by Khury Petersen-Smith at Yes! Magazine.
The people of Ukraine are fleeing, suffering, and resisting in the face of an appalling and brutal Russian invasion.
The invasion is posing a challenge for progressives and people on the left—particularly for those of us located in the U.S. As we work to stand with the peoples of Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, and many other places, we are also challenged to find ways to stand with the besieged people of Ukraine—who are facing an aggressor that is not the U.S.
But we live in a complicated and polarized world of international politics. Many of us are used to protesting our own government and its allies. And the U.S. government—with its ever-expanding wars and ever-ballooning military budget—and those of its allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, give us no shortage of horrors to speak out against.
Indeed, the story of how Russia came to invade Ukraine requires looking at what the U.S. and NATO have been doing in Europe over decades, and especially in recent years.
But this time—and this invasion—demands that we break out of a binary view that sees the U.S. as the sole actor and other powers as merely responding. Yes, Russia is responsible for its invasion of Ukraine. But it is not solely responsible for the broader situation in Eastern Europe within which it launched the invasion—which has been shaped by the U.S. and NATO.
Similarly, it is glaringly insufficient to condemn the U.S. and NATO—though they are guilty of militarizing the region, and beyond—without starting with a clear condemnation of Putin’s Russia.
And lastly, in our efforts to be in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, we cannot uncritically accept moves by Western powers against Russia—from economic sanctions that hurt ordinary Russians, to weapons sales to Ukraine, to military action against Russia—all of which will inevitably harm the most vulnerable, rather than the most powerful.
In the U.S., whenever a government that is deemed an “enemy” by officials and the mainstream media commits a horrendous act, Americans are compelled to “do something” in response. And the “something” inevitably put forward by the U.S. government is military action, or action that will otherwise devastate the people of the “enemy” country.
Today, the U.S. and its allies—Canada, Japan, Britain, and other European powers—are celebrating their use of economic sanctions against the Central Bank of Russia and the exclusion of Russian banks from the SWIFT transnational interbank communications and currency conversion system. In the weeks leading up to the invasion—and the Western deployment of sanctions—officials cheered their destructive power, calling them “nuclear” options and “the mother of all sanctions.” Now that they are in place, sanctions are predictably devastating ordinary Russians. The U.S. also openly debates imposing no-fly zones on Ukraine—in which U.S. and NATO jets would patrol parts of the country to repel Russian aircraft—all while the U.S. sends more troops to the eastern NATO countries.
But the idea that we have to either support military action and sanctions or “do nothing” is another false binary.
There are things people in the West can and should do.
We can, and should, demand that our governments open its doors to Ukrainian refugees—and to all refugees, actually, many of whom are displaced by U.S. violence and that of its allies.
We can, and should, support organizations working with displaced people from Ukraine directly.
We can, and should, call attention to the most vulnerable people in the crisis—including migrants in Ukraine and thousands of international students from Africa, China, and elsewhere—who have especially limited resources and harsh barriers as they, too, are displaced within and across borders.
And finally, we must support the people of Russia protesting Putin’s invasion from within.