A closer look at the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

The Ukraine-Russia Crisis: Virtual Policy Circle Briefings

The Policy Circle conducted several interviews with Ukraine-Russian relation experts and thought leaders to take a deep dive into the escalating crisis between the two countries.

View the Executive Summary for this brief.


The United States has long been referred to as the “indispensable nation” or the “world’s policeman.” Since World War II, America has promoted democracy and prosperity, and opposed dictatorships and human rights abuses across the globe through its economic, diplomatic, and military engagement. The U.S. has served as a champion of universal freedom and human rights, a pillar of international security and order, and a deterrent to the aggression of rogue regimes.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is isolationism, a policy of avoiding interference in the disputes and affairs of other nations.  This has also been a recurring theme shaping America’s foreign policy. Particularly in the post-Cold War era, the question of what role the U.S. should play on the world stage, and the extent to which the U.S. can serve as “the world’s policeman,” continues to be debated, and has become a central component in conversations surrounding military spending and foreign policy.



In order to better understand the current Ukraine-Russia conflict, it’s helpful to take a step back and explore some of the events in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

1991: Collapse of the Soviet Union 

Ahead of the collapse, the 15 republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania,  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Russia) that made up the USSR declared themselves to be sovereign states in 1990.

After the collapse, Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal from the Soviet Union.

Shortly after gaining independence, relations began between Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the political and military alliance founded in 1949. 

Today, NATO has 30 member countries (America, Canada, and 28 European countries). Ukraine is a NATO partner but not a member — meaning the collective defense principle (commonly referred to as Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty), which states an attack against one member is considered as an attack against all members, does not apply to Ukraine. However, four countries bordering Ukraine are NATO members: Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. 

1994: Ukraine Signed Away Its Nuclear Arsenal

Ukraine signed an agreement with Russia, the U.S. and U.K called The Budapest Memorandum, pursuant to which Russia, the U.S. and U.K agreed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine. 

In exchange, Ukraine joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state, and agreed to send its nuclear weapons to Russia for dismantling. 

2014:  Russian Seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine

Three months of anti-government protests erupted after Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an EU association agreement, arguing that Ukraine could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia. He was then ousted from office and fled to Russia (with Russia’s help), creating an opportunity for pro-Russia separatist rebels to seize territory in eastern Ukraine.

In the biggest land grab in Europe since World War II, Russia’s military invaded part of southern Ukraine and illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Following the invasion, 97% of voters opted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in an internationally disputed referendum,

Both the United States and the European Union issued statements calling the referendum illegal, illegitimate, and contrary to both the Ukrainian Constitution and international law.

In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and violations of the 1994 nuclear agreement,  NATO suspended practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia. NATO still maintains open dialogue with Russia.

Shortly after the invasion of Crimea, a separatist conflict erupted between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army along Ukraine’s eastern border in an area known as the Donbas. To date, over 14,000 people have been killed as a result of the conflict. 

2021: Tensions Rise Along the Russia-Ukraine Border

In March, Russia began to send troops and offensive weaponry near the Ukraine border, sparking concern by Western governments. By April, Russia had amassed more military at the borders of Ukraine than it had since the 2014 invasion.

By mid-November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Russia amassed nearly 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. During a November 30 press conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that allies must “prepare for the worst” in Ukraine. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to maintain a sphere of influence across the entire former Soviet Union territory with Russia at the helm.  He wants legally enforceable assurances that NATO will stop eastward expansion and deny membership to Ukraine. In 2008, Ukraine requested a NATO membership action plan and NATO said it will become a member, but did not offer a timeline and there has been no consensus on granting membership. Ukraine is a NATO partner country, which means that it cooperates closely with NATO, but it is not covered by the collective defense guarantee in the Alliance’s founding treaty.

Russia also wants removal of NATO troops and military equipment, including intermediate-range missiles, in eastern Europe, and an end to the fighting between Russian-backed separatist forces and Ukraine’s army in eastern Ukraine. Pres. Putin has threatened a “retaliatory military-technical” response if his demands are not met.

Both the U.S. and NATO are committed to a sovereign, safe, and stable Ukraine, and have rejected Russia’s demands, promising economic sanctions and a beefed-up NATO presence in eastern Europe if Russia further invades Ukraine.

Current Crisis & Latest Information

Key Facts
Ukraine Civilian Casualties as of May 25: 3,998 killed (including at least 260 children) and 4,694 injured (including at least 404 children)
Refugees Fleeing Ukraine as of May 25: 6.6 million+ (including 3.5 million+ to Poland, 970,000+ to Romania, 950,000+ to Russia, 660,000+ to Hungary, 470,000+ to Moldova, 440,000+ to Slovakia, 27,000+ to Belarus)



For daily updates on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, check out some of our must trusted sources:



Week 13

In the first of what will likely be many war crime trials, a Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian. Over 13,000 cases of Russian alleged war crimes are under investigation according to Iryna Venediktova,  the prosecutor general of Ukraine

Russian forces took full control of the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold in Mariupol, making it the second major southern city captured by Russia.

According to Ukrainian economist Yuriy Gorodnichenko, the cost to rebuild Ukraine after the war could cost anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion.

During a press briefing with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Pres. Zelesnkyy said Ukraine’s military may be losing up to 100 soldiers a day as Russians advance in the east and the south

Week 12

The European Commission released a plan to start finalizing the process to rebuild Ukraine through grants and loans.

It appeared that the battle for Mariupol, the strategically located city under siege for the past few months, neared its end with Russia announcing that about 1,000 Ukrainian troops who were holed up at the Azovstal steel plant have “surrendered” and were taken into custody.

Despite warnings from Russia, notoriously neutral nations Sweden and Finland, which shares a 830-mile border with Russia, announced they will seek  NATO membership. President Putin responded stating that “the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”

To date, one-third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes, including over 6 million who fled their country, 8 million displaced internally within Ukraine, and some 13 million estimated to be stranded in affected areas.  Still, some of those who fled earlier in the conflict have returned. Kyiv‘s mayor Vitali Klitschko said two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million inhabitants have returned.

Week 11

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine, holding a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with Pres. Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena Zelenska.

During Russia’s annual Victory Day military parade marking the Soviet Union’s triumph over the Nazis during World War II, President Putin defend his invasion, but made no mention of victory in Ukraine.

During a visit to an Illinois family farm, Pres. Biden continued to blame Russia for the global spike in food prices, citing the Ukrainian wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds, and cooking oil that are not being exported, and disruptions in supply chains for fertilizer because of the war.  The White House said that global food prices have increased by nearly 13% since the war began. Pres. Biden announced plans to help drive down costs to farmers while boosting production and lower food prices by increasing the number of counties eligible for double cropping insurance, doubling funding for domestic fertilizer production, and increasing technical assistance for nutrient management tools.

The European Commission issued a proposal to phase out imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022. To take effect, the proposal must be  approved by all EU member states.

Week 10

Efforts to evacuate Mariupol persisted with Ukrainian fighters determined to to prevent Moscow’s complete takeover of the strategically important port city, as Russian forces continue to hammer cities in the East and South.

President Biden asked Congress for an additional $33 billion to support Ukraine, including  more than $20 billion for defense, over $8 billion for economic support, and $3 billion for humanitarian aid. According to Department of State spokesperson Ned Price, to date, the United States has provided Ukraine with $3.8 billion in security assistance since the beginning of Russia’ invasion.

Sending a message to the international community, Russia launched a deadly attack on a residential area of Kyiv as President Zelenskyy held a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in a a town outside Kyiv.

On April 30, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. Pelosi led an official Congressional Delegation to meet with Pres. Zelenskky and other top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv. Afterwards, the Delegation traveled to Poland to meet with President Andrzej Duda and express their thanks for the generosity and hospitality extended to the people of Ukraine.

Week 9

Pres. Biden announced the latest round of Ukraine-related policy decisions, including $800M in military aid, an expedited program to accept up to 100,000 refugees, and a ban of Russia ships from U.S. ports. According to experts, the quantity and capability of the new weapons and equipment headed to Ukraine has the potential to be a gamechanger as Russia faces a military manpower problem. accumulating arsenal of Western weapons

In response to Pres. Putin’s claim that Russia gained complete control of Mariupol, Pres. Biden said “there is no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen,” though it appears that after weeks of brutal fighting in Mariupol, Russia took control of nearly the entire city — a strategic victory for Russia because it’s a land corridor between Crimea and the Donbas region.

Questions linger about what happens if and when Mariupol falls: will Russian forces remain in the area (allowing Ukrainian troops to move in and try to reclaim the city) or move into the Donbas region.

On April 25, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivered remarks after returning from a meeting with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv to provide an update on Ukraine’s evolving needs and U.S. assistance, including more aid in the form of cash, weapons, security force assistance, and training.  Both Sec. Blinken and Sec. Austin reaffirmed their belief that Ukraine can and will win this war and that the U.S. will do everything to make sure it receives the support and aid it needs to do so.

Escalating the crisis, Russia stopped supplying natural gas to NATO nations Poland and Bulgaria on April 27. The suspensions are the first since Pres. Putin’s April demand that “unfriendly” foreign purchasers of Russian gas pay in rubles instead of dollars and euros.

Week 8

Russia suffered a major loss when its Moskv warship sank in the Black Sea. The sinking of the flagship was the biggest wartime loss of a naval ship in 40 years. Russia denied reports that it sank after being hit by Ukrainian missiles, and said it sank due to a fire.

The bodies of more than 900 civilians were found in the region, including more than 350 in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb where mass graves were found in early April. Citing police data, Andriy Nebytov, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force said that 95% died as a result of gunshot wounds.

Russia’s new assault of eastern Ukraine began, with Russia concentrating its forces in the Donbas region.

On April 20, UNHCR said the number of refugees fleeing the conflict had exceeded 5 million, with at least 15.7 million people inside Ukraine in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Week 7

In an interview with 60 Minutes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized the United Nations Security Council  and NATO for their inaction.  Recall that the Council has five permanents members (Russia, China, France, the U.S. and United Kingdom) have the status of permanent members with veto power. Of NATO’s diplomacy, he said “I’m no longer interested in their diplomacy that leads to the destruction of my country.”

Zelenskyy expressed his gratefulness for the weapons sent by NATO and the U.S., but when asked if he thinks the world bears some responsibility for not stopping Russia, he answered: “When you have the ability to close the sky — yes, it’s scary that a world war could start, it’s scary, I understand that. And I cannot put pressure on these people because everyone is afraid of war. But whether the world is responsible for this? I believe so. Yes, I believe so. Stand in front of the mirror every day and ask yourself, were you able to do something, or were you unable to do something? You will find the answer in the mirror to this question. And to another question— who are you? That’s what I believe.”

A day later, at least 52 people were killed and many more wounded in a missile strike on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of using chemical weapons against Ukrainian military and civilians in Mariupol. Speaking on April 12, Secretary of State Blinken said the U.S. cannot confirm those allegations, but said there is “credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot-control agents, including tear gas, mixed with chemical agents, that would cause stronger symptoms to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians as part of the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol.” Hours later, President Biden accused Pres. Putin of committing genocide in Ukraine, adding that “we’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me.”

Following a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Pres. Putin confirmed there’s been no progress made during recent peace talks with Ukraine and vowed that the military operation will continue until the goals set are met.

Week 6

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited Ukraine and reported that around a quarter of the population have been forced to flee their homes, including more than 10.5 million people  displaced either within Ukraine or abroad as refugees, around a quarter of the population. In total, 13 million people are estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across the country.

Lithuania became the first country in the European Union to ban Russian fuel imports, according to a Twitter post from Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

On April 2, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar announced via Facebook that Ukraine had retaken the whole Kyiv region. After failing to seize Kyiv, Russian forces redeployed to Ukraine’s east and south, continuing to make gains in  cities like Mariupol, where fighting and Russian air strikes continue

In the wake of the Russian withdrawal, horrifying images emerged. Outside of Kyiv, mass graves were found in Bucha where civilians were executed and left lying in the streets, including some whose hands were tied behind their backs. According to Bucha’s mayor, at least 280 bodies were buried in mass graves. Russia claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged. The U.S., EU and United Kingdom responded with more sanctions,

Human Rights Watch documented several cases of apparent war crimes committed by Russia in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions, including “a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man; and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians between February 27 and March 14, 2022. Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood. Those who carried out these abuses are responsible for war crimes.”

Speaking to CBS’ “Face the Nation on April 3,” President Zelenskyy described Russia’s attacks on civilians as “genocide,” a crime under international law.

Week 5

The U.S. declared it’s working with NATO allies to prepare for the possibility that Russia deploys weapons of mass destruction ( biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons). Without getting into details, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters “there is convergence around the fundamental nature of how the Alliance would respond to these issues.”

When asked about an unscripted remark (“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power”) he made about Pres. Putin  during a March 26 speech in Poland, President Biden made it clear his administration was not walking back from his comment, stating “I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change.  I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”

In a major victory for the Ukrainian military, Ukrainian forces regained control of Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv.

Negotiations between Russian and Ukraine delegations took place in Istanbul, Turkey. Afterwards, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin announced Russia would scale back its military activities in Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” In response to the pronouncement, White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield said that no one should be fooled by Russia’s announcement, warning that that “any movement of forces from around Kyiv is a redeployment and not a withdrawal.  And the world should be prepared for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine.  Everyone should expect that we’re going to continue to see attacks across Ukraine.”

Week 4

Russia continued to strike civilian targets in Kyiv and across Ukraine.

Citing preliminary estimates, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine’s economy has already lost $565 billion because of the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the U.S. Congress to call on America to do more to protect his country as its destiny is being decided. During his address, he invoked key events in U.S. history, such as 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, to make a plea for additional sanctions, more weapons, and a no-fly zone over Ukraine, stating that “being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

When asked about Pres. Putin’s nuclear threat rhetoric and the potential of NATO getting involved in the conflict, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said:

“Allies support Ukraine, but at the same time, it is extremely important that we prevent this conflict becoming a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia because that will cause much more damage, much more death, destruction than what we see now in Ukraine… We are very much aware that we need to act in a way that prevents this conflict from going from being a very bloody, ugly, horrific conflict in Ukraine, to something that turns out to be a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia in Europe and also potentially involving, of course, the United States directly. That would be extremely dangerous, and that is exactly what we need to prevent.”

Ukraine rejected an ultimatum to surrender the besieged city of Mariupol to Russian forces.

Speaking on March 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that no one predicted the seizure by the West of the assets of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, calling the seizure of $300 billion in Russian assets “theft.”

On March 24, President Biden met with NATO leaders in Brussels on the one-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and announced the establishment of four new battle groups in Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

In addition to the over $1.1 billion in economic, health, democracy and human rights, and humanitarian assistance the United State has provided to the Europe and Eurasia region since 2021, the White House announced it is prepared to provide more than $1 billion in new humanitarian assistance funding (including providing food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies and other forms of assistance) for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine, and an additional $320 million in democracy and human rights funding to Ukraine and its neighbors. Pres. Biden also announced the U.S. will welcome to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and additional sanction on more than 400 additional individuals and entities.

In two powerful addresses, one to NATO and one to the G7, Pres. Zelenskyy said Ukraine is defending all of our common values and that it is the interests of all democracies to help Ukraine because democracies must be able to defend. He also pleaded for more help, specifically more weapons and military equipment. He themselves.

Week 3

Russia continued its attack in western Ukraine, striking a military base just 15 miles from Poland, heightening fears that NATO could be drawn into the conflict.

High-level talks between Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov took place in Antalya, Turkey, but did not yield any significant results.

The Senate passed the $1.5 trillion spending bill, which includes $13.6 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, sending the bill to the President’s desk.

President Biden announced the U.S., the European Union, as well as Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom will move to revoke “most favored nation” trade status for Russia to hold it accountable for the aggression against Ukraine.

“A most-favored-nation status designation means two countries have agreed to trade with each other under the best possible terms — low tariffs, few barriers to trade, and the highest possible imports allowed.” In America, it’s called “permanent normal trade relations” (PNTR) and revoking PNTR will make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States.

Additionally, Pres. Biden announced more sanctions on additional Russian elites, a ban on U.S. luxury goods exports into Russia and a ban on Russian certain exports,  including seafood, spirits/vodka, into the U.S. He also approved another $200 million in additional military assistance for Ukraine’s defense, bringing the total security assistance provided by the United States to Ukraine to more than $1.2 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has warned all countries, including China, not to give Russia workarounds to the sanctions “because we will ensure that neither China, nor anyone else, can compensate Russia for these losses.”

Week 2

Kherson became the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russia. Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant located in Southern Ukraine sparked a fire. The fire was extinguished, the International Atomic Energy Agency said there was no immediate sign of a radiation leak.

Russia and Ukraine held two more round of peace talks, which resulted in a tentative agreements to set up “humanitarian corridors” inside Ukraine to allow civilians to leave the war torn areas and supplies to come in.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the designation of Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months  for Ukrainians who have lived in the U.S. since March 1, allowing those eligible to apply for work permits and deportation protections.

NATO foreign ministers rejected Ukraine’s appeals to set up a no-fly zone and reiterated it will not involve NATO forces directly in the conflict in Ukraine on the ground or in their airspace. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg explained the decision stating “the only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes, fighter planes into Ukrainian airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes…  if we did that, we’ll end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe, involving many more countries, and causing much more human suffering.”.

President Biden announced a ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal, which accounts for less than 10% of U.S. oil imports. In response, Pres. Putin unveiled restrictions on imports and exports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the U.S. has “declared economic war on Russia and it is de facto waging this war.”

The EU did not join the U.S.’s ban. Instead it proposed gaining independence from Russian fossil fuels by 2030. The EU imports 45% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia.

The Department of Defense rejected a surprise proposal by Poland to transfer its Russian-made fighter jets to Ukraine via a U.S. base in Germany, citing “difficult logistical challenges.” Both the United States and Poland are weary of flying into Ukraine because of the dangers involved, as Russia controls most of Ukraine’s airspace.

Week 1

In a live televised speech that aired before 6 a.m. local time on February 24, Pres. Putin declared a “special military operation” to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine in a declaration of war. He issued a warning to the Ukrainian military to “immediately put down arms and go home” and cautioned any nations that consider intervening will face consequences “never seen in history.”  Immediately afterwards, explosions were reported in the eastern,  southern, and northern parts of Ukraine, including in the capital city Kyiv. A series of cyberattacks on Ukrainian government websites followed.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by land, air, and sea is the biggest land war in Europe since World War II.

Pres. Biden announced the first of several rounds of sanctions on Russian oligarchs, as well as Russia’s financial and technological sectors, while noting that the impact of sanctions will take time. In signs of a strengthening united front, the EU, Canada, and United Kingdom announced similar sanctions. Additionally, Pres. Biden authorized the State Department to release up to an additional $350M worth of weapons to Ukraine.

As every Ukrainian faced the impossible decision of whether to flee their home in attempt to secure safety for their family or take up arms to fight for their country, Ukrainian Pres.  Zelenskyy declared martial law and ordered a full military mobilization that would last 90 days.

The first round of talks between the Russian and Ukraine delegations lasted nearly five hours and did not result in any immediate substantive results.

The international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague announced it will launch an investigation into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

During the State of the Union, Pres. Biden announced the U.S. will follow in the footsteps of the EU and Canada by banning Russian flights from American airspace.

One day after Pres. Zelenskyy officially signed an application for Ukraine’s membership in the European Union, he delivered a powerful speech to the European Parliament making the case for Ukraine’s immediate membership. Watch it (with subtitles) here.



On February 2, Secretary Kirby announced plans to send about 2,000 troops to Poland and Germany, and approximately 1,000 to Romania to “ensure the robust defense of our NATO allies” not to fight in Ukraine. Kirby said the U.S. will continue to coordinate with our European allies and work through NATO  to make sure that deployment efforts compliment each other, and are “appropriate, defensive, and non-escalatory.”

As Russian officials accused the U.S. and our allies of causing hysteria by exaggerating the threat of a Russian invasion in order to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine, the Biden administration continued to consult with our European allies about possible economic sanctions against Russia should it invade Ukraine. 

Another piece of the sanctions puzzle is Russian gas, and the Nord Stream 2, the new 764-mile natural gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea from western Russia to northeastern Germany, which is owned by a Russian state-owned company. The controversial pipeline, which was opposed by the U.S., Ukraine, and Poland, could potentially be operational by summer, but Germany halted the project on February 22. With Europe receiving about 40% of its natural gas from Russia, Russia’s ability to cut off supply could cause a European gas (and economic) crisis.

The Policy Circle’s 2021 Leadership Summit focused on this very topic and shined a light on the need to diversify energy sources. For more information, see The Policy Circle’s Energy & The Environment Brief or watch the Summit panel on Unpacking the Energy Industry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. In a show of unity, they issued a joint statement whereby China indicated it agrees with Russia’s opposition for any enlargement of NATO – including for Ukraine. Russia, in turn, confirmed its agreement with China’s stance “that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan.” Both leaders stated they “remain highly vigilant about the negative impact of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy on peace and stability in the region.”

In a significant shift, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took to Facebook to prepare his people that an invasion by Russia will likely take place on Feb. 16. Echoing Zelenskyy’s warning, Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby said Pres. Putin “is doing all of the things that you would expect him to do to make sure that he’s ready for that option.” In response, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the U.S. is continuing “diplomatic efforts to deescalate the crisis” while temporarily relocating the remaining embassy presence in Ukraine from Kyiv to Lviv (which is close to the Poland border).

Days after Secretary Blinken told the U.N. Security Council that Russia will manufacture a pretext for its attack, such as a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, and then respond to the manufactured provocation via a declaration that Russia must defend Russians in Ukraine, Pres. Putin signed a decree recognizing two separatist-controlled regions (Donetsk and Luhansk) in an area of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas as independent and ordered Russian troops to those territories in what the Kremlin is calling a “peacekeeping” mission.


By late January, Russia had amassed over 130,000 troops near the Ukraine border – that is about 30,000 more than the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan during the peak of the war. Pres. Putin denied accusations about its intention to launch an attack on Ukraine and said the military buildup near Ukraine was needed to protect its borders.

Speaking on January 23, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is building up its defense while it’s engaged in diplomacy and dialogue. “We’re building up deterrence. We’ve now provided to Ukraine more security assistance this year than in any previous year. We have rallied allies and partners around the world. We are preparing massive consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine again,” he said.

On January 24, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced that 8,500 U.S. troops were placed on heightened alert as part of a NATO operation for possible deployment to NATO countries in eastern Europe if NATO activates the NATO Response Force (NRF), which is made up of 40,000 multinational troops,  or “if other situations develop.” 

What You Can Do

The following organizations are working to provide food, water, medical care, emergency supplies, cash assistance, hygiene kits, and ongoing support to those who remain in Ukraine and those displaced by the conflict:

CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Fund

“Your emergency gift supports CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Fund to reach 4 million with immediate aid and recovery, food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support, and cash assistance — prioritizing women and girls, families, and the elderly.”

Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

“MSF teams remain in Ukraine and are currently seeking ways to respond to the medical and humanitarian needs as the conflict evolves. We are also mobilizing our staff and resources internationally to be ready for a variety of potential needs. Our supply centers are currently preparing medical kits for rapid dispatch. We have sent additional emergency teams to the region, and our staff are currently assessing the needs of Ukrainian refugees in Poland and other neighboring countries.”

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

“The ICRC has been working in Ukraine since 2014. Our operations in the country are among the ten largest ICRC operations worldwide with a team of over 600 staff members. Working closely with the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, we are increasing our response to the humanitarian needs in Ukraine. Our support to people includes emergency assistance such as food, water, and other essential items. We also support hospitals and primary healthcare facilities with medical equipment and emergency preparedness. We repair water stations and support households to rehabilitate their damaged homes. We also help families separated by the conflict reconnect.”

International Medical Corps

“International Medical Corps is expanding its relief efforts inside Ukraine in response to the war there, as well as in neighboring countries, to provide medical, mental health and protection services to the millions of people affected by the conflict, including refugees.”

International Rescue Committee

“The IRC is on the ground in Poland supporting displaced children and families with vital supplies. Your gift will help us provide food, medical care and emergency support services to refugee families in countries like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.”


“Hospitallers is a volunteer organization of paramedics. It was founded by Yana Zinkevich at the beginning of hostilities in Ukraine in 2014. Then Russia annexed Crimea and began hostilities in the east of the country. The slogan of our organization is ‘For the sake of every life.’ And hospitallers prove every day that for us these are not just words.”

Kyiv Independent

“Ukraine is facing an unprecedented attack. The Kyiv Independent continues to work, bringing the world trusted, important information about the facts on the ground. We need your support in this difficult and unpredictable task. From cyberattacks, bombings, ground invasions – it is hard to predict what the days ahead will bring and what we will need to respond. All this is a huge trial for a media launched just 3 months ago. But together we can overcome.”

National Bank of Ukraine

The National Bank of Ukraine has special two fundraising accounts: one support the Armed Forces of Ukraine and another designated for humanitarian needs.


“Razom is a non-profit Ukrainian-American human rights organization established to support the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of a democratic society with dignity, justice, and human and civil rights for all.”

Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund

“Save the Children is concerned for children caught in the middle of armed conflict, forced from their homes in freezing temperatures, and exposed to injury, hunger and cold. Your donation to Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund can help provide children and families with immediate aid, such as food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support and cash assistance. Together, we can protect children in crisis.”

Spirit of America

“Spirit of America is working closely with US military and State Department personnel in Poland to meet the urgent needs of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on the front lines. We are providing medical supplies and equipment, including first aid kits, for Ukrainian soldiers and field medical personnel. We expect to provide emergency communications gear. We are also working with US Special Operations Forces to provide emergency assistance to Ukrainians displaced by the fighting.”

Ukrainian Red Cross 

“All funds will be used to help those in need, affected by armed conflict, blood collection, mobilization of volunteers and resources, and emergency activities.”


United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR)

“UNHCR is on the ground scaling its response to provide assistance and ensure those displaced find safety in welcoming arms in this moment of crisis. Resources are stretched thin, and your kindness is needed to help restore lives in Ukraine and wherever families have been displaced. Your compassionate support can help ensure that the moment an emergency hits — whether in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia or beyond — UNHCR is on the ground providing emergency supplies, lifesaving care and hope. You can help ensure that families fleeing violence around the world know they are not alone at the most devastating moment of their lives.”

United Nations World Food Programme

“The United Nations World Food Programme is on the ground right now providing critical food assistance for people fleeing the conflict. With your help, we can deliver food directly to Ukrainian people in dire need.”

World Central Kitchen (WCK)

“WCK uses the power of food to nourish communities and strengthen economies in times of crisis and beyond. When disaster strikes, WCK’s Chef Relief Team mobilizes to the front lines with the urgency of now to start cooking and provide meals to people in need. WCK’s resilience work advances human and environmental health, offers access to professional culinary training, creates jobs, and improves food security for the people we serve.”


Find and contact your member in the U.S. House of Representatives to learn about their take on America’s role in NATO and the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Additional Resources

NATO: Relations with Ukraine 

NATO: NATO-Russia Relations 

Council on Foreign Relations: Conflict in Ukraine

Department of State: Fact vs. Fiction: Russian Disinformation on Ukraine 

Lawfare: Revisiting Ukraines Nuclear Past Will Not Help Secure its Future 

Center for Strategic and International Studies: Russia’s Possible Invasion of Ukraine 

Congressional Research Service: Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests