November 27, 2018

Russia-Ukraine Conflict Escalates

Following the Russian seizure of three Ukrainian vessels over the weekend, “Ukraine on Monday imposed martial law for 30 days in parts of the country most vulnerable to an attack from Russia after President Petro Poroshenko warned of the ‘extremely serious’ threat of a land invasion.”


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “The United States condemns this aggressive Russian action. We call on Russia to return to Ukraine its vessels and detained crew members, and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”

US Department of State

President Trump told reporters, “We do not like what’s happening either way. And hopefully it will get straightened out.”


Both sides are alarmed by Russia’s aggressive behavior:

“The Kremlin can shout all it wants about a provocation, about an attempt by the Ukrainian president to create a political diversion or about anything else, but none of that changes the fact that Russia had no legal justification for firing on three Ukrainian boats and seizing them.”

New York Times

“The incident had the hallmarks of a pre-planned, escalatory move by the Kremlin, experts say, raising concerns that the de facto stalemate in the ongoing ground war in the Donbas—which has contained the conflict to a static front line since February 2015—may be irreparably broken, and the war could metastasize into a much bigger, deadlier conflict.”

Daily Signal

“The diversion of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict into the Sea of Azov is precisely the kind of escalation that has preceded Europe’s past cataclysms. A great power treats a little one with contempt. A little one responds with violence, expecting friends to come to its aid, diplomatically, economically, then militarily.”

The Guardian

“The danger of military escalation between Russia and Ukraine, with all of its unforeseeable consequences, is real and rising.”

National Interest

See past issues

From the Left

The left is worried that the lack of a strong, unified rebuke from the Trump administration will further embolden Putin.

“On issues as disparate as North Korea, Iran, Qatar, and nato, Haley; Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state; Rex Tillerson, his predecessor; and James Mattis, the defense secretary, have taken positions that are at odds with Trump’s remarks, confusing American allies about what the U.S. position actually is. Nowhere has this inconsistency been more apparent than with Russia."

The Atlantic

“Despite Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia and his seemingly cozy personal relationship with Putin, his administration has sanctioned Russia many times... But if the Trump administration decides to let Russia slide on this latest move, experts warn that Sunday’s skirmish may be the beginning of a whole new phase in the Russia-Ukraine war — and perhaps an even bigger one."


“The United States and its Western allies can impose stronger economic sanctions, bar their ships from entering Russian ports in the Black or Azov Seas or increase military support for Ukraine. These actions all carry risk, but so does doing nothing."

New York Times

Counterpoint: “Ukraine and Russia probably aren’t going to war... Crimea, and conflict with the West, have been winning issues for the Russian president in the past. But Russia won’t have another presidential election until 2024, and in the meantime, Russia’s posture is likely to be self-defeating. The confrontation will probably result in more Western sanctions and will do little to improve Russia’s position in Ukraine."


From the Right

The right condemns Putin’s actions, but worries about the risk of military escalation.

The right condemns Putin’s actions, but worries about the risk of military escalation.

The U.S. should provide tangible diplomatic and military support to Ukraine. But it would be very ill-advised for the U.S. Navy to challenge Russia for access control over the Sea of Azov. Russia's seizure of 23 Ukrainian sailors and 3 naval vessels is without moral or reasonable political justification... [but] it is manifestly not in the American interest to conduct military operations for control of the Sea of Azov."

Washington Examiner

“The White House should not even entertain a military intervention on behalf of Ukraine. Instead, Washington should reiterate its commitment to the freedom of navigation while at the same time pressing ahead with creating a lasting stability between Russia and the West in Ukraine. As the crisis mounts, the hawks must be ignored. We’ve never been closer to great power conflict than right now. Yet, it can still be avoided (and it must be).”

The American Spectator

Some note that “Russian stocks and currency slid on Monday morning as the possibility of new sanctions loomed. Some analysts speculated Putin wants to provoke more sanctions so he can blame Russia’s economic woes on foreign interference."


Others emphasize that “there must be no question of where the U.S. stands when it comes to the blatant violation of international laws and norms. Allowing such aggression to pass unchecked and unmet with at least a rebuke would signal to authoritarian leaders... that they are free to do as they like as long as it doesn't immediately and directly threaten U.S. interests."

Washington Examiner

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