Arming Ukraine. 99
The mess in Ukraine arose from a misguided effort to pull Ukraine into Western economic institutions (via the European Union accession agreement), raising legitimate fears in Russia that NATO membership was next. In a brutal but predictable move the Obama administration should have anticipated, Russia thwarted this effort by seizing Crimea and backing separatist movements in eastern Ukraine. The result has been a disaster for the Ukrainians and a blow to security in Europe.
Even so, arming Ukraine is not a good idea. Russia has no interest in trying to reincorporate Ukraine, because the last thing Putin needs is millions of unhappy Ukrainians under Moscow’s rule. It does have an interest in keeping it neutral, however, and there is every reason to expect Moscow to double down if we arm Ukraine and the separatists start to lose ground. Russia is much weaker than we are, but they are also right next door and Ukraine’s status matters a lot more to them than it does to us or even to most of Europe. (If you have trouble grasping that fact, just recall how quick the United States has been to intervene in places like Cuba, Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, whenever it didn’t like political trends in these places.) The more help we send to Kiev, the more our reputation will be committed and the harder it will be to avoid the slippery slope of ever-deeper involvement.