Russia’s “Red Line” In Ukraine

On November 30th, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that if NATO continued to disobey Russia’s “Red Lines” in Ukraine, Moscow would retaliate. According to the Financial Times, this threat was extremely firm as, Mr. Putin said “that Moscow had developed hypersonic missiles and would be forced to respond ‘if NATO continued to expand its infrastructure’, including through the alliance’s potential deployment of its own similar missile systems.” Recently, Russia has been moving an estimated 90,000 troops to its border with Ukraine. This has increased tensions between Russia and NATO, specifically with the United States, which monetarily contributes to Ukraine’s government for security assistance. 

Vladimir Putin further specified Russia’s unwillingness to allow Western interference. “If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be seven to 10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed,” said Putin. On the other hand, the U.S. has remained vague on its response to President Putin’s comments. However, as of December 1st, that has changed.U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated that “Should Russia follow the path of confrontation, when it comes to Ukraine, we’ve made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg states that this uptick in Russian troops is “unprovoked and unexplained,” and that “Russia needs to be transparent, and they need to reduce tensions, and de-escalate.”

Russia is acting in a volatile manner that will potentially harm Ukraine’s democratic process and create a larger international conflict. According to The New York Times, when Barack Obama was president, his administration greatly resisted increased U.S. commitment to Ukraine because it was Russia would clearly continue to up the ante, as can be seen in their inflammatory comments. Therefore, the U.S. threat of sanctions could potentially be a good idea. It allows for an economic way to solve this tension rather than turning to military action, and exemplifies to Russia that there will be trading consequences if they decide to invade Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russia have a long and complicated history. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Ukraine was taking steps to gain more autonomy from Russia. They achieved full independence in 1918, but this independence was extremely short-lived. By 1922, Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. Therefore, Ukraine did not regain independence until 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, Ukraine has been independent but suffered with turbulence in their political system, mostly relating to Russia. For instance, as reported by the Financial Times in 2014 “Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine following a pro-western revolution in 2014, then fuelled a separatist uprising in the eastern Donbas region in which more than 14,000 people have died.” As shown, conflict in this region is not new, but hopefully can be avoided in this current climate.

As Russia increases the number of troops at the borders, and Vladimir Putin and NATO representatives exchange increasingly intense rhetoric, it seems inevitable that a conflict on the Ukraine border is likely to occur soon. Based on comments from Putin, it seems that Russia will go to nearly any lengths to stop push back from NATO countries on their increased troop presence, calling NATO’s increased presence and infrastructure in the area crossing Russia’s “red line.” It is important for NATO to continue to defend and protect Ukraine from potential Russian interference, but negotiations, sanctions, and compromises should be the first priority to reach an agreement with Moscow in order to avoid military action.