Russia, Ukraine, Putin: Why Americans Should Care in 2023

Jan 19, 2023. | By Will Hurd

Crowd of people at the White House in support of Ukraine, Washington, DC - March 6, 2014

Photo: Crowd of people at the White House in support of Ukraine, Washington, DC - March 6, 2014

Americans should continue to care about Russia, Ukraine & Putin because they have the potential to impact our economy, our security, and our future. The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces under the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex geopolitical issue that has far-reaching consequences.

Putin, Russia, Ukraine – What’s at Stake 

The consequences of allowing Russia to operate with impunity and failing to support Ukrainian forces and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are far-reaching and significant. History has shown that dictators left unchecked will only continue their aggressive behavior, wreaking havoc on innocent countries, global norms, and international institutions. To stop this cycle from repeating itself, it is imperative for the global community to ensure that those who threaten stability must be held accountable for their actions.

Disruption of trade has hurt the US economy. 

Agriculture tools and pivot irrigation systems are some of the largest American exports to Ukrainian cities, Valmont irrigation systems

Photo: Agriculture tools and pivot irrigation systems are some of the largest American exports to Ukrainian cities, Valmont irrigation systems

A study published in early 2022 found that trade – both exports and imports -- with other countries supports over 41 million U.S. jobs. This means that one in every five U.S. jobs is linked to trade. From 2021 to 2022, the United States saw a 45% decrease in exports to Ukraine and a 27% decrease in imports. An impact to any trading partner hurts the American economy.

Disruption of global energy markets has led to higher prices and instability.

Construction site of the European natural gas pipeline EUGAL to have been connected with Nord Stream 1 and 2 Pipelines, Stephane Dinse

Photo: Construction site of the European natural gas pipeline EUGAL to have been connected with Nord Stream 1 and 2 Pipelines, Stephane Dinse

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian forces has disrupted global energy markets, causing oil and gas prices to reach their highest levels in almost a decade. Since Russia is one of the world’s top three crude oil producers and the second largest producer of natural gas, the difficult reality is that the world is reliant on Russian energy and the Russians know it.

Putin has long used European reliance on Russian fuel stocks as a diplomatic and political weapon. Even though the European Union, United States and other parties have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, its gas and oil are still being exported to Western countries that have denounced Moscow's invasion. Not until witnessing the depravity exhibited during Russia's invasion have European leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron been finally convinced of the necessity to develop other options to power their countries.

Disruption of the global food supply-chain created a food crisis.

Photo: Wheatfields in Lviv Oblast Ukraine, Raimond Spekking

Photo: Wheatfields in Lviv Oblast Ukraine, Raimond Spekking

Russian strikes have caused major disruptions to the Ukrainian agriculture sector. Ukraine is one of the world's largest producers of wheat, corn, and barley, accounting for a large percentage of the world market for each crop.

According to the European Council, in February 2022, the month Russia invaded, Ukraine exported over 1 million tons of wheat. The following month their exports dropped to only 33,000, a debilitating decline of 97%. If Ukraine continues to be prevented from exporting their agriculture products, it will not only continue devastating the Ukrainian economy, it will have serious consequences for global food security.

Disruption of an international order created by the United States that benefits the US. 

Refusing to stand beside Ukraine until Russia withdraws completely from Ukrainian territory would send a chilling signal to the world that America is no longer interested in being the leader of a rules-based international order that allows for the growth of free markets, acceptance of the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

The RAND Corporation has explained that "Since 1945, the United States has pursued its global interests through creating and maintaining international economic institutions, bilateral and regional security organizations, and liberal political norms." This international order’s legitimacy and effectiveness depends on its participants believing that the order benefits them directly. If this belief is shaken, then the order which has led to Americans enjoying the greatest quality of life in mankind's history will collapse.

Putin, Russia, Ukraine Conflict – It’s Decades Old

Photo: A 1757 map depicting the Ukrainian region as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, The Brussels Map Circle

Photo: A 1757 map depicting the Ukrainian region as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, The Brussels Map Circle

To understand the root causes of the current fighting we must have a sense of the long and complex history of Ukraine. It was first settled by the Eastern Slavs in the 5th century, and over the centuries, Ukraine was ruled by various powers, including the powerful medieval state of Kievan Rus, the Tartar Golden Horde, the Kingdom of Poland, the grand duchy of Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

In the early 20th century, Ukraine declared independence in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, but was quickly reconquered by the Soviet Union. Ukraine remained a Soviet republic until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, when it once again declared independence.

Why Does Russian Putin Think Ukraine Belongs to Russia?

In a speech on the eve of sending Russian forces into Ukraine, Vladimir Putin made his historically inaccurate opinions on Ukraine clear. He said, “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space. Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians.” 

Putin believes that since Ukraine was part of Russian territory before the Soviet Union's collapse, they remain so today. He also believes that the country’s Russian-speaking majority justifies his claim that Ukraine belongs to Russia.

Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?

Photo: Maidan protests in Kyiv where about a million people assembled on independence Square, Sasha Maksymenko - December 29, 2013

Photo: Maidan protests in Kyiv where about a million people assembled on independence Square, Sasha Maksymenko - December 29, 2013

It is not a secret that Putin desires a return of the former Soviet territories to Russia's orbit. In a 2005 speech, the Russian President articulated his overarching motivation. He said, “the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster [in which] tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory.” 

Understanding why Putin wants Ukraine is simple; Putin wants to be remembered in Russian history books as the individual who reversed the collapse of the former USSR following the end of the Cold War and rebuilt a Russian empire. 

He would have been fine with a pro-Putin government in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital; however, he felt that the Maidan movement in 2013-2014 was a “coup d’état” undertaken “with direct assistance from foreign states.”

  • The Maidan movement were protests and uprising in Ukraine that led to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, who was seen by many as a Russian sympathizer and ally of Vladimir Putin. After Yanukovych was driven from power, the interim government and subsequent elected government took a more Western-oriented stance and distanced themselves from Russia. 

The Maidan movement had the effect of removing a leader who was seen as close to Russia and replacing him with leaders who were more critical of Putin and Russia's influence in Ukraine. Putin feared similar movements could happen in other Eastern European governments he viewed as part of Russia's orbit, so he needs to make an example of Ukraine so others don't think they can do the same.

What is Putin Telling Russia about Ukraine?

Prior to the most recent invasion, state-controlled or pro-government newspapers tended to portray the conflict as a civil war in Ukraine, rather than as a Russian intervention. They often fictionalized the role of far-right elements in Ukraine's post-Maidan government and argued that Russia's actions are necessary in order to protect Russian-speaking citizens in eastern Ukraine.

Many Russian newspapers also argue that the West is unfairly demonizing Russia, and that the conflict is the result of the West's meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs. 

In his New Year's Eve address, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin continued to focus on justifying the war and its costs to its people, but failed to clarify how the Russian military intends to reverse its setbacks in Ukraine and achieve their goals. 

Russia, Ukraine & Vladimir Putin Net Worth – How it has affected Global Security

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin during an address calling for a general mobilization for the Russo-Ukrainian War, Russian President's Office - September 21, 2022

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin during an address calling for a general mobilization for the Russo-Ukrainian War, Russian President's Office - September 21, 2022

Vladimir Putin has been a fixture in Russian politics since Boris Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999. For the last 24 years, Putin has served as either President or Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Putin claims he makes $140,000 and has an 800-square foot apartment, but his net worth is difficult to ascertain, given the secrecy that surrounds the Russian president's wealth. 

Putin's net worth has been reported as low as $70 billion and as high as $200 billion, which would make him one of the three richest people in the world. Putin's wealth is attributed to the corrupt political system he presides over in Russia. He has: 

  • Secured stakes in major Russian companies, such as oil and gas giant Gazprom, through corrupt deals and cronyism.
  • Received kickbacks and bribes in exchange for lucrative government contracts or favors.
  • Funneled state funds into offshore accounts or shell companies. 

This kleptocracy he presides over discourages legitimate investment, stifles economic growth, and undermines the rule of law.

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin's wealth accumulation has given him the resources to maintain his autocratic grip on power. His position has allowed him to pursue an aggressive foreign policy -- military intervention in Syria, the invasion of Ukraine, disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks against Western democracies, and modernizing his country’s nuclear arsenal - all of which have had destabilizing consequences for the world.

Russia, Ukraine & Vladimir Putin Nuclear Threats

Photo: A Russian intercontinental ballistic missile system during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow in 2015, AFP

Photo: A Russian intercontinental ballistic missile system during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow in 2015, AFP

According to the Federation of American Scientists, as of early 2022, nine countries owned the world’s combined inventory of 12,700 nuclear warheads -- of which 5,977 are controlled by Vladimir Putin. 

When Ukrainian officials declared independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union's collapse, they were in possession of over 1,700 Soviet nuclear weapons. Ukraine's President at the time relinquished its nuclear arsenal to Russia under a 1994 agreement in exchange for security assurances from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. 

This agreement, called the Budapest Memorandum, also supported by France and China, guaranteed the sovereignty and security of Ukraine as a country since it voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons and joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). 

Russia has violated all the principles of this agreement by trying to destroy Ukraine as a sovereign country while threatening to use nuclear weapons against them. Putin is making these nuclear threats for a very rational reason -- to prevent President Joe Biden and America from increasing its support to Ukrainian forces.

Putin, Russia, Ukraine News We Should Care About

News of Russian shelling of populated areas or attempts by Russian soldiers to bomb hospitals, has taught the world about the depravity of the Russian leader. Additionally, news of this war in Ukraine is showing glimpses of changes to the future of conflict and the global order that will have an impact on all our futures.

The Use of Iranian Drones

Photo: Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Roman Hrytsyna-AP, October 17, 2022

Photo: Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Roman Hrytsyna-AP, October 17, 2022

The conflict in Ukraine is being used by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia to test new technologies and tactics. Iranian drones are begin used by Russian troops to strike a range of civilian and military targets within Ukraine. According to officials in Ukraine's national security community, Russia has ordered between 2,000 and 2,400 drones from Iran.

  • With an effective range of several hundred miles, these Iran made Shahed-series drones have allowed the Russian military to strike not only eastern Ukraine but targets deep inside western and central Ukraine from launch points in Crimea and southern Belarus.

China Is Using the Ongoing War to Strengthen Its Global Position

Photo: Xi Jinping arriving in Kazakhstan on his first trip abroad since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kazakhstan Presidential Press Office

Photo: Xi Jinping arriving in Kazakhstan on his first trip abroad since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kazakhstan Presidential Press Office

China has been using the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to pursue their own economic interests and propagate anti-Western narratives to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Government of China is demonizing NATO and the United States by accusing them of provoking Russia's aggression and contributing to the conflict's escalation, the consequences of sanctions and the global food crisis. 

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping is using sanctions against Russia as an opportunity for Chinese economic expansion into Russia, and Chinese media and diplomats are promoting a positive image of China while discrediting the West.

Ukrainian Forces Conducting Attacks Inside Russia

Photo: A Ukrainian drone strike on an airfield in Russia’s Kursk region, Ostorozhno Novosti

Photo: A Ukrainian drone strike on an airfield in Russia’s Kursk region, Ostorozhno Novosti

Since late 2022, Ukraine is taking the fight to the Russian homeland. Striking targets deep in Russian territory, that have been confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry, has showcased a new boldness in Kyiv's fight against Moscow's war but also the likelihood that the Russian Army is fighting at the limits of its conventional capabilities.

  • Ukraine starting the new year with several defensive AND offensive successes, has caused fresh accusations in the Russian information space about how the war is being run.

Russia, Ukraine & Putin News that Can Be Influenced by the West 

There is a lot of news about what's happening in Ukraine that the United State and our allies can't influence, but there are two news topics on which the West has the influence to improve the reporting.

Countries that Haven’t Issued Sanctions

Photo: Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2022

Photo: Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2022

One hundred-forty-one countries in the United Nations voted to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine back in March 2022, but zero African, Middle Eastern and South American countries have imposed sanctions on Russia. 

Important American allies like India and Mexico have refused to join these efforts to damage the Russian economy enough to make it difficult for them to continue military operations. 

  • Economic damage has been done (Russia’s GDP in 2022 is expected to shrink by 3.4%), but the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy has turned out to be much smaller than initially hoped. This situation could be improved by additional countries joining the sanctions regime.

Appropriations to Ukraine

Photo: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses a joint Session of Congress, C-Span - December 21, 2022

Photo: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses a joint Session of Congress, C-Span - December 21, 2022

As of January 1, 2023, President Joe Biden and Congress has appropriated a total of $113 billion through four emergency supplemental funding measures in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine. About three-fifths ($67 billion) has been allocated toward defense needs and the remaining two-fifths ($46 billion) to nondefense concerns such as general Ukrainian government aid, economic support, and aid for refugee resettlement. 

  • This $113 billion commitment is roughly half of one percent of our total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and makes Ukraine far and away the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid. It’s the first time that a European country has held this position since Harry Truman rebuilt Europe through the Marshall Plan after World War II. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that $6.6 billion would be spent in FY 2022 and another $37.7 billion in FY 2023. CBO estimates more than half of the approved funds would be spent by the end of FY 2024 and more than three-fourths by the end of FY 2026.

As the war in Ukraine continues, the 118th Congress will have to ensure the proper oversight of these funds and whether additional direct financial support will be needed. As President Zelenskyy told Congress a few days before Christmas eve, “Your money is not charity,” but rather an investment in “global security and democracy."

How The U.S. Should Shape Policy Towards Russia, Ukraine & Putin

There are no easy solutions when it comes to resolving the conflict in Russia and Ukraine, but we need to find a way to work together with our allies to resolve the crisis sooner rather than later. The sooner Ukraine can win this war the better it will be for the global community. 

Limit Russia’s ability and willingness to fight future wars.

Unless the United States takes a firm stance against Russian aggression in Ukraine, it puts NATO allies at risk and dramatically raises the odds of future conflict with Europe. Moscow's unchecked ambition has been made plain by its actions thus far; if nothing is done to stop them now, their ambitions will grow putting our security and that of our allies on an ever more precarious footing.

  • In addition to the current support the U.S. and our allies are giving, we need to provide the Ukrainian side of this conflict with heavy equipment like tanks, airframes and long range munitions to help them win this conflict as quickly as possible.
  • Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov has articulated that the two sides were in an effective stalemate for now, and that hardware would make the difference.

Administer consequences for negative behavior to discourage bad behavior.

Additionally, anything other than a significant degradation of Putin’s power could send a signal to other aspiring dictators that they can act with impunity and claim territory without consequence. History has shown time and again: when tyrants go unchecked by deserved punishment for their crimes, it only leads to further destruction of peace. For example, the lessons from this war will influence the question will China invade Taiwan.

  • The U.S. can't administer consequences alone and must increase and improve our diplomatic efforts and double the number of countries participating in the sanctions regime designed to punish Russia's war-making efforts. 

Bottom Line

This conflict between Russia and shows no signs of slowing down without a significant support to Ukraine. Vladimir Putin will continue to take steps to reassert Moscow’s control over the region. While it remains to be seen how events will unfold between Russia and Ukraine, one thing is clear: the conflict has already made its mark on global security and impacted the American economy—and its ripples will likely continue to be felt for some time to come. 


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