Eric Edelman and David Kramer, both members of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN), have written a fabulous article that I urge be read in its entirety.
Israel’s Fight Is Ukraine’s Fight Is America’s Fight
There can be no capitulation to Russia or to Hamas.
OCT 18, 2023
THEBULWARK included a photograph here of demonstrators in New York – I deleted because of trollers and inserted this one - you can guess whether it is from Ukraine or Israel.
THE WORLD’S ATTENTION HAS RIGHTLY TURNED to Israel following Hamas’s heinous terrorist attack that killed hundreds of innocent citizens. Israel’s response and the ongoing war will dominate the headlines for the near future.
At the same time, Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine has cost almost ten thousand innocent Ukrainian lives since February 2022. Russia has been credibly accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide against Ukraine. It also has a tightening alliance with Iran (on whom it depends for crucial military supplies like loitering munitions) as well as a longstanding relationship with one of Iran’s proxies in the Middle East, Hamas.
Although we have no direct evidence of a Russian hand in the Hamas assault on October 7, senior delegations from Hamas have met in Moscow with senior Russian officials in recent months, and Moscow refuses to recognize Hamas as a terrorist group. The Kremlin will undoubtedly welcome the distraction Hamas’s attack has provided from the war in Ukraine.
The United States must increase support for Israel, but that assistance should not come at the expense of support for Ukraine. Israelis and Ukrainians, in some respects, face comparable threats to their freedom, their land, and to their lives from terrorist actors. In some respects, Russia and Hamas share similar goals: to destroy their free, democratic, open neighbor thriving on land they unrightfully consider their own.
While there may not be a military solution to the problems between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel has no choice but to destroy the leadership of Hamas and its military and organizational capabilities. Similarly, Ukraine has no choice but to defend its land and seek military victory. Negotiating with a terrorist organization like Hamas, much like negotiating with the genocidal regime in Moscow, is pointless. For Israel and Ukraine alike, there is no compromise position between existence and oblivion.
Yet some in the West would argue that we need to pressure Ukraine into territorial concessions and compromise with Russia. Such an approach—despite Vladimir Putin’s manifest disinterest in any negotiated end to the war—would consign millions of Ukrainians to repressive Russian control and lend Russia a pause to rearm and come back to fight another day.
The enemies of democracy never rest, so neither do we. Join us, free or paid.
Furthermore, American-imposed negotiations would ignore the views of Ukrainians, who by large margins oppose any negotiated agreement with Moscow. A recent poll found that more than 90 percent of Ukrainians, despite all the destruction and suffering, oppose territorial concessions to Russia. A different survey revealed that 60 percent of Ukrainians support fighting on until the war is won (and 91 percent define victory as requiring the return of all Russian-occupied territory to Ukrainian control, including Crimea). But those pushing for an armistice or deal deny Ukrainians any agency or their territory or their future. So far, none of the advocates of enforced negotiations has explained by what mechanism the United States and its allies could get the Ukrainians to stop fighting.
Both Ukraine and Israel have long histories of fighting their respective foes without American help. The choice facing the United States is not whether there should be war or peace, but whom we should help win the war and with what resources.
STILL OTHERS ARGUE THAT WE SIMPLY have had the wrong approach in dealing with Russia. In a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, Thomas Graham offers a prime example.
Graham argues that Russia under Putin simply wants “strategic autonomy,” a sophisticated way of saying it insists on a sphere of influence that would enable Moscow to control and have veto power over the goals and aspirations of its neighbors. Graham treats the countries along Russia's borders as pawns in a larger game. But he goes beyond the usual realist argument:
By abandoning efforts to turn Russia into an international pariah and restoring normal diplomatic relations, Washington could use Moscow to help create regional balances of power across Eurasia that favor U.S. interests. Consequently, as the United States works with its allies and partners to thwart Russia in Ukraine, it should nonetheless begin considering steps that could preserve Russia’s strategic autonomy in the future—especially ones that would reduce Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing.
Graham’s bottom line is that we need, for geopolitical reasons, to peel Russia away from its growing dependence on and unlimited partnership with China. What Russia is doing to Ukraine, what it has done to Georgia and Moldova through its occupation of parts of each of those two countries, what it has done to prop up the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus, the war crimes it has committed against Syrians—none of this weighs in the balance of U.S. interests in Graham’s estimation of the stakes.
Nor does he offer any hint of how the United States could get Russia to peel away from China and agree to terms even minimally acceptable to the West in a grand rapprochement, except if “future Russian leaders” are “not to be burdened by the same psychological and political constraints” as Putin. A noble wish indeed. To Graham, these are not flaws but strengths: “Russia is not likely to reconcile with the West if the United States continues to insist that Moscow abandon the Ukrainian territory it has seized, make a major contribution to Ukraine’s reconstruction, and accept NATO’s expansion eastward.” In other words, Russia need not withdraw from territory it’s occupying in Ukraine, it shouldn’t be made to pay for the tremendous damage it has done, but it should be given veto power over Ukraine’s decision to seek membership in NATO.
All Russia has to do, according to Graham, is “end its aggression against Ukraine by, at a minimum, stopping its bombardment of towns and cities, agreeing to a cease-fire, and helping to prepare negotiations for an enduring settlement.” In reality, there is no “enduring settlement” under this approach, no accountability for the war crimes, no reparations—just rewards for Russian outrages. That certainly is what Russia wants, but it is not what Ukraine wants, nor what our European allies have called for, nor what the United States should advocate.
IN JULY, NBC IDENTIFIED GRAHAM, along with then-president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass and Georgetown University’s Charles Kupchan, as key players in a Track 1.5 dialogue with the Russians. They reportedly met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York (despite the fact that Lavrov has been sanctioned by the United States) and have traveled to Moscow for discussions with Russian counterparts. They have been talking with the Russians about Ukraine without the Ukrainians—something President Biden has explicitly repudiated. (Unnamed sources have reported that the National Security Council was aware of the meetings.) If the substance of the discussions was anything like Graham’s Foreign Affairs article, it can only have encouraged the worst instincts of the Kremlin coterie around Putin.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul noticed alarming quotes in a July 26 Moscow Times article regarding the Track 1.5 initiative. In a letter to Biden, quoting at length from the article, they demanded to know what role and support, if any, the administration had for such an effort, and whether the administration communicated to the “participating former U.S. officials that you were prepared to address ‘Russian national security concerns.’”
The similarity between Graham’s arguments in Foreign Affairs and the anonymous participant quoted in the Moscow Times article is uncanny. “We emphasized that the U.S. needs, and will continue to need, a strong enough Russia to create stability along its periphery,” according to the “former official” quoted in the article:
We made clear that the U.S. was prepared to work constructively with Russian national security concerns. . . . An attempt to isolate and cripple Russia to the point of humiliation or collapse would make negotiating almost impossible. . . . We in the U.S. have to recognize that total victory in Europe could harm our interests in other areas of the world. . . Russian power. . . is not necessarily a bad thing. . . . We want to find ways of guaranteeing Ukraine’s independence while bringing Russia back as a more creative player in European security.
In Foreign Affairs, Graham wrote: “Despite its revulsion at Moscow’s conduct, Washington will still need a Russia strong enough to effectively control its own territory and to create regional balances of power in Asia that favor Washington. The United States need not fear Russian power.”
Graham is right that the United States should not “fear” Russia; we are, after all, the greatest power on the planet. But we should treat it as the threat that it is and recognize what Putin is after in his neighborhood: domination and a sphere of influence that would deny Ukrainians, Georgians, and others in the region their independence, freedom, and even their lives. Under Putin, Russia is an existential threat to its neighbors, to our NATO allies, and also, because of its large nuclear arsenal, to us.
It’s time for Graham and others like him to stop dreaming of a rapprochement with Moscow, downplaying the threat posed by the Putin regime, ignoring the will of those in countries along Russia’s borders, and whitewashing the crimes of the forces under the Putin regime.
The moral clarity with which so many around the world, with different ideologies, representing different political movements and parties, condemned Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel should be an inspiration for moral clarity on other issues as well. Ukraine should not and will not be forced to surrender its men, women, children, sick, poor, and elderly to the brutalities of Russian oppression to fulfill a fantastical notion of American realpolitik.
Eric S. Edelman is counselor at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the co-host of The Bulwark’s Shield of the Republic podcast. He was under secretary of defense for policy from 2005 to 2009.
David J. Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in the George W. Bush administration, is executive director of the George W. Bush Institute and chairs the board of the Free Russia Foundation.