With continued Russian control of Crimea over a year after the February 2014 annexation of the peninsula, the U.S. must decide whether or not to take further action in the conflict. On March 10, 2015, a hearing will be held by the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations regarding “U.S. Policy in Ukraine: Countering Russia and Driving Reform”, following a similar hearing in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 4, 2015. Russia’s appropriation of Crimea from Ukraine has forced U.S. policy decisions to be made regarding U.S. positioning in the Ukrainian crisis.
What will be significant about the upcoming hearing is not whether the United States will become involved in the Ukrainian crisis against Russia. Instead, the question will be the extent to which the U.S. will back the torn state against Russia. While we no longer live in a bipolar U.S. versus U.S.S.R world, tension between these two states will continue as long as power balancing is in play. Referring back to a 2011 writing on Russia and Soft Balancing, which on Russia’s status in a post-Cold War world in relation to the U.S., it is important to note that while Russia has declined as a bipolar power, Russia holds significant influence in our multipolar world as a balancing power. Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, a sovereign state, demonstrated that Russia’s strength is very much present in the international community.
Even with a ceasefire in place, more than an estimated 6,000 people have been killed in conflict since the Russian annexation of Crimea. Idealistically, the U.S. role in Ukraine should focus on protecting Ukrainian civilians from the violence that has emerged since annexation. This sentiment has been voiced by many since the beginning of the conflict in light of the thousands that have been displaced, injured, and killed due to the conflict. However, one substantial fact exists: war is costly. In this delicate position, too much pressure on Russia can result in further armed conflict. Furthermore, involvement in Ukraine does not appeal to immediate interests of the US. Such intervention would result in significant military expenditure on the part of the U.S. in or to successfully expel Russia from Crimea – and Russia is prepared to fight.
This is not to say that Ukrainian opposition groups will be left without U.S. support. U.S. foreign policy plays a careful hand at providing indirect support to groups opposing “enemies” of U.S. interests. In this case, the U.S. will continue to provide backing of groups as a means of countering Russia, but not to the extent of implicating a U.S.-Russian war over Crimea. Although it is objectionable that humanitarian interests are still ignored in our era of globalism, tomorrow’s hearing will be indicative of how the U.S. will maintain this careful balance as a countering power to Russia in the post-Cold War rivalry.