University of Virginia: UVA Experts Weigh In On Potential Russian Invasion Of Ukraine

With tens of thousands of Russian forces amassed along Ukraine’s eastern border and in neighboring Belarus, the world is anxiously waiting to see if Moscow invades the Slavic nation, which was once part of the USSR.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny an invasion is imminent, his decision to leave forces in Belarus beyond a deadline to withdraw after war games has intensified worry.

“If Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to invade Ukraine, i.e., to advance in force into Ukrainian territory with the aim of holding territory, it will represent the last nail in the coffin of the post-Cold War security order in Europe,” said Allen Lynch, a Russia expert and professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

“The costs of such a blatant act of aggression will inevitably be high: immediately in terms of loss of life and property, and eventually by rendering Ukrainian hostility to Russia irreversible and further isolating the already stagnant Russian economy from its primary European markets,” he said.

Lynch said in his expert estimation, the benefits of invasion are “questionable.” Russia last invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed a region of the country called Crimea. It also sponsored revolts against the Ukrainian government by separatists, creating “territorial disputes with Ukraine that by NATO’s own rules prohibit Ukraine from joining the alliance, nominally Putin’s chief grievance in this crisis.”

Since Ukraine broke away from the former Soviet Union in 1991, it has sought entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO was created in 1949 to protect against Soviet aggression. The 30-member organization’s treaty stipulates that if one member country is attacked or invaded, all NATO countries will defend that country. Putin is firmly opposed to Ukraine joining the organization.

“Ironically, the United States has based its opposition to Russia chiefly on the principle that NATO will not exclude Ukraine from future membership; but in practice, the April 2008 NATO formulation that Ukraine – and Georgia – ‘will’ one day join NATO means just the opposite: the Germans and French were then, as now, opposed to Ukraine joining NATO as needlessly provocative to Russia, so the compromise was to issue a statement in principle but without any program, criteria or calendar that might actually make Ukrainian membership a reality,” Lynch said.

‘A Phantom Issue’
“So, this is a crisis that has been provoked, on the Russian side, and sustained, on the U.S. side, over a phantom issue,” Lynch said. “The crux of the matter, from Moscow’s vantage point, is that the U.S. and its allies in the 1990s constructed a post-Cold War security order in Europe with Russia on the outside, in the form of NATO expansion, on the assumption that Moscow was too weak and dependent on the West to do much about it.”

Lynch says this is clearly no longer the case and that Putin wants this order revised to reflect new power realities.

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