Although it is not likely that all of this will lead to WWIII, here are a few reasons why we should all be concerned:
1. Look at a map of Europe. Among the countries that share a border with Ukraine are Poland, Romania and Slovakia, all of whom, like Ukraine, are former satellites of the Soviet Union. These countries have turned to the West since their liberation and are members of NATO, whose membership also includes the U.S. and its European Allies. NATO’s core task is its commitment to the collective defense of its members and their territory. That means if Russia, emboldened by its success in Ukraine, threatens any NATO member bordering Ukraine, the U.S., as NATO’s most powerful and influential member, will get drawn into the fray. And if that happens, there will be significant human and financial costs to the U.S. Remember the war in Yugoslavia 20 years ago?
2. Russia is Western Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas and its actions in Ukraine have demonstrated the vulnerability of Western Europe’s energy supply. In addition, most of the energy that it buys from Russia is delivered via pipelines that go directly through Ukraine. The U.S. has enormous natural gas resources and regardless of what happens in Ukraine now, Western Europe, for strategic and market reasons, will increasingly look to the U.S. for natural gas. That is potentially great news for many U.S. companies, but likely bad news for U.S. consumers, as the price of natural gas will rise. Corporate profits and the laws of supply and demand will see to that. Another likely consequence will be increased pressure to limit government regulation of fracking, an environmentally risky method of extracting natural gas from our subsurface.
3. As the 2014 mid-term elections approach, we can expect a lot of hyperbole about how timid and ineffective President Obama has been in response to Putin’s actions. And a vigorous defense of Obama will follow. This is an issue we should all be informed about so we can ferret out the truth from the bluster. We have to be able to look beyond Fox News’ Putin vs. Obama “fight” posters showing a macho, shirtless Putin on a motorcycle and a nerdy looking Obama cycling on the Vineyard with a helmet.