Since the crisis of Crimea and the ignition of the ongoing civil war in the Ukraine, the United States has failed to aid its allies in Kiev and stop Russia from sending arms and manpower to the Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. As a direct result of these failures, the separatists were emboldened to claim independence and even issue passports. Consequently, American influence in Eastern Europe has severely declined and former allies of the United States have begun to look elsewhere for protection. With the European Union on the rise and Russia looking to regain hegemony over the former territories of the USSR, the United States must reassert its vital interests in the region.
Beginning with the Ukraine conflict and the failure of the United States to force Russia out of Crimea, the lackluster American support for the pro-western government in Kiev has negatively impacted American influence in Eastern Europe. The first of these consequences is the distancing of formerly staunch American allies. In response to the example of Ukrainian territory being wrested away from Russia, nation-states such as Belarus, Lithuania, and the Baltic states have begun to rely less on the United States and more on either themselves, or other competitors in the region (Russia and the EU) for military protection.
Additionally, a new player has arrived on the scene and is rising in influence and power. The European Union is consolidating and growing, however slowly, in power and will be a future competitor to the United States for influence in Eastern Europe. As of now, the EU is a strong American ally against Russia in Eastern Europe. However, the fact that the EU may have interests contrary to American interests in Eastern Europe in the future cannot be discounted.
Finally, should American influence be allowed to stagnate, the result will be that Russia’s power and influence will expand. Russia remains a major competitor and prominent rival of the United States in not only Eastern Europe, but also the Middle East and Asia. It is critical to the maintenance of the United States as the world’s premier power that Russia’s leverage in the region be stymied.
In order to achieve this goal and retain American influence over Eastern Europe, the US should step up assistance to Ukraine and the government in Kiev and increase NATO’s presence in the area. This can be achieved by increasing incentives in the form of monetary support and pressuring nations in the area to join Nato as a defensive measure against Russia and establishing a larger American military presence in the area.
Moving forward it is not possible to reclaim Crimea for Ukraine but it is possible and essential that the United States demonstrate to nations in the region that the US can and will support its allies should they be attacked or blatantly provoked. To achieve this, the US must clarify to Russia that the US will not tolerate violations of the sovereignty of its allies and will give decisive military and economic support to nations aligned against Russia.
Credit to BBC for picture.