What is America’s Strategic Interest in Ukraine?
As the Ukraine war enters its twelfth month, the military situation remains a stalemate, but a stalemate that gives the political advantage to Russia. If Russia can hold most of the territory in the oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson that it annexed on Sept. 30, 2022, it will claim success for its “special military operation.” A dismembered Ukraine will be left with a trillion-dollar reconstruction bill on a GDP of barely $100 billion, a resident population of perhaps 25 million with ten million of its citizens living abroad as refugees, and a dim future.
In furtherance of what strategic interests has the United States acted in Ukraine? Is Ukraine’s NATO membership an American raison d’état? Did American strategists really believe that sanctions would shut down Russia’s economy? Did they imagine that the trading patterns of the Asian continent would shift to flow around the sanctions? Did they consider the materiel requirements of a long war that is exhausting American stockpiles? Did they consider what tripwires might elicit the use of nuclear weapons? Or did they sleepwalk into the conflict, as the European powers did in 1914?
Why did Russia invade? Would Russia have invaded Ukraine if the West and the Zelensky government had put Minsk II into effect, with autonomous Russophone regions within a sovereign and neutral Ukraine? Contrafactual history is inherently unprovable, but there are good reasons to believe that this is true. Protecting the rights of Russians separated from the motherland by the breakup of the Soviet Union is a Russian raison d’état. After more than 14,000 casualties in fighting between Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russian separatists in Donbas before the February 24th invasion, it is hard to argue that Russia’s concerns were groundless.