The Crisis in Ukraine
By Lance Simmens
In December 1991, during the week leading up to Christmas,I staffed a contingent of U.S. mayors to Moscow to participate in a conference on federalism involving state and local officials from the United States, organized by Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. For several days we were involved in meetings with Soviet officials to discuss the issue of federalism and how it could be applied to Russia as the Soviet Union was about to dissolve.
I also organized a side trip to St. Petersburg to help distribute food stuffs that were brought in from Pisa, Italy, on American military aircraft, which was noteworthy because it was the first time U.S. military aircraft were given permission to land in the Soviet Union. The planes were unloaded and despite some initial suspicion, before too long on that very cold Russian winter day, the Soviet soldiers and American soldiers were working side by side, joking, swapping cigarettes for cossacks (Russian winter hat), and the obligatory picture taking that commenced before we left for a Soviet orphanage that housed over 800 children in the town of Pavlovsk.
I mention this story because as we boarded the plane to take us back to the U.S. on Dec. 23, there was a feeling of hope and promise that the Cold War had finally succumbed to a new day. Perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) were the watchwords of the moment and hopes and dreams were surely on the horizon. We all felt quite content that the future between these two superpowers would be one of cooperation not conflict.
But those hopes have been dashed as Vladimir Putin has pursued what can only be described as a slash and burn policy destined to fulfill the former KGB operative’s fantasy of rebuilding the Soviet Union in his own autocratic version, or more likely perversion. While the United States has effectively promoted democratic institutions that have been sought by many of the former Soviet republics, Putin has seen his dreams of what only apparatchiks must lament were the “good old days” rejected by former Soviet citizens who prefer the promise of democracy.
And so here we are in 2023 staring at the prospect of dangerously heightened relations with our former and now present adversary in a world that has seen the ascension of autocratic movements aimed at tamping down democratic efforts. There is even internal political chatter in the U.S. designed to question this nation’s efforts to both strengthen NATO and promote freedom.
Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a dyed-in-the-wool MAGA leader has led a small movement in Congress to question whether or not another “penny will go to Ukraine.” Recent polling has suggested that 48 percent of all Republicans feel we are doing too much for Ukraine. There is, however, strong bipartisan support, not for a blank check approach to the Ukranian effort, but a strong coalition determined to hold Putin in check.
The world is poised on the precipice of watching autocratic and dictatorial regimes making inroads on a global scale. China is cautiously weighing at least a degree of military support to Russia, while North Korea, and Iran are gearing up and in some instances already chipping in. Any signals that the United States might scale back its support would both damage our relations with a strong and growing NATO and encourage other plans for aggression say for instance with respect to Taiwan. We must solidify our resolve to promote democracy and reject Neo-isolationist sentiment at all costs.
Anthony Cordesman, emeritus chair of strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), argues that while the U.S. contributions to Ukraine are indeed significant, the benefits far outweigh the costs. He has written “the key to dealing with the cost of U.S. military and civil aid to Ukraine is not to eliminate U.S. aid that is critical to Ukraine’s survival and recovery …Ending U.S. aid, or cutting it to ineffective levels, would be an act of gross strategic stupidity, effectively snatch defeat from the jaws of a considerable victory, do immense damage to America’s role as a leader of the free world, and betray the principles on which the United States is based.”
We are a country that has a heart; we must strengthen our responsibility to engage in humanitarian crises and prevent crimes against humanity that have been carried out both on civilians and soldiers alike. Putin’s desire to build an empire, his ego and his callous disregard for human life are on full display and demand that nations in the region continue to band together to defend against such aggression, but in the end the most important signal that needs to be sent to the world is that it simply is the right thing to do. The costs are substantial, but the benefits far outweigh the potential calamity that awaits us if we fail to address the crimes against humanity that are the hallmark of the post-Soviet regime.