Russia's attitude toward Ukraine is consistent with historical Russian (and Soviet) thinking about security interests and foreign policy. But these patterns are only a starting point for understanding recent events.
The Russia that the United States faces today is more assertive and more unpredictable—and thus, in many ways, more dangerous—than the Russia that the U.S. confronted during the latter part of the Cold War.
Russia's aggression abroad and repression at home have altered the basic assumptions of earlier Western policy. By misjudging the tolerance for aggression in Europe, Moscow is bringing on the encirclement it fears. The West is now better prepared to deal with any further aggression and more confident that Ukraine's future will be as part of an enlarged Europe.
If the Department of Defense is tasked with helping NATO build a more robust deterrence and defense posture in Eastern Europe, the U.S. Army and Air Force will need to revisit planning assumptions that have minimized U.S. military commitments to that region since the end of the Cold War.
Russia's intervention in Ukraine has shattered the vision of a stable, secure, and economically healthy Europe that's guided NATO and EU policy for two decades. NATO, working closely with the EU, needs to regain the initiative to proactively seek peace and stability in Europe and find a coherent, cohesive way forward.
Ukraine's struggle to keep afloat economically has been daunting, as its parliament has fallen into disarray and failed to enact major economic reforms. Ukrainian lawmakers could help by dealing better with the national budget but their recent deliberations inspired little public confidence.
The West's most pressing task is to help Ukraine defend itself and survive economic catastrophe. But the West also needs a broader strategy to discourage future Russian coercion of neighbors, help them protect themselves, and counter President Vladimir Putin's false narrative about Western intentions and lack of political will.
A cease-fire agreement could stop the fighting in Ukraine by Sunday. RAND experts William Courtney and Olga Oliker discuss what was accomplished during the summit in Minsk, whether the U.S. should arm Ukraine, and what other options exist for supporting Ukraine.
As Russia's relations with the U.S. and Europe have deteriorated following Moscow's aggression in Ukraine, fly-bys of European neighbors by Russian aircraft have taken on new urgency. How should the West think about these provocative flights in light of understanding Russia's nuclear threat?
The ruble's fragility presents an opportunity for American and European diplomats to offer Putin a deal that de-escalates the war in Ukraine, provides Russia sanctions relief, and revitalizes Moscow's economic ties with the West.
Few expect that Moscow will cede Crimea or end its opposition to NATO expansion anytime soon. But Russia can still begin to reverse its strategic decline. Expanding opportunities for Russia's people, reforming the economy, and improving relations with neighbors are the way forward.
Germany and America are leading Western policy in addressing the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The basic strategy is to support Ukraine and pressure Moscow to halt aggression, while leaving the door open to diplomacy. Sustaining Western unity is essential, but may not be easy to achieve.
“Frozen conflicts” describe places where fighting took place and has come to an end, yet no overall political solution, such as a peace treaty, has been reached. Ukraine is likely to host such conflicts for some time. Georgia's experience offers lessons for Ukraine.
Russia faces major challenges, some self-inflicted. Freedoms vital to the creation of a modern civil society are declining. Dominant, state-controlled energy and aerospace companies are losing ground, weakening a strained economy.
The conflict in Ukraine calls for capable diplomacy, open channels of communication, and clear strategies. At least the latter two appear to be absent, but they can be developed in time. Ending the conflict, however, calls for clear mutual intent to solve problems, build trust, and move forward.
Moscow may have overreached, as it appears ill-prepared to come up with the necessary funds to cover Crimea-related costs. Infrastructure improvements, development aid, government operations, and other costs will be a multi-billion drain — as much as $4.5 billion per year — on Russia's already strained budget.
If Putin sought advice about what NATO is thinking, his Russian Western Front Military commander might say that given its current political indecisiveness and lack of military readiness, NATO lacks the capability to launch a credible intervention, but they should watch for changes in the alliance posture.