As the U.S. has shown, Russia and the United States are headed toward a dangerous confrontation over Ukraine. 8,500 troopsOn high alert, ready and available to deploy to Eastern Europe in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. new round of arms shipmentsUkrainians have been arriving in large numbers.
On the one hand, Russia’s ongoing occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, its support of armed insurgents in eastern Ukraine and threats of further military action against that country must be challenged by the international community — though not through war. Unfortunately, the United States cannot lead in any strategy or action against Russian aggression.
Just as U.S. military action in the greater Middle East in the name of protecting Americans from ideological extremism and violence in the area has ended up largely encouraging ideological extremism, Russia’s actions in the name of protecting Russians from far right Ukrainian ultranationalists — a small but well-armed minority in that country — will likely only encourage that militant movement as well. The United States must avoid encouraging dangerous ultranationalist tendencies in either Russians and Ukrainians. Polls show most Russians are at best ambivalent about the Kremlin’s moves in Ukraine. Provocative actions by the United States would more likely solidify support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegitimate actions.
Ukraine is seeking international military support in part because it no longer has a nuclear “deterrent.” Ukraine gave up the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union as result of the 1994 Budapest Treaty signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States, France, Great Britain and China. In return for Ukrainian disarmament, the treaty guaranteed the country’s territorial integrity and provided assurances that signatories would not engage in threats or use of force. Putin has violated the agreement, leading many Ukrainians seeking protection under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO), the Cold War alliance. would require NATO members to come to Ukraine’s defense if attacked.
There are many reasons why Ukraine joining NATO would be a bad idea. Indeed, it was the eastward expansion of NATO, violating the promise made to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, which is partly responsible for Russia’s resurgent reactionary nationalism that made possible the rise of Putin. As a country which has been invaded from Europe via Ukraine on four occasions, having Ukraine as part of NATO — which was ostensibly formed to defend Western Europe from the USSR — is unnecessarily provocative, particularly since it was originally formed back in 1949 as a supposedly defensive alliance against a superpower which no longer exists.
A similar agreement could be a good way to end the current crisis, just as NATO members and Soviet Union during Cold War agreed that countries such as Finland and Austria could create their own democratic systems as non-aligned states free from threats of aggression. However, the Biden administration seems to have rejected this potential compromise by going on record in supportOf granting Ukraine NATO membership.
The United States is right to state that Russia is not allowed to decide if another country can or must join NATO or other military alliances, even though it is located near its border. The Biden administration is also correct in noting the absurdity of the Kremlin’s claims that Ukraine is somehow a threat to the larger and more powerful Russia.
The same could be said about Nicaragua and Cuba in relation to the United States. In recent decades, the United States has attacked both countries, as well as invading tiny Grenada and supporting coups in Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere due to those governments’ strategic and economic cooperation with Moscow. Washington insisted that these countries — far smaller and weaker than Ukraine and not even sharing a border with the United States — were national security threats requiring the president to declare extraordinary powers to protect the country. In fact, the United States has stepped in militarily to overthrow governments that were aligned with Moscow.
Today, the United States continues to impose strict sanctions on Nicaragua and Cuba. Americans could have been imprisoned for spending money on Cuba as tourists for years. The U.S. refused even to recognize the Cuban government a decade ago. (Though the restricted political rights and civil liberties in those countries have often been cited as justification for Washington’s hostility, the close relationship the United States has had with far more repressive dictatorships in the Middle East and elsewhere makes clear that it was not these leftist countries’ systems of government that were the impetus for U.S. actions.)
President Biden has rightly pointed out that preemptive war, such as Russia’s threat against Ukraine, is illegal. International law doesn’t allow any country to invade another just because they fear it might become an imminent threat. However, then-Senator Biden used that very reasoning — the possibility of a future threat — in supporting the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Indeed, even after the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country and the failure to find any of the “weapons of mass destruction” he claimed that Iraq had reconstituted after a UN-led disarmament process, Biden still defended the invasionOn the ground that Iraq could have become a threat in the future.
As with the United States during the Cold War, Russia’s hostility toward Ukraine is not simply about potential foreign alliances. Russia may perceive Ukraine’s democratic government (as imperfect as it indeed is) as a “threat” to its increasingly autocratic system — similar to the U.S.’s intervention against socialist governments (as imperfect as their forms of socialism may have been) due to perceived “threats” to the U.S.-driven global capitalist order.
Likewise, Russia’s claims that the limited amount of U.S. aid to Ukrainian liberal opposition groups was somehow responsible for the 2004-2005And 2013-2014 popular uprisings against unpopular pro-Russian governments are as ludicrous as the U.S.’s claims that the limited Soviet aid to leftist opposition groups was responsible for the socialist revolutions in Central America, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, and elsewhere. While Washington and Moscow have both hoped to profit from such uprisings in order to advance their geopolitical agendas it is wrong not to acknowledge agency to those citizens who risk their lives to challenge their corrupt and oppressive governments.
Biden is correct in noting that countries cannot unilaterally change international boundaries or expand their territories by force, and that such acts of aggression, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, are clearly illegal under international law. However, the Biden administration has upheld the Trump administration’s decision to formally recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights (seized in 1967) and Morocco’s illegal annexation of the entire nation of Western Sahara (conquered in 1975), the only country in the world to do so. U.S. government maps show these conquered lands as simply a part of the occupying powers with no delineation between these countries’ internationally recognized borders and their occupied territories, demonstrating that the United States does not necessarily support upholding these international legal norms.
Nonmilitary measures must be taken by the international community to stop further Russian aggression and end the occupation in Crimea. The United States is not able to lead any international effort for the defense of international law or the right of self-determination, however, because it is led by an administration that has shown that they don’t actually oppose such aggression in principle.