The prospect of confrontation between Russia and the United States at the UN Security Council appeared to have been averted late Saturday, but the risks of what might become a catastrophic war have not faded from everyone’s mind. Here are some reasons why it’s in both the interests of the U.S. and the world for Putin to avoid one.
U.S. leadership—that seems to be at a virtual standstill in President Obama’s second term. Putin wouldn’t dare interfere with U.S. foreign policy while the Obama administration remains largely aloof.
Another reason why Putin might be willing to risk war:
Domestic Russian politics—an uptick in anti-Americanism. This is driven by concern over a possible new American entanglement in the Middle East, as well as resentment over some of Putin’s interventionist policies. These are pressure points that could potentially lead to a bellicose response from Putin.
International public opinion—a belief that Putin might be pursuing pre-emptive strikes against pro-Western forces in Ukraine against Russia’s interests.
About 20 NATO countries—especially Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—have ethnic ties to Ukraine. That’s not to say that Russian soldiers and their weaponry would be welcomed with open arms into the Baltic states. But Moscow could do a lot of damage there without risking a direct engagement in Ukraine.