A big question is whether Putin is prepared to stomach the massive hit the Russian economy would take in the wake of an invasion.
The West would impose much tougher sanctions on Russia than anything currently in place. Beyond initial steps such as canceling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and suspending Russia from the international financial payment system known as SWIFT, the U.S. could impose crippling sanctions on Russian banks, making it all but impossible for them to operate internationally.
Those moves would make Russia even more dependent on China, opening Putin up to pressure from Beijing.
But Russia, which is a major gas and oil supplier to the West, wouldn’t be the only one feeling pain. Sanctions on the country’s energy sector would likely send global commodity prices higher, something consumers would feel almost immediately at the gas pump and on their heating bills.
While some worry another Russian invasion of Ukraine would vault Europe back to the Cold War, that may only be half right. For much of the Cold War, relations between East and West were stable, governed by an array of arms-control agreements and other treaties. What may lie ahead promises to be much more unpredictable. And unlike during the Cold War, the U.S. has to split its attention between Asia and Europe.