The world is watching the former Soviet Union, as a years-long conflict between Ukraine and Russia threatens to flare up into open warfare again. In 2014, Russia sent troops into the Crimean Peninsula and annexed the region. While there has been low-level fighting in the region ever since, things took a dramatic turn in December when US officials announced that Russia was staging nearly 175,000 troops and other military equipment near the Ukrainian border in preparation for a possible invasion.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of 30 nations spanning North America and Europe, has been steadfast in its insistence that Russia stand down and remove its troops from the border. Instead, Russia has increased its troop presence in the region, staging troops in nearby Belarus in recent weeks.
At the heart of the conflict is Ukraine’s potential membership in NATO. Russia sees Ukrainian membership as an unacceptable threat on its border and is demanding that both Ukraine and NATO promise to never join forces. On the other hand, is the United States and NATO, who state that every nation has a right to self-determination and that it’s up to Ukraine to decide whether it joins or not.
Even as tough talk flies in all directions, President Biden has stated again and again that no US troops will be sent to Ukraine. Instead, NATO’s strategy is to supply Ukraine with weapons and, in the case of a Russian invasion, to inflict severe economic sanctions on Russia. The promise to keep American soldiers home hasn’t eased the tensions, and war between Russia and Ukraine is looking more likely each day.
While I take President Biden at his word that he’s not planning to send US troops to Ukraine right now, I’m skeptical that this will remain the case in the future. A Russian invasion of Ukraine, or even a Russian standdown, doesn’t resolve the fundamental issue: Ukraine’s alignment and its position between the western alliance and Russia. If a peaceful solution is found now, is there any guarantee that we won’t end up back here in a few years?
Unfortunately, this question does not have an easy answer. NATO members Denmark, Spain, France, and the Netherlands have already sent more military forces into eastern Europe. US officials also are considering sending more forces into the Baltic states. The response is more escalation, which will make conflict more likely. The more soldiers there are and the closer they are to Russia, the more likely it becomes that mistakes and misunderstandings can spiral into armed conflict.
If a direct conflict between Russia and NATO occurred, the impact would be felt all over the world – even here in Connecticut. Connecticut’s National Guard would almost certainly play a part in the conflict, as it did during the Iraq War. From 2003 to 2013, Connecticut-based National Guard units were constantly deployed overseas. These are our family and friends who spent significant time in harm’s way. I know several soldiers who deployed to Iraq. Many of them went multiple times, some of them faced combat and a few suffered life-changing injuries.
It worries me to think that they could be placed in the same kind of danger again. I don’t trust the assurances from political leaders that US troops won’t be headed to Ukraine, because it’s not just about the current crisis. As long as there are soldiers on both sides of the line, there’s the possibility that people I know and love will have guns pointed at them.
All people everywhere deserve to live in peace, without the threat of a regional hegemon carving their home into pieces and gobbling them up, or leaders far past the age of military service sending them to die on Cold War battlefields. The urge to dominate and control motivates both a massive military alliance and a massive military build-up. That urge is the true enemy, and to ensure that peace reigns, Russia must stand down and NATO needs to re-evaluate its constant push for expansion. The only way to ensure that soldiers from Connecticut to Kiev are safe is for everyone to put their guns down.