The West insists that Russian troops move away from the Ukrainian border, but Vladimir Putin wants the border to move away from his troops. The worsening crisis in Ukraine is causing a growing number of commentators, political scientists, and politicians to wonder if Western countries should intervene. The decision to interpose in the face of Russia’s unprovoked hostility appears to be not only morally justified, but also morally imperative.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the majority of Ukrainian people have struggled to move toward a democratic and capitalist society. Ukraine has worked hard to create a closer relationship with the European Union by introducing a system of checks and balances, including a parliament. Ukraine’s parliament proved of little use when its now ex-President Viktor Yanukovych suddenly backed away from an agreement bringing Ukraine closer to the E.U. and pushed the country back into the arms of its eastern neighbor.
A political crisis on a scale not seen since the Cold War ensued when the pro-E.U. majority of Ukrainians forcefully removed Mr. Yanukovych from his position as president. Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded and took over the Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, claiming that he was merely protecting ethnic Russians. Since then, Ukraine has been in an increasingly tense position. A portion of the country is currently occupied by Russian troops, and the eastern part of the country is plunged in near civil war with no end in sight.
This near civil war has caused many to question if now is the time for Western countries, the rest of the E.U., and NATO to intervene beyond the seemingly hopeless level of economic sanctions, the use of rhetoric, negotiations, and talks. Western powers warn that tougher sanctions are imminent if Mr. Putin does not back down. If the previous forms of intervention do not result in a ceasefire, political action may be taken, like expelling Russia from certain international organizations. Finally, there is military intervention to consider – the last resort in many people’s view.
Why must the West intervene?
The West clearly supports the Ukrainians’ desire to gain a closer relationship with the E.U. A recent statement from the U.S. government affirmed its “strong support for a united, democratic Ukraine that makes its own choices about its future path.”
The West and Ukraine claim that Russia’s takeover of Crimea is a breach of international law. Western countries should intervene in order to uphold the law. The United Nations Charter states that “all Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered” (Article 2). Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula clearly violates this article.
Furthermore, former President Yanukovych’s unilateral refusal to enter into a potential Ukraine-E.U. agreement without putting the decision to a vote was seen as an authoritarian move. It is morally justifiable for the West to intervene, because it is the Ukrainian people themselves who are imploring Western countries to take action. As pro-democratic Ukraine wants to establish closer ties with the West, it should intervene to show solidarity and support toward its partner-to-be.
This is not just a Western principle, it is a universal tenet. According to Article 2 of the U.N. Charter, “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” By forcefully occupying a significant part of Ukraine’s territory and taking an increasingly hostile stance toward the rest of the country, Russia has violated the U.N. Charter.
The sheer size and importance of Ukraine make the ongoing crisis a significant security issue for the international community. Ukraine holds military clout in part because Crimea is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters, a massive military entity. Nor can Ukraine’s economic importance be ignored, as 50-80% of Russia’s valuable oil and gas exports flow through pipelines across Ukraine.
To save the country, the West must save Ukraine’s borders. To save its borders, the West is morally obligated to put its own troops at the border, finally putting an end to empty threats.