Russia must understand the costs it would incur by invading Ukraine

Changing the status quo by military force is unacceptable. Russia would pay a high price if it invades Ukraine. It should pull back its troops as soon as possible.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have held an online meeting to exchange opinions about the situation surrounding Ukraine amid mounting tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.

Since November, Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops at the Ukraine border, and there is growing speculation that Russia will soon launch an invasion.

In the video call meeting, Biden warned that the United States, in cooperation with European countries, would “respond with strong economic and other measures” in the event of military escalation. The White House is reportedly also considering measures to halt a gas pipeline project connecting Russia and Germany that bypasses Ukraine.

Western nations imposed economic sanctions on Russia in 2014 when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, but neither the return of Crimea to its original state nor the softening of Russia’s hard-line stance could be achieved.

Western nations need to impose highly effective sanctions on Russia and encourage it to exercise restraint. Support for Ukraine’s defense system is also essential.

Russia has been on the offensive because Ukraine has leaned toward an anti-Moscow stance and is seeking membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance among the United States and European nations. Russia considers Ukraine to be within its “sphere of influence” based on strong historical and ethnic ties.

Putin reportedly responded to Biden’s warning with a demand for “legally binding guarantees” that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of weapons targeting Russia in states adjacent to Russia.

However, membership in NATO is a matter for Ukraine and NATO to decide on their own. It makes no sense for Russia to intervene.

Putin has expressed strong dissatisfaction with the fact that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO has expanded through the membership of Eastern European countries and former Soviet Union states. He may think that Russia’s traditional sphere of influence was unilaterally cut by the United States.

In reality, Putin’s authoritarian rule and Russia’s conflicts with Western nations might have caused neighboring countries to turn away from Moscow.

It is clear that Europe’s security framework, which was created during the Cold War based on a balance of nuclear forces between the United States and the Soviet Union, is no longer able to cope with NATO’s eastward expansion and the modernization of weapons. In the medium to long term, the United States, Russia and Europe will need to adopt a new framework for strategic stability.

The prerequisite for this is confidence-building between the United States and Russia. Resolving the Ukraine issue must be the first step for Biden and Putin.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 9, 2021.