it’s safe to say that negotiating is the best method to prevent countless Ukrainian casualties. 

Thousands of sanctions against Russian companies and people have led to the collapse of Russia’s currency, the ruble, but the same can’t be said for Putin’s determination. These economic sanctions are a quick but ineffective long-term solution. According to the Wilson Center, Western nations have sanctioned Russia before this conflict. In fact, in 2014, Russia’s invasion of Crimea invited a slew of crippling sanctions with no positive changes. Just the same-old Putin conducting Putin-like behaviors: wreaking havoc and waging war.

Historically, the U.S. doesn’t have a great track record with sanctions. For example, sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba didn’t stop Maduro and Castro from increasing political corruption and implementing an authoritarian state. Instead, Brookings finds that they have increased anti-U.S. sentiment in sanctioned nations by overwhelmingly impoverishing citizens. Though it may destroy Russia for decades, Putin won’t pull out of this conflict losing face, even if it means subjecting his citizens, many of whom are already poor, to extreme deprivation. 

Frankly, aggressive sanctions are just not sustainable. The Institute of International Finance finds that Russia and Europe’s economic interdependence makes it impossible for European countries to phase out Russian energy. Since Europe receives about a third of its natural gas from Russia, according to Time, these sanctions will eventually incite an undesirable increase in gas prices internationally —  a small price to pay for Ukrainian lives. 

Sheer military force from the small-but-mighty Ukrainian army cannot continuously overpower Russian artillery and firepower in quantity or quality. According to CNN, in 2021, Russia spent $45.8 billion and had 900,000 active military personnel compared to Ukraine’s measly $4.7 billion and 196,000 personnel. Regardless of the international donations and 16,000 foreign volunteers fighting for Ukraine, these contributions will be impractical as time progresses. 

Ukrainians have displayed inspiring acts of bravery and courage, but against a trigger-happy Putin, a calculated negotiation strategy is necessary. He won’t leave the negotiation table surrendering and gaining nothing. According to former intelligence officer Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Putin may “double down and take a lot of risks in order to prevent any potential loss of power,” which means that playing his twisted game — to a reasonable degree, of course — may be the only way to prevent thousands of civilian casualties. The U.S., the E.U., and other international organizations may have to adhere to agreements with which they disagree; lifting sanctions or conceding to some of Putin’s terms may just be a necessary evil. 

I know that most of us — even our political leaders — want to rush and do everything that we can for Ukraine. But as we tread these dangerous waters, we must be content with slowly and carefully analyzing and even addressing Putin’s requests. In the meantime, we should hope that our political leaders proceed logically and donate to the countless fundraisers for Ukrainian citizens. 


Aishi Debroy can be reached at [email protected]

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