There is very little to no chance of NATO troops fighting in Ukraine if President Putin decides to invade. Everyone knows this. What remains unclear is how the rest of the world should respond. Doing nothing would be inconceivable and morally unacceptable. International community simply cannot sit and do nothing if Ukraine disappears as an independent nation, or if it is invaded and a puppet regime is installed. What is particularly chilling in this context is the shoddy pretext which is being discussed and which, if true, is so reminiscent of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
In his essay on Ukraine, President Putin quite openly denies that Ukrainians are a separate nation, asserting that the two countries are “essentially the same historical and spiritual space”. This is exceedingly ominous; the leader of the biggest country in the world, and a nuclear power to boot, denying national legitimacy to a much smaller neighbour. Surely, it should be up to Ukrainians to decide what sort of country they want, and what sort of relationship to pursue with Russia. This is properly done at the ballot box; Russian tanks amassing at Ukrainian border does not exactly signal freedom to choose or inspire confidence.
Russia has shown how it sees and how it intends to treat Ukraine in 2014, when it simply took Crimea and hastily organised a dodgy referendum to rubber-stamp the fact. Even if the latest developments do not lead to war, Ukraine has every right to be extremely wary of its neighbour. Moreover, President Putin may have, by acting in this manner, forever driven a decisive wedge between the two nations. This is the true, lasting damage.
Russia and Ukraine should of course closely cooperate on all sorts of levels, not merely because of historical ties, but because of basic common sense and self-interest. However, peace and mutual respect are paramount.
If Russia invades, the only viable and sensible response by the West is hard sanctions, for as long as it takes. This is already being discussed at length. The EU unfortunately appears not to speak with one voice, yet again. It needs to learn and fast, because this may be the first of many challenges.
The international community should be steadfast in support for Ukrainian independence and right to choose its destiny, all the while working towards facilitating long-lasting peace and stability.