October 28, 2022

Progressive Caucus and Ukraine

A group of progressive Democrats in Congress said Tuesday it had retracted a letter to the White House urging President Joe Biden to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Russia after it triggered an uproar among Democrats and raised questions about the strength of the party’s support for Ukraine…

“In a statement, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, said the caucus was withdrawing the letter it sent less than 24 hours prior. It was signed by 30 members of the party’s liberal flank… The unusual retraction capped a tense 24-hour period for Democrats. Many reacted angrily to the appearance of flagging support for the president’s Ukraine strategy, coming just weeks before a midterm election where their majorities in Congress are at risk.”
AP News

Both sides are divided.

Critics of the letter argue:

“Even before Russia’s invasion eight months ago, Biden and his aides approached Putin and his aides about pledges and security measures—for instance, keeping Ukraine out of NATO—that might forestall war. Putin wasn’t interested. Nor does he display any interest in any ‘off ramps’ now. Rather, in the days leading up to the letter’s release, Putin renewed his indiscriminate bombing of Ukrainian cities—and his precise bombing of their power plants—while reiterating the desire to exterminate Ukrainians and nullify their status as a sovereign nation…

“The progressives’ letter lectured Biden that ‘if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution.’ But where are these diplomatic avenues? What efforts should Biden ‘redouble’ to seek ‘a realistic framework for a ceasefire’?”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

“The reason this is not the time for some chimerical ‘negotiated settlement and ceasefire’ has nothing to do with anyone’s lack of effort but rather with the fact that the existing differences of opinion between Russia and Ukraine cannot be resolved at the negotiating table but only on the battlefield. Specifically, the Kremlin continues to believe it can successfully destroy Ukrainian statehood or, at the very least, absorb a sufficiently large part of Ukraine’s territory and population into Russia. Ukrainian leadership, in contrast, is convinced it can repel the Russian invasion altogether…

“There is no ‘diplomatic solution’ for this divergence of views until it becomes clear who has been correct in their assessment. There are strong reasons to believe that the Ukrainians are right, particularly if the West’s support continues or is increased. Ultimately, however, that will be decided in the mud of Donbas and Zaporizhzhia. Only then comes the time for negotiations. If the Progressive Caucus were serious about bringing the war to a speedy end, it would be calling for a steep increase of our military assistance to Ukraine — not for pointless, ill-timed diplomacy.”
Dalibor Rohac, New York Post

Critics of the response to the letter argue:

The brouhaha over the CPC’s statement is bizarre. In the document, progressives put forward a framework for peace that is roughly as hard-line as any proposed by their party’s hawks. The liberal legislators sketch a diplomatic resolution in which Ukraine remains ‘free and independent’ while enjoying the protection of security guarantees from western powers, an arrangement that would bring Ukraine under NATO’s security umbrella, in fact if not in law. The letter does not counsel any territorial concessions…

“The letter did encourage the White House to launch a ‘proactive diplomatic push’ for a ceasefire, including ‘direct talks with Russia.’… [But] The day before the letter’s release, U.S. Defense secretary Lloyd Austin spoke directly with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. And that was the second conversation between the two men in the previous three days. In other words: There are indeed open lines of communication between Washington and Moscow… For all practical purposes, [the CPC’s] position was indistinguishable from Biden’s even before they withdrew their letter.”
Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

“In reaction to the letter, the chair of House Veterans’ Affairs Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), released a statement saying, ‘Only Ukrainians have a right to determine the terms by which this war ends.’ But the Ukrainians aren’t fighting on their own — they are crucially dependent on our financial and military support, and, by the way, we are the leader of the Western alliance. It makes no sense to cut ourselves out of the equation…

“If our interests considerably overlap with those of Ukraine, they aren’t identical. We want Putin to learn that military aggression against the West and its allies is too costly to venture again, and so do the Ukrainians. We want a free and independent Ukraine, and so do the Ukrainians… The Ukrainians, though, naturally care more about the return of every inch of their territory than we do. They also want to be in NATO for understandable reasons, whereas we have no interest at this time in having to abide by a treaty commitment to defend Ukraine militarily in the future.”
Rich Lowry, Politico

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