At this critical moment, now is not the time for the US to sell out Ukraine and effectively capitulate on the world stage.
By Victor Rud
October 10, 2023
How do China and other foes (and friends) assess our US strategic sagacity in Ukraine? Commentary on the issue has exploded. But it scarcely addresses the several factors unique to Ukraine that have a massive multiplier effect, good or bad, on perceptions of our deterrence credibility, political will and reliability of national commitment.
Embedded also are issues of hypocrisy and betrayal that years of fecklessness and naivete have imported into our foreign policy. Our capitulation would rocket China’s self-assurance to arrogant and catastrophic certainty, as we also provide octane for Pyongyang and Teheran. Contrariwise, helping to secure Ukraine’s independence would establish a counterweight to Russia, allowing us to address China and infuse our friends worldwide with certainty and stability.
The “rules-based international order,” born of the horrors of World War II, is front and center. So, too, is “defending democracy.” Many perceive this as too opaque and simply repetitive of what Washington has argued through the generations as reasons for other engagements around the world and where (be it asserted, correctly or not) there has been no payback. But addressing climate change and a dozen other issues is impossible without it. (Capitulating to Russia’s nuclear blackmail is the ultimate climate changer.)
But Taiwan is not a member of the UN, and other than a handful of microstates such as Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu, no nation recognizes Taiwan’s sovereignty or territorial integrity. We withdrew our recognition in 1979. Contrariwise, Ukraine is a founding member of the UN, and recognized internationally. It paid the highest price of any nation for that order, losing approximately 8-9 million of its inhabitants in World War II, more than any other country. Its losses were greater than the military deaths of the US, Canada, the British Commonwealth, France, Italy, and Germany, combined.
In his book, “The Moscow Factor”, author and 30-year veteran of the US Department of State, Eugene M. Fishel, states: “Today, as in the past, Russia’s overarching objective remains the very destruction of Ukraine, a European nation in the geographic center of the European continent.” Given the radically disparate status that international law accords to Ukraine and Taiwan, where’s our credibility in Taiwan if we fail to defend Ukraine’s survival as a sovereign state?
Freedom of navigation is pivotal. With only 10 percent of Black Sea coastline, Russia has pirated Ukraine’s waters equal in area to South Korea. Moscow is again talking about claiming Alaska,
and our maritime jurisdiction there. If we betray Ukraine, why should anyone ascribe any credibility to our position on the Taiwan Straits, South China Sea, the Sea of Japan?
And then there’s the detail that Ukraine “made America great again.” Ukraine’s independence in 1991 collapsed the USSR, allowing Washington to declare that we “won the Cold War.” This stopped the hemorrhaging of an estimated $13 trillion spent on the Cold War. And we recouped our primacy, and credibility in the world. Do we understand the consequences of a Russian claw-back of Ukraine?
Stunningly, we then disarmed Ukraine, requiring it to surrender – to Russia – the world’s then third largest nuclear arsenal, larger than that of China, Britain and France, combined. Fishel points out how we promised that “Ukraine’s security problem will be solved once Ukraine gives up its nuclear arsenal.” We also destroyed much of Ukraine’s conventional weaponry, as President Barack Obama once said, “for the safety of the Ukrainian people.”
Furthermore, Ukraine is not Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq. It’s the largest country in Europe, the size of England, Germany, Hungary and Israel, combined, and one of Europe’s oldest democracies. Ukraine’s democratic tradition extends back 1,000 years, Kyiv’s “Magna Carta” preceded London’s by two centuries. Ukraine produced Europe’s first constitution for a representative government, preceding our own constitution by 77 years.
Our war on terror cost us $8 trillion. Ukraine is battling against the same Kremlin that in the 1970s and 1980s launched “Islamic terrorism” against the US. Among the incarnations are ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah and, yes, Hamas. Two successive airplane crashes into the White House was Russia’s own Spetsnaz scenario. In 1997, after spending six months in Russia, Ayman al-Zawahiri was directed to Afghanistan to become Osama bin Laden’s righthand man and architect of 9/11.
Ukraine has been our staunch ally in peace missions and war on terror. It has provided nearly 45,000 pairs of boots on the ground that have marched in 27 operations led by the UN and NATO. Fifty-one NATO and allied nations (including Ukraine) joined us in Afghanistan. We led a coalition of 42 countries in the Gulf War to liberate tiny Kuwait, and a coalition of 21 countries to protect South Korea. (This was after Secretary of State Dean Acheson said in 1950 that neither South Korea nor Taiwan were of strategic interest. Ditto Presidents Obama and Trump re: Ukraine.)
Neither we, nor any other country, has sent troops to Ukraine. For nine years Ukraine has been doing NATO’s job for it, alone defending against Russia, the largest country on the planet. How does that comparison magnify the “multiplier effect” in Taiwan if we cut and run in Ukraine?
Ukraine survival is crucial to the world’s food supply: “Vladimir Putin is preparing to starve much of the developing world as the next stage in his war in Europe,” author and Yale professor Timothy Snyder asserted on Twitter. And In Ukraine, Russia controls the largest nuclear plant in Europe, operated under gunpoint. It’s the ultimate dirty bomb, a millirem away from global calamity. What then?
And how do we redeem an infamy? We’ve already thrown Ukraine under the bus before. Twice. After World War I, against all warnings by Ukraine, we reneged on contracted aid to Ukraine as it was being invaded by Russia. Ukraine fell, and a bloodbath ensued for decades.
In 1932-33, Moscow sought to crush Ukrainian resistance by starving the nation into submission. Rafael Lemkin, the father of the UN Genocide Convention, condemned it as “classic genocide.” We legitimized it by our simultaneous diplomatic recognition of the Stalinist regime. In post-World War II Europe, our “Operation Keelhaul” shipped the surviving refugees back to the Soviet Union. It was bloody.
Genocide continues today, as Russia’s vitriol calls for the obliteration of the very nation that made us great again. A Moscow Patriarchate told Russian troops: “Your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the earth.” Putin’s make-over of WWII’s “never again” is “just watch me.” What would Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and other allies around the world make of it all?
“America first,” is a seductive catch phrase, but its denial of assistance to Ukraine makes it a drumbeat for an American Waterloo. We shouldn’t aid Ukraine to degrade half of the Russia/China axis so that we’re confronted by the whole? We won’t support Ukraine, where no American boots are on the ground, but will sacrifice American lives on the firing line with China? This is not strategic acumen. It’s strategic aphasia.
Take some of the messaging from “Foundations of Geopolitics” (1997) by Aleksandr Dugin, co-authored with General Nikolai Klokotov of the General Staff Academy. The book had significant influence within the Russian military, police, and foreign policy elite:
“It is particularly important to introduce geopolitical disorder into America’s internal activity, and to promote all kinds of separatist and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all opposition movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thereby disrupting internal political processes in the US. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.
“Russia should also work toward isolating Britain from Europe, introduce discord both within the EU and between the EU and US, and destabilize Turkey. Ukraine is to be eliminated, and Iran is to be a key player in a Russian-Islamic alliance against America.”
You can connect the dots to the Hamas attack on Israel this past weekend.
Victor Rud is a board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and chairman of its Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rud has more than 35-years of experience as an international attorney. Before Ukrainian independence, he was co-counsel, in the West, for members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Accords Watch Group, and for other dissidents in Ukraine. He was also counsel to the US Public Member to the Helsinki Accords Review Conference in Madrid. He is an honors graduate of Harvard College and Duke Law School.