On a recent appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) posited that “What’s in America’s best interest is to accept Ukraine is going to have to cede some territory to the Russians.” So, I would ask the senator to answer several questions on the topic of Ukraine, a sovereign country, fighting an invader for its very survival.
First, where’s the logic in ceding territory to Russia, and what precedent would it establish? Russia does not need Lebensraum. It’s the largest country on the planet, with a border that would stretch more than 150% around the globe. It encompasses a third of Asia, where only one of its sub-regions is larger than Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran — or larger than France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Greece, Sweden and North Korea combined. It also occupies 40% of Europe, equal to India and Turkey combined. At 6.6 million square miles, Russia is 47,000 times larger than Gaza, at a paltry 140 square miles. Should Israel perhaps cede territory to Gaza? Clear enough you’d hope, anyway.
Second, why would Vance make America an endorser of genocide, trashing our international obligation to prevent and punish it? We already have a ghastly legacy with our diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union during the height of Moscow’s genocidal starvation of Ukrainians in the 1930s. Moscow openly, proudly declares its war against Ukraine today to be genocidal: “Ukraine should never have existed”, and “We will kill as many of you [Ukrainians] as we have to. We will kill 1 million, or 5 million; we will exterminate all of you”, and “We should kill, kill, kill Ukrainians.”
A blood lust calling for drowning Ukrainian children in rivers “with a strong current” and for incinerating them in their homes is par for the course. For those who are not killed, there are “concentration camps, re-education and sterilization.” Pushing Ukraine to cede territory to Russia, giving Russia a pass for genocidal war, is to be an aider and abettor, a facilitator. Why would Vance want that for America?
Third, what would Vance trade from our side, given that Russia’s war against Ukraine is merely the first step in its war against the West and against the entirety of the “international order”? Destruction of Ukraine is part of Russia’s total warfare doctrine against us; Russia has emphasized, “We are at war with the West” and said, “[T]his operation means the beginning of a radical breakdown of the U.S.-style world order.” On Russian state TV, General Apti Alaudinov declared that the invasion of Ukraine was just the beginning. Russia will keep fighting until it is on top of the world. No slouch himself, Sergei Karaganov, director of the Council On Foreign and Defense Policy, was clear: “We are at war with the West. The European security order is illegitimate.”
Fourth, why does Vance believe that Russia would comply with any agreement? Russia has violated, repeatedly, openly and with disdain, every prior agreement, and has worked to take down the entire international security structure. The Constitution of the Russian Federation sanctions Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Then why yet another agreement? Every issue that could be the subject of any agreement with Russia has been addressed — and agreed to — multiple times through the decades, from borders to reparations to the law of the sea, to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Fifth, if we reached an agreement, how would it be enforced and by whom? NATO’s soon to be 32 member countries, once Sweden joins, comprise three nuclear powers, half the world’s economy and a billion people. Then add the rest of the “West.” Russia, with 145 million people, has an economy equal to the market capitalization of a single American company — Amazon. NATO’s annual defense spending eclipses Russia’s. Despite the imbalance, for a generation, the West monumentally failed to deter Russia’s aggression. We are now in the enforcement stage of existing agreements. We got to this point because we did not do so before. If enforcement of such agreements cannot happen, why does Vance propose another agreement? To what end, exactly?
Sixth, how do you deal with a power that denies invading Ukraine? Eight years before its Feb. 24, 2022 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated the charade that there were no Russian troops in Crimea. Putin is an indicted war criminal, refuses to comply with the International Court of Justice order to stop Russia’s barbarity, and practices reality reversal that Vance is evidently incapable of extrapolating to understand the fatuity of making yet another deal with Russia. This is Putin’s alternate reality: “Russia did not start any military actions but is trying to end them.”
Beyond those questions for Vance himself are others we Americans should be asking:
Does the senator from Ohio understand the implications of U.S. relations with China, et.al., by negotiating with Russia? Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is internationally recognized. Taiwan and its territory is not. Why open the door for China?
Russia’s foaming vitriol has retooled mutual nuclear deterrence into unilateral nuclear blackmail, including the bombing and occupation of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine. Multiply the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima by 2,400. China, Iran and North Korea are fast learners.
What would be America’s reputation and credibility with friends and foes — never mind their view of our grip on reality — if we did as Vance has urged? Who does Vance think was the curator of terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and other international terror groups that have attacked the West since the 1970s?
In the 1990s, Washington hectored Ukraine into surrendering to Russia the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal — larger than that of China, France and England at the time: 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with 1,240 nuclear warheads, 44 strategic bombers armed with 1,081 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and an unspecified number of tactical nuclear warheads.
Simultaneously, Ukraine signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (for which Bill Clinton has expressed a belated and useless mea culpa). This was not a matter of prospective nuclear capability — as it was, perhaps, with Iran — but the implosion of an existing, massive industry that had produced the missiles Moscow installed in Cuba. The deal we made was “security assurances” for Ukraine from Russia and the United States, among others.
Does Vance understand the implications of an American walk-away from Ukraine? Instead of Ukraine serving as the fulcrum for recoupment of our global deterrence credibility, he would make it our Waterloo. It’s foreign policy malpractice — and worse.
Victor Rud is the past chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and now chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is a senior adviser to Open Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization in Ukraine, and the senior adviser to the Centre for Eastern European Democracy in Toronto. The opinions expressed here are his alone.