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February 6, 2015

How should the U.S. react to Russia-Ukraine battles?


The newest clashes in Ukraine between its military and pro-Russian separatists have brought questions over whether the U.S. should provide greater military support.

The White House has discussed arming Ukraine’s military with supplies, and Secretary of State John Kerry did not rule out this possibility.

“We want a diplomatic resolution, but we cannot close our eyes to tanks that are crossing the border from Russia and coming in to Ukraine,” he said.

Tension between Ukraine and Russia escalated last March when Russia took over Crimea, a territory that both countries claim. Since then, NATO and Ukraine claim that Russia has been supplying arms to rebels in the country.

Leaders from France and Germany met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko this week in an attempt to curb the violence. Both countries have said they prefer a diplomatic solution.

U.S. military assistance could help Ukraine defend itself, which may deter Russia from further aggression, explained Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings institution.

But supplying arms to Ukraine could worsen the violence by prompting a larger counter-response from Russia, argued John Mearsheimer, professor of international security policy at the University of Chicago.

Moreover, Russia has more of an incentive than the U.S. to engage in risky military strategy since Ukraine is its neighbor, Mearsheimer said. “What we’re talking about here is upping the ante, having an arms race in Ukraine,” he said.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Ukraine and Russia? What part of Europe are they located in geographically? How might that affect their culture?
  2. What are the risks and benefits to settling a dispute through military intervention? What about through a diplomatic solution?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How does the U.S. government decide which side to take in an international conflict?
  2. Which option do you think the United States will favor – diplomacy or military action?
  3. Which option or combination of the two do you think will be the most effective in ending the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? Explain your answer.
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