Seeking Clarity About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Commentary I happened to catch part of a segment on Fox News a couple of nights ago where a popular host urged all of us, and the U.S. government in particular, to think very carefully about what we do in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He raised the specter of World War III, which would be colossally catastrophic for millions, perhaps billions, of people. Could World War III happen? It’s certainly possible. Can you think of a prospect more daunting, sobering, or horrible? I can’t. Should our response be thoughtful, as the celebrity host exhorted? Well, of course, but that goes without saying. It’s difficult to think of a more obvious truism than an admonition to proceed with care and clarity. There’s one major hitch to the advice to our government to slow down and consider the possible ramifications: They say, “Time waits for no man,” and that’s especially true in times of war where chaos reigns and circumstances can change hourly. Delay can be lethal. The Russian military certainly isn’t going to take a timeout to let us gather our thoughts. If our leaders don’t know what’s at stake; if they didn’t think out ahead of time what financial and military actions are appropriate in response to various contingencies; if they’re paralyzed into inaction by indecisiveness; if deliberation and delay lead to the destruction of an independent Ukraine and the death of a large percentage of its population, then the counsel to think through things that should have been thought through before—the geopolitical, strategic, and moral dimensions of potential actions—could guarantee disaster. Last week, I received an email from a cousin (a clergyman) that put forth a pacifist position. After correctly identifying Russia as the aggressor, the letter called for a diplomatic, i.e., nonviolent, response. I share pacifists’ abhorrence of war. What could be more wicked and wrong than for large numbers of innocent people to be murdered? Yes, “murdered.” Ukraine didn’t attack Russia. Vladimir Putin and his military henchmen are not waging a just war of self-defense; they were the aggressors, conducting an unprovoked (yes, “unprovoked”—details farther down) invasion of a neighboring country. Every Ukrainian killed by the Russian invaders is morally, if not legally, a case of premeditated murder. Why should that surprise us? Given Putin’s record of eliminating Russians in Russia who dare to oppose him or expose his corruption, what compunctions would he feel, what hesitations would he have to murder Ukrainians and other non-Russians? I agree with pacifists that it’s a moral abomination for Russians to be murdering Ukrainians. The problem is, what do you do when diplomacy and nonviolent measures don’t stop the carnage? Is it more just, more moral, to forcefully intervene, defeat, or at least check the aggressors, and so put a stop to the murder of innocents—or to stand aside and allow the murders to continue while congratulating oneself for refraining from using force and saying prayers for the victims? In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Warning to the West” speech at Harvard in 1978, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author was warning not only about communists, but also about aggressors everywhere. The basic message was that a failure to resist and thwart international aggression, subversion, and conquest would only embolden the aggressor to continue its predatory behavior. We should ask today whether Solzhenitsyn’s warning applies to Russia today. If the West, and especially the United States, doesn’t stop Putin today in Ukraine, will there be a similar scenario in the future, whether in the Baltic States, other newer and easternmost members of NATO and/or the EU, or even (since Putin himself ominously threatened them last week) Sweden and Finland? And if the United States stands by and concedes a Russian conquest of Ukraine, is it possible that Putin’s Chinese cousin, Xi Jinping, could conclude that the time is right to invade and conquer Taiwan? So far, the Biden administration’s response to Russian aggression has seemed reactive rather than proactive—a day late and a dollar short. (News flash: In his State of the Union address, Biden banned all Russian aircraft from American airspace. Putin must be trembling in his boots—not!) Recently, Biden authorized $350 million of military aid to Ukraine, and last week he requested $6.4 billion in additional aid, both military and humanitarian. I can’t help but remember that a mere six months ago, Biden essentially gave the Taliban tens of billions of dollars worth of military hardware by abandoning it during the inept withdrawal from Afghanistan. $350 million also seems quite paltry compared to the untold billions of dollars that Biden essentially channeled to Russia via his wacky energy policies. By curtailing the domestic production of fossil fuels, the United States had to import more oil from Russia at increasingly higher prices—672,000 barrels a day, a 24 percent year-over-y

Seeking Clarity About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Commentary

I happened to catch part of a segment on Fox News a couple of nights ago where a popular host urged all of us, and the U.S. government in particular, to think very carefully about what we do in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He raised the specter of World War III, which would be colossally catastrophic for millions, perhaps billions, of people.

Could World War III happen? It’s certainly possible. Can you think of a prospect more daunting, sobering, or horrible? I can’t. Should our response be thoughtful, as the celebrity host exhorted? Well, of course, but that goes without saying. It’s difficult to think of a more obvious truism than an admonition to proceed with care and clarity.

There’s one major hitch to the advice to our government to slow down and consider the possible ramifications: They say, “Time waits for no man,” and that’s especially true in times of war where chaos reigns and circumstances can change hourly. Delay can be lethal. The Russian military certainly isn’t going to take a timeout to let us gather our thoughts. If our leaders don’t know what’s at stake; if they didn’t think out ahead of time what financial and military actions are appropriate in response to various contingencies; if they’re paralyzed into inaction by indecisiveness; if deliberation and delay lead to the destruction of an independent Ukraine and the death of a large percentage of its population, then the counsel to think through things that should have been thought through before—the geopolitical, strategic, and moral dimensions of potential actions—could guarantee disaster.

Last week, I received an email from a cousin (a clergyman) that put forth a pacifist position. After correctly identifying Russia as the aggressor, the letter called for a diplomatic, i.e., nonviolent, response. I share pacifists’ abhorrence of war. What could be more wicked and wrong than for large numbers of innocent people to be murdered?

Yes, “murdered.” Ukraine didn’t attack Russia. Vladimir Putin and his military henchmen are not waging a just war of self-defense; they were the aggressors, conducting an unprovoked (yes, “unprovoked”—details farther down) invasion of a neighboring country. Every Ukrainian killed by the Russian invaders is morally, if not legally, a case of premeditated murder. Why should that surprise us? Given Putin’s record of eliminating Russians in Russia who dare to oppose him or expose his corruption, what compunctions would he feel, what hesitations would he have to murder Ukrainians and other non-Russians?

I agree with pacifists that it’s a moral abomination for Russians to be murdering Ukrainians. The problem is, what do you do when diplomacy and nonviolent measures don’t stop the carnage? Is it more just, more moral, to forcefully intervene, defeat, or at least check the aggressors, and so put a stop to the murder of innocents—or to stand aside and allow the murders to continue while congratulating oneself for refraining from using force and saying prayers for the victims?

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Warning to the West” speech at Harvard in 1978, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author was warning not only about communists, but also about aggressors everywhere. The basic message was that a failure to resist and thwart international aggression, subversion, and conquest would only embolden the aggressor to continue its predatory behavior. We should ask today whether Solzhenitsyn’s warning applies to Russia today. If the West, and especially the United States, doesn’t stop Putin today in Ukraine, will there be a similar scenario in the future, whether in the Baltic States, other newer and easternmost members of NATO and/or the EU, or even (since Putin himself ominously threatened them last week) Sweden and Finland? And if the United States stands by and concedes a Russian conquest of Ukraine, is it possible that Putin’s Chinese cousin, Xi Jinping, could conclude that the time is right to invade and conquer Taiwan?

So far, the Biden administration’s response to Russian aggression has seemed reactive rather than proactive—a day late and a dollar short. (News flash: In his State of the Union address, Biden banned all Russian aircraft from American airspace. Putin must be trembling in his boots—not!) Recently, Biden authorized $350 million of military aid to Ukraine, and last week he requested $6.4 billion in additional aid, both military and humanitarian. I can’t help but remember that a mere six months ago, Biden essentially gave the Taliban tens of billions of dollars worth of military hardware by abandoning it during the inept withdrawal from Afghanistan. $350 million also seems quite paltry compared to the untold billions of dollars that Biden essentially channeled to Russia via his wacky energy policies. By curtailing the domestic production of fossil fuels, the United States had to import more oil from Russia at increasingly higher prices—672,000 barrels a day, a 24 percent year-over-year increase. Putin is now repaying Biden’s generosity by using billions of dollars of windfall earnings to help fund the invasion of Ukraine.

Above, I described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “unprovoked.” Numerous critics on the right and left rationalize Russia’s aggression by saying that Russia feels threatened by the creeping eastward expansion of the EU and NATO. Yes, there was Obama State Department skullduggery in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which led to the deposing of an allegedly corrupt president who was a pro-Russian stooge and replacing him with an allegedly corrupt pro-U.S. stooge. And yes, there emerged after that some—ahem—problematical ties between Biden’s son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy company. But the current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected with over 73 percent of the vote in 2019, so it’s difficult to challenge his legitimacy.

Polls show that more Ukrainians would rather pin their future economic prosperity on closer ties with Europe than with Russia. All they’re doing is exercising their right of self-determination, whereas Russia wants to obliterate that right and compel Ukraine to serve as a buffer state. What rubbish. A buffer state from what—European aggression? American domination? This is what Putin would have us believe, but those allegations don’t pass the laugh test. The EU countries have been models of peace-loving nations (as you can see from looking at their minimal defense spending). And the United States has done anything but dominate Europe, with our EU allies all being free to forge their own policies and vote against the United States in the UN. Putin has projected his own bellicose, expansionist ambitions onto Europe and the United States.

Those who have tried to make excuses for Putin’s desire to have Russia surrounded by buffer states are drawing a spurious moral equivalence between Russia and NATO. Consider this fundamental historical difference: Every nation-state that has joined the EU and NATO has been coerced into joining these institutions. Not a single one has been threatened, much less invaded. Contrast that with the former USSR, which expanded its land mass through subjugation and conquest.

Russia/USSR’s historical treatment of Ukraine was particularly vicious. In 1932–33, Stalin brutally imposed tyrannical rule on Ukraine, conquering it via the “Holodomor”—his diabolical strategy of seizing Ukrainian seed and grain stores, then sealing the border, resulting in approximately 4 million Ukrainians starving to death. Is it any wonder why most Ukrainians don’t want to be under Russia’s control? And yet Putin has the arrogance to claim that Ukraine is a natural part of Russia and that it’s Russia’s irrevocable right to use Ukraine as a buffer state. No, Mr. Putin, you do not have such a right. And shame on those American apologists who assert that Putin does have that right.

War shows what values a society has. We can see the values of Ukrainians, fighting to the death in defense of their country, but what are America’s values in 2022? How far are we willing to go to try to prevent the annihilation and/or subjugation of Ukraine? We will soon find out. I don’t know what the optimal course of action is, but we’re less likely to find it if our thinking is clouded by propaganda myths, historical misunderstandings, and moral confusion.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Mark Hendrickson is an economist who retired from the faculty of Grove City College in Pennsylvania, where he remains fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He is the author of several books on topics as varied as American economic history, anonymous characters in the Bible, the wealth inequality issue, and climate change, among others.