July 22, 2016

U.S. elections and Ukrainian American issues


With the upcoming elections in the United States, particularly presidential and congressional, Ukrainian American voters should be raising issues of concern with the candidates. The purpose is to both inform the candidates about those issues and to let the Ukrainian American electorate know the candidates’ positions. It seems to me that the following issues should be of importance to the Ukrainian American voter.

Personal and sectoral sanctions have had a significant effect on the Russian economy, but have not compelled Russia to withdraw. One of the reasons for this tepid success has been that the economic woes have affected the Russian population but not the oligarchs. In particular, Vladimir Putin’s family and inner circle have been shielded by appropriating for themselves Russian wealth and reserves. There is no ambiguity that Mr. Putin has been the main architect of this aggression and is calling all the shots. Existing sanctions should be extended, expanded and better enforced until the complete withdrawal of Russian troops and arms from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea and the Donbas. Further, specific personal sanctions, including the freezing of assets, should be targeted against Mr. Putin, his family and his inner circle.

Russia spends significantly on disinformation and propaganda. Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian journalist and the son of former Soviet dissidents, has written a book on this subject titled “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.” While Russian disinformation may be unpersuasive to the informed individual, its frequency and widespread promulgation does have a significant effect on global public opinion. The United States should address the specific issue of countering Russian disinformation. Too little has been done in this regard.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014, Ukraine has suffered more than 10,000 casualties, both military and civilian. The United States has been of much assistance in the economic and humanitarian spheres. However, despite congressional authorization, the president has not been forthcoming in supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine through NATO. Goggles, blankets and vests are important, but they are simply inadequate against tanks, rockets and artillery shells. Defensive anti-tank and anti-aerial weapons are what Ukraine needs, as well as targeting systems for taking down Russian launching platforms. Ukraine’s president has stated that this is not strictly a Ukrainian war, since Russia has threatened not only Ukraine, but NATO – and not only with conventional arms but nuclear as well. Ukraine is willing to serve as the first line of defense and protect Europe from Russian aggression, but needs the tools to do so.

It has been suggested, particularly on the left, that NATO expansion to Eastern Europe has precipitated Russian aggression. However, the facts bear out that in April 2008, at NATO’s Bucharest summit, Ukraine and Georgia were to have received their NATO Membership Action Plan, but did not because of German and French opposition. This did not deter Russia. In August 2008 Russia invaded Georgia, and in 2014 it invaded Ukraine. Yet Ukraine and Georgia are no closer to NATO membership now than they were in 2008. Fortunately, Russia has not invaded other East European countries that have been afforded NATO membership. Given these historical facts, it appears that NATO membership has proven to be a deterrent rather than a spur to Russian aggression. Ukraine, Georgia and perhaps Moldova (which has suffered from Russian aggression in the Transdniester) should be afforded an expedited MAP to NATO. The latest NATO summit in Warsaw was not scheduled to consider this option.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014, the United Nations Security Council has met more than 30 times on this matter. The debate in every instance has been pro-Ukraine, yet the U.N. has been unable to act responsibly because of the Russian veto. Russia is one of five permanent members of the Security Council. Whenever any of the five members are themselves in violation of the U.N. Charter (e.g. through aggression, human rights violations, etc) they should be denied the opportunity to cast a veto on whatever the U.N. General Assembly decides.

These and perhaps other issues, such as the struggle against corruption, should be the focus of U.S. attention to Ukraine in both the short and long term.

I have been advised that the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, as the central representative coordinating body of Ukrainian Americans is spearheading an effort in this regard. However, in order for this effort to be effective, it requires the active participation of the Ukrainian American community. Given the danger Russia poses to other East European countries as well, the same level of interest extends to the East European community in the United States. Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill so concisely stated many years ago: “All politics is local.” Simply put, congressional and even presidential elections with the focus on electoral votes and winning swing states, such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, make all politics essentially local.

Elected officials listen to the voice of the UCCA office in Washington or New York because they perceive it to represent local Ukrainian American communities and voters. Let’s make our voice heard during the election campaign. An active electorate can be influential. An informed elected official can be helpful.