VP and Brent Scowcroft Center Director Barry Pavel writes in Defense One on how the Obama administration can check Russia’s influence in Europe’s East:
It is increasingly clear that Ukraine will lose Crimea to Russia. What might come next could draw the United States and NATO into a new, sustained long-term contest: If Russia decides to foment instability in eastern Ukraine, then the resulting instability in the heart of Europe could be very dangerous and costly indeed.
Putin’s political and military forces, including, almost certainly, special forces and intelligence operatives, are all over Crimea. We have been lucky that Ukrainian forces there have been so restrained. If one of the many incidents that have been occurring across several Crimean military bases goes badly, then what is currently a relatively nonviolent crisis could explode into, first, civil war, and then potentially a broader regional conflict involving nuclear powers. The Obama administration has been wielding diplomatic, military and economic tools seeking to convince Putin to withdraw his forces back to their existing bases in Crimea and Russia. This is the right goal to pursue in public.