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Ukraine soldier Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine on the Edge

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest saber-rattling against Ukraine presents a fresh threat to regional and European security. Mounting tensions, mutual mistrust, and uncertainty regarding the Kremlin’s precise intentions will further complicate efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully.

In this Big Picture, Columbia University’s Jeffrey D. Sachs argues that a lasting de-escalation of tensions requires all parties to respect the others’ security interests, and urges NATO to take Ukraine’s membership off the table in order not to provoke Russian ire. But former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt shows how dangerous that approach would be, arguing that it is Putin’s own past miscalculations – in particular, annexing Crimea and occupying the Donbas – that have transformed Ukraine from a friendly neighbor into one that regards Russia as dangerous and hostile. And Anders Åslund of the Stockholm Free World Forum worries that, because Putin has few good options for retaining power, Russia may indeed launch a highly risky invasion.

How should the West – and the United States in particular – respond to Russia’s troop buildup? Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations thinks the US is right not only to provide Ukraine with arms and to threaten Russia with severe economic sanctions, but also to offer Putin a diplomatic path to de-escalation. Likewise, Charles A. Kupchan of the CFR and Georgetown University argues that a US-led carrot-and-stick approach offers the best way to avert a Russian invasion.

And Harvard University’s Jeffrey Frankel applauds US President Joe Biden’s refusal to overstate his administration’s commitment to defend Ukraine militarily, pointing out that similar US pledges over the past half-century have generated massive human, financial, and reputational costs.

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