Appeasing Vladimir Putin’s Russia Will Only Embolden It
By Ariana Gic, Hanna Hopko, and Roman Sohn, for Politico
The following open letter was signed by 179 political leaders, experts and intellectuals from Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora, whose names and affiliations appear below.
Last month, Politico Magazine published an open letter calling for a rethinking of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, and the letter inspired multiple responses. The relationship between the United States and Russia has direct consequences for countries dealing daily with Moscow’s threat to their national interests, including Ukraine—the one country that currently has to defend itself against Moscow’s armed aggression, and stands on the front lines of international efforts to halt the Russian menace.
This is why our group of political leaders, experts and intellectuals from Ukraine and the diaspora feels compelled to contribute to the revived debate over U.S. policy toward Moscow. Our position is that the world simply cannot afford another American “reset” with Russia. On the contrary, the United States needs a more robust policy to address Moscow’s hostile actions to undermine the global security order.
The original letter’s proposal to engage Russia in a “serious and sustained strategic dialogue” legitimizes Moscow’s claims that it deserves special treatment as a world superpower. This is a drastic departure from the way the United States approaches other nations threatening world peace: by isolating them, depriving them of resources for hostile actions and even repressing their aggression with military might. Instead, the authors of the letter suggest Moscow be given special consideration, proposing that America strike a balance between “competition and cooperation.”
It must be said: Modern Russia is an authoritarian, imperialist, corrupt regime that should not enjoy a privileged standing in world affairs. Not only do we believe that Vladimir Putin’s Russia meets America’s own criteria to be designated a rogue state and state sponsor of terrorism; it also poses a far greater threat than other countries the U.S. treats as outlaw states.
We believe Russia violates international law with behavior that undermines global peace, including wars of aggression against its neighbors; apparent war crimes in Ukraine and Syria; nuclear threats against Ukraine and suspected nuclear proliferation in Russia-occupied Crimea; persecution of ethnic minorities and other human rights violations; using mercenaries in countries including Syria and Libya; and committing acts of terror abroad, including cyberattacks, political assassination attempts using chemical warfare agents and more. The scale of attack on the world order is massive, with liberal democracies as the prime targets. The Kremlin also has waged successful disinformation attacks on American, Ukrainian and other political systems, and backs extremist political movements with Russia-friendly agendas.
Putin is fixated on undermining Washington in particular because a weakened America will cripple the current international legal order, which traditionally has restrained Russia’s aggressive ambitions. Moscow is also determined to submit Kyiv to its influence because a free Ukraine is a driver of democratic change in formerly Soviet-occupied nations, threatening Putin’s power projection in the region and beyond.
The open letter authors urge the American government to “deal with Russia as it is” and “put the relationship [with Russia] on a more constructive path.” But this move—taken before Moscow ceases its hostile actions—sounds like nothing other than a dressed-up strategy of appeasement. And history tells us that dictatorial regimes cannot be appeased. The more concessions such regimes extort, the more emboldened they feel. Despite being given every incentive to reverse its destructive course, Russia has continued to escalate its aggression.
NATO’s 2008 rejection of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s applications for the Membership Action Plan, a program for aspiring NATO nations, set the stage for Russia’s armed aggression against Georgia later that year. The 2009 U.S. “reset” with Moscow primed Russia for its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine in 2014. A feeble response to Russia’s initial occupation of Crimea emboldened Putin to illegally annex the Ukrainian peninsula, where the Kremlin also reportedly has revived nuclear weapons infrastructure. An insistence on political dialogue with Putin when support for Ukraine’s military defense was needed and American inaction on its obligations under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances paved the way for Moscow’s military invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region.
We can only imagine what will follow should Moscow be granted a new reset today.
While it is for America to determine its own policies, we ask that the U.S. government remember that a new “reset” will serve to reward Russia unjustly for committing violations of key tenets of international law and condemn millions to live in fear for their lives and liberty. Instead of letting Russia benefit from its own transgressions, the United States should help bring the Russian government to account.
How can Washington do that? Here are our recommendations:
• Support oppressed national groups, pro-democracy movements and human rights organizations in Russia.
• Go after dirty Russian money, Russian oligarchs and organizations acting as extensions of the Russian government, as well as accomplices of the Kremlin in the West.
• Recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, in solidarity with Ukraine’s charges against Russia in the International Court of Justice. In particular, the “Wagner Group”—a Kremlin-linked Russian mercenary organization said to be operating in multiple countries, including Ukraine—should be recognized as a terrorist organization.
• Demand that Moscow unconditionally adhere to the United Nations Charter. Sanctions against Russia should be proportional to Moscow’s violations of international law and steadily increased until it changes course.
• Help hold Russia accountable and usher in a just peace in Ukraine by formally recognizing Russia as the aggressor state responsible for waging unlawful interstate war against Ukraine.
• Honor America’s clear obligation under the Budapest Memorandum “to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine” should Ukraine become a victim of an act of aggression.
• Take action to repress Putin’s aggression at the U.N. Security Council. The obstacle of Russia’s Security Council veto power can be overcome using the U.N.’s “Uniting for Peace” resolution, which provides the General Assembly power to act should the Security Council fail to exercise its responsibility to maintain international peace. Washington should also initiate the suspension of Russia’s vote in the U.N. using the South African precedent from 1974, when that country’s delegation was suspended from participation in the General Assembly for the crimes of apartheid.
• Contribute to strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime by reassuring other nations they have support if attacked by a nuclear state.
• Support Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO. A free and democratic Ukraine is one of America’s partners. A Ukraine subverted and subsumed by Moscow cannot be.
Moscow today is the world’s main exporter of various threats and instability. Putin has been able to extend Russia’s destructive influence because his aggressive actions have not faced a formidable deterrent. We encourage the American government to learn from its own past dealings with Russia and regain its will to build such deterrents. Assertive and principled international action under bold U.S leadership can bring an end to Russia’s destructive ambitions, and make our countries and the world safer from Putin’s threat.
The letter is open for public signing. Our voices are stronger together. United, we can stop Putin.