By Patty Friend, Jason Sibert and Rick D’Loss
Editor’s Note: SDUSA condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on March 16. However, the resolution was not unanimously approved.
While we agree with the text of our March 16th resolution per se, we oppose it as organizational policy because it failed to call on the United States to provide Ukraine with military aid – i.e., material and ammunition along with transport vehicles and armored ambulances, etc. Therefore, we voted to oppose the resolution passed at our March National Executive Committee meeting.
Russia’s war – a clear violation of the United Nations’ Charter – is the most vicious ever perpetrated on a sovereign state since World War II, as stated by Oona Hathaway in her article “International Law Goes to War in Ukraine” (Foreign Affairs, March 15). The longer the war goes on, the worse the crimes are, as we’ve seen the targeting of civilians. The counterweight to this lawbreaking is the crushing sanctions by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, and many other countries of the world. Of course, those sanctions are a method of supporting the violation of the UN Charter, although the UN is largely helpless because Russia has veto power on the Security Council. The sanctions are an example of soft power (non-military) being used to enforce the idea of international law. International law extends beyond the sanctions, according to Hathaway: “contemporary international law demands that states respond to violations not with war but with what Scott Shapiro and I have termed “outcasting”—that is, sanctions that exclude a state that has broken the law from the benefits of global cooperation. In this case, outcasting involves not just economic sanctions but also barring Russian athletes from participating in international sporting events, banning Russian airplanes from European and U.S. airspace, and curtailing Russian media outlets’ access to European audiences.”
Airstrikes and shelling by Russia have devastated civilian infrastructure across large swaths of the country, including schools and hospitals. The World Health Organization said it had confirmed more than 64 attacks on health-care facilities, patients, and medical workers during the nearly two-month-old war, killing thousands of people and wounding countless others. “Health systems, facilities and health workers are not — and should never be — a target,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference.
The Russians have destroyed theaters, restaurants, food storage depots, and much, much more. They have made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of civilians to escape, and for those who have tried to escape the cities such as Mariupol, many have been kidnapped by the Russians and forced to resettle in Russia, with many interned them in filtration camps, reminiscent of concentration camps. Others are bombed and gunned down outright. For those Ukrainians who have no other way to escape the dystopian nightmare in which they are barely living, there is no heat, no food and no water.
Putin’s soldiers have laid landmines all over cities and towns and villages and neighborhoods. They have raped women and girls and left them to die in the streets. They refuse to allow civilians “humanity zones” so they could bury their dead; the dead fester and rot and carry diseases. They have stolen Ukrainians’ food and medicine and have not allowed aid workers to get to the people who need them. This sort of behavior shouldn’t surprise us: in Chechnya, for instance, Putin had Grozny bombed into oblivion, terrorizing the civilian population for almost nine years and establishing his puppet regime there.
This war is not only unnecessary, unprovoked, and illegal but its justification is based in ethnicity. Putin’s propaganda promotes a set of ideas about the Ukrainians, concluding that they must be exterminated, that they do not deserve to exist unless they are part of Russia, or they are subsumed by Russia. Putin’s propaganda is now attacking the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization as if we are evil incarnate.
Putin analysts who are completely familiar with his writings and his speeches tell us that he wants to reestablish the Russian Empire, at least a Greater Russia with Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova as his first ring of satellites. (As an additional motive, Putin covets the large oil deposit in southeast Ukraine, second in size in Europe only to Norway, according to world-wide energy experts. Putin cannot tolerate Ukraine as an economic or political competitor.) Many who analyze him say that he will not stop at these countries and will need to go after Poland and/or the Baltics and/or the Balkans. In other words, he will ultimately go after one of the NATO countries that used to be part of the Soviet bloc. All of this will cause a cold war and arms race which will cost the West every penny that we would need to spend on climate change, peace initiatives, affordable housing, refugee resettlement, education and training, neighborhood revitalization, or fighting the next pandemic. We have the chance to stop all that madness, and it won’t even cost one American boot on the ground. We don’t have to do the fighting, but we must arm the Ukrainians so that they can do the job for themselves, and their freedom, and for us.
Congress passed a $13.6 billion defense spending package that includes $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. The U.S. must continue to stand behind Ukraine in its fight for freedom. It will strike a blow to Putin if he loses his fight to take the country into his sphere of influence. A loss could turn the tide of world politics. In addition to the need to halt Putin’s malicious ambitions, there are other reasons why Ukraine must get arms. First, it produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s wheat supply and other food stuffs. If it cannot harvest its crops, people all over the globe will go hungry (even more than they already have) and more people will die. Second, from the standpoint of ‘power and principle’ (to borrow a term from Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski), the Ukrainians have been our allies, as the county fought with our country and NATO in Afghanistan. The U.S. should not continue to abandon its allies, like it abandoned the Kurds in Syria. Allies are a method we use to confront our adversaries, a way of increasing our power.
Humanitarian aid is a wonderful thing, but we need a military presence to secure that aid. We’ve already seen how the Russians agree to allow humanitarian zones or corridors one minute, and then once the civilians start moving in their cars, the Russians start bombing them or shooting at them. So much so that the people of Mariupol refuse to take the bait assuming that the Russians are simply lying to them and setting them up for annihilation, abduction, or forced relocation in Russia.
The non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations working in Ukraine (such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Central Kitchen and many more) need a great deal of help: thousands of armored ambulances and/or thousands upon thousands of tons of food stuffs, hundreds of thousands of blankets, pillows sheets, towels, millions of pounds of toilet paper, bars of soap and detergent, sanitary supplies, not to mention band aids, and garbage bags. Moving all these supplies takes convoys of trucks and railroad cars, and all must be protected from the Russians.
Some of our comrades are afraid that if we arm the Ukrainians as they need us to do, then we run the risk of arms falling into “the wrong hands” e.g., the Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Are we afraid that the neo-Nazis will get fighter jets? Are we afraid that the neo-Nazis will get Abram tanks? What would they get from the West (and be able to use in some future war) that they could not buy off the black market? We have no clear count as to how many neo-Nazis are fighting in Ukraine, and no one has determined that anything they may have done (wear Nazi uniforms and SS insignias) are equal to the atrocious acts of the Russians.
Many feel that given all the horrendous mistakes that the US and NATO have made since World War II from Viet Nam to Iraq and Afghanistan, and smaller wars or military adventures such as Lebanon or Grenada, we should not and cannot provide arms and munitions to the Ukrainians. But why should the Ukrainians lose their freedom (and all that that implies) and their country because the US has been such a bad actor on the world stage in the past? While we heartily agree that the Dulles Brothers, George Shultz, the Bushes (father and son}, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremmer, Dick Cheney and others probably committed war crimes or at least profited off our wars, that can not absolve Putin from his war crimes and unspeakable acts, and it is no reason to assign the Ukrainian people to live in Putin’s totalitarian wasteland for as long as he might live.
If Ukraine survives, it will obviously have to be rebuilt from scratch. It will need a modern-day Marshall Plan and the US cannot and should not bear the total cost of that, rather Putin and his oligarchs should be made to pay along with the West. The motto of Social Democrats USA is pro-labor and pro-democracy. For this reason, our organization should support aid to Ukraine, both military and non-military. Perhaps a social-democratic movement will emerge in the country much like the mixed economies of Europe after 1945!
Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.
Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.
Rick D’Loss is an At-Large member of the National Executive Committee.