When the Russo-Ukrainian conflict escalated into a slaughter of Ukrainian civilians this February, the rest of the world came to a standstill. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a dire humanitarian crisis: shortages threaten Ukrainians, especially those in need of medicine, with no escape from destroyed cities.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky urges that “The European Union must do more for us, for Ukraine…” (Euro News) NATO and the European Union rest on the principle of promoting democracy, yet, as Zelensky suggests, the current international response is not entirely sufficient in countering Putin’s autocratic invasion. Why? Other countries fear confrontation will push conflict over the edge, into a global war with Russia.
This is not to say the international response hasn’t been assertive at all. Tough sanctions have recently been imposed on Russia. The European Union has withdrawn investment from the Russian energy sector, banned imports from the steel sector, and stopped the export of luxury goods to the country. Furthermore, G7 has stripped Russia of privileges at the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. Such economic pressure has targeted Russia’s elites and the State Duma. Putin warns that sanctions are “akin to an act of war”, however, Ukrainian officials urge for stronger measures to be implemented (The Guardian). International firms must completely leave Russia, they explain, as taxes from these private companies are funding Russia’s military.
A call for the U.S. to ban Russian ships from its ports has been met with hesitancy; member of the Council on Foreign Relations Ariel Cohen explains, “We definitely need to help Ukraine, but if we don’t want an all-out war with Russia that may escalate to nuclear, we cannot impose an outright blockade… What prevents China from stepping in and using Chinese ships, for example?” (The Washington Post) Given rising prices due to sanctions, public backlash against politicians worldwide that are tough on Russia creates another hurdle in stopping Putin.
Actions have consequences, but so does inaction. We need to consider the costs of our caution when insisting on avoiding specific actions – such as transferring certain weaponry to Ukraine – for the sake of escalation aversion. Russia may exploit a fear of escalation to worsen attacks on Ukraine – and other neighboring states.