Can the United States Avoid Direct Conflict with Russia?

Western powers have been united in their condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The United States and the European Union (EU) have imposed broad sanctions on energy and other exports, which have proven surprisingly painful for everyone involved. In the initial stages of the war, public sentiment for supporting Ukraine was exceedingly high. So high, in fact, that some outlets claimed an absurd 70% level of support for a NATO-enforced no fly-zone.

There is no doubt that this is an existential crisis for Ukraine. But will this turn into an existential battle for the United States and her allies? Russia is a nuclear peer and a misstep between NATO and Putin could result in a nuclear exchange.

Contrary to widespread belief, nuclear weapons are not off the table for Russia’s generals. Putin himself has come out and said that there would be a nuclear response to any existential threat to Russia. This is not just false bluster. If backed into a corner, Putin would surely use all the tools at his disposal.

The United States must be very careful moving forward. It is currently supplying Ukraine with modern weapons, but has refrained from enforcing a no-fly zone or supplying Ukraine with additional aircraft. This reluctance to go too far in supporting Ukraine is clearly to avoid unnecessary escalation. While the Biden administration’s actions have walked the line between helping Ukraine and getting drawn into direct conflict with Russia, its rhetoric may accomplish the opposite.

President Biden has called Putin a “war criminal” and has called for regime change, comments that were walked back by his team. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is not helping matters by repeatedly calling for Vladimir Putin’s assassination.

It’s important for our leaders to recognize that statesmanship is not yelling and making threats. That didn’t stop Russia from its invasion of Ukraine. And it won’t cause Russia to waste its efforts by leaving without accomplishing the goals of the invasion. The approach that Biden’s puppet masters need to take is the same they need to take with the American people, if they want to be successful on the international or domestic fronts: they need to listen; they need to cede a little ground to the other side, especially when they really don’t have the will or the ability to take all the ground.

The answers aren’t simple. But it’s clear that severing Russia from the international community may backfire in historic ways, as new alternatives now rise from the East to compete with the U.S. petrodollar — and this will create hardships for the U.S., not for Russia. The answers lie in a foreign policy that presented strength within the limitations of a changing international order; the right solutions can be found in a doctrine that sought to readjust supply chains and strengthen America for a time just like this; the key to this international crisis is to adopt the foreign policy of the Trump administration.