Invading Ukraine is Not Worth the Risk

April 2021

By Sally A. Painter


The recent military escalation in and around Donbas in eastern Ukraine, including the increase in Russian military deployments near Ukraine’s borders represent Europe’s biggest national security crisis since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. It is not only a crisis for Europe, but is also a major challenge for the Biden Administration.

There is much debate among Ukraine watchers about whether President Putin will invade Ukraine. Some believe he is flexing his muscles for a domestic Russian audience, while others think he is testing the new U.S. administration’s resolve. Regardless of the reason, it is critically important for the Biden Administration and for Europe to tell Putin that taking aggressive action against Ukraine is not worth the political risk.

Too many times the West has failed Ukraine, dating back to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons for the promise that the U.S. and Europe would protect its territorial integrity and political independence. Instead, when Russia invaded Crimea, the West ignored its commitment and stood by as Russia breached Ukraine’s territorial integrity, taking Crimea. Further incursions by the Russians without strong Western action will forever illustrate to other countries that the U.S and Europe are not reliable partners.

While President Biden, Chancellor Merkel, and others have stated their “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” much more is needed. Putin must understand that the cost and risks of another invasion far outweigh any benefit.

Providing additional military assistance, as President Biden said he would do, is a good start as is deploying naval forces to the Black Sea. But more should be done. The U.S. and Europe should impose additional economic sanctions and cut off access to new capital by blocking Russian entities from the SWIFT system. This step would demonstrate to Putin that the West is serious and will back up its rhetoric with action, actions that would hurt Russia’s economy and its financial system.

President Putin must understand that military action against Ukraine would be a disaster not only because Ukraine is better prepared militarily than it was in 2014, but also because Russia’s citizens do not want to take up arms against their Ukrainian brethren. The U.S. and Europe must demonstrate that there are red lines that Russia cannot cross, and that invading Ukraine would force the U.S. and Europe to use its military power to protect Ukraine.