War precludes perfect solutions. It necessitates sacrificing the dream of mutual prosperity in the pursuit of bare survival. U.S. policy surrounding the attack on Ukraine needs to reflect this reality. Direct military intervention is seemingly off the table, as it should be. Even though we will not be sending troops to defend Kyiv, Ukrainian allies must still take swift and decisive action to decimate the Russian regime economically until a resolution is met, while also aiding those fleeing the conflict.
Recently the Biden administration, under heavy pressure from Congress, moved to ban Russian oil imports. This was a well-needed sacrificial step for Americans, and one that cordons off a key part of Russia’s economy from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, European allies have failed to undertake the same sacrifice. NATO — the treaty group of Western countries initially bound together to stand up to Soviet influence in the 20th century — is most successful when it acts in unison. For Europe to lie back and let the U.S. take action, while avoiding taking similar steps, makes these moves less effective in combating Russian aggression. Not only that, it prolongs the conflict that will leave thousands of additional Ukrainians and Russians dead.
A second action the administration should take, with congressional partnership, is to make a direct and forceful call on U.S. companies to suspend operations in Russia. A significant number of companies have already taken such action without federal support, but holdouts still exist — Hilton, Hyatt and Mars being among them. If this conflict is to end in a timely manner, companies must suspend operations, as opposed to ending them outright, with the condition that business operations in Russia will return at the conclusion of Russian aggression. This sets a concrete barometer, while clearly incentivizing Russian de-escalation. Likewise, the American government should put its full weight behind efforts to punish Russian oligarchs with assets in the U.S. and other Western countries.
As of March 8, over 2 million people have fled Ukraine, half of whom are reportedly children. About 25% of the aforementioned refugees have sought safety in neighboring countries such as Poland, but it is imperative that other European — such as Germany — countries pull their weight as well. While there has been outpouring support across Europe for Ukraine in the past 10 days, some worrying trends have come to light. Reports of people of color finding it significantly harder to escape Ukraine mirror the biased media coverage of the invasion as compared to similar situations in Africa and the Middle East. Intentional or not, the message coming out of Europe right now is that refugees are welcome, just not all of them.
Looking beyond the Atlantic, the more places there are for Ukrainians to seek refuge, the better, and the U.S., too, must play its part. However, there is an argument to be made that a more efficient use of U.S. resources would involve allocating resources to countries in Eastern Europe that are more appropriate hosts by virtue of their geography. This would allow Eastern European countries — such as Poland — to prepare for the surge of incoming Ukrainians, who would also benefit from a well-funded refugee program.
While the short-term focus is and should be on aiding Ukrainian refugees, they are not the only people actively seeking to flee the current conflict. Reports suggested that almost 50% of the Russian population do not support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, with the deteriorating economic situation one of many reasons for such displeasure. This offers the U.S. and the global community an opportunity to attract educated Russian individuals to immigrate to the U.S. or Europe. Not only would this further Russia’s shrinking population problem, it would be the sort of brain drain, an exodus of educated citizens, that weakens the powerhouses of the Russian economy, many of whom have played vital roles in strengthening Putin’s reign. While such an idea of weaponized emigration — using green cards and permanent residency statuses to lure educated urbanites out of Russia — will pay dividends in the long term, it will have the added short-term benefit of dismaying the Russian public, and hopefully bringing an end to the conflict sooner.
On Feb. 22, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared a halt to the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the second of two Baltic Sea natural gas pipelines from Russia to Germany. While the Russian state-operated company Gazprom maintains more than 50% of Nord Stream 1, created in 2011, Nord Stream 2 is owned entirely by Gazprom. Prior to the February invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the United States and the European Union expressed their concerns about Nord Stream 2 and German reliance on Russian energy. In response, the Chancellor defended the project out of “private-sector” interests, deterring attention from political impact in late 2021.
In January, as concerns of invasion arose, the U.S. and EU released a joint statement declaring a move toward accessing natural gas from “diverse sources across the globe” to better protect European countries from supply shocks and reliance on Russia. As Western Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany is not only in danger of creating a disunited EU front against Russia but also risking long-term economic strangulation in Ukraine. Major Soviet-era gas pipelines from Russia to Europe have long fed Ukraine transit fees, fees that Baltic undersea pipelines avoid paying.
Without access to Russia’s steady supply of gas, Germany has legitimate fears about its energy independence. However, without a united front against the Russian government, sanctions may not be as effective or work as quickly. While Germany relies on Russia, Russia relies on Europe — about 70% of Russia’s natural gas exports go to Europe. In other European countries, like France and the Netherlands, reliance on Russian gas is far below the roughly 40% of EU-wide dependence. In early 2022, France promised an expansion of its already substantial nuclear program, moving toward more sustainable and independent energy. Nuclear energy, a highly polarizing topic concerning cleaner energy and possible nuclear disasters (such as those in Chernobyl and Fukushima), has made France less reliant on Russia. On the other side of the energy argument, Germany promised in 2011 to close the last of the country’s now three nuclear plants this year.
Germany still produces some nuclear energy, but leaning further into renewable and nuclear imports may aid the German economy against Russian dependence. Maintaining the halt of Nord Stream 2 may be a major economic sanction in its own right. Germany, as the de facto leader of the EU, must join in Russian sanctions to end the invasion of Ukraine. Reopening nuclear plants, or importing energy and renewable energy technology from countries such as France and the United States, may offer the alternative the country is looking for, away from Russian gas.
Conflicts of such magnitude are always going to have a multitude of moving parts: the financial resources of Russia and how they can be curbed, the ability of countries across the world to house Ukrainians and other innocent bystanders of this war and the dependence of certain European countries on Russia for energy — just to name a few. There are hundreds of variables that need to be dealt with in a way that protects as many lives as possible while also weakening the position of the enforcer, which is Russia in this case. The time-sensitive nature of these tasks complicates the situation, as well as the bitter truth that even during times of war, when compromise is necessary, every country has a vested interest in its own progress and development. Action is necessary, and even though NATO cannot and should not commit troops to the conflict, everything else in our power should be done to raze the Russian economy until this conflict concludes.