By Sir Ronald Sanders
If governments, around the world have become confused about support for Ukraine in defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression, the US Congress is responsible.
Over recent weeks, a contentious negotiation has unfolded between Republicans and Democrats, overshadowing the urgent matter of authorizing continued funding for Ukraine. Republicans seek to tie increased aid to Ukraine with the closure of the US southern border, citing concerns about escalating migrant numbers. Despite Democrats acquiescing to this demand, Republicans, influenced by Donald Trump’s campaign strategies, have hesitated to act on border closure, potentially using the migrant issue as a political tool against Joe Biden.
The theatrics exhibited by representatives of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the US Congress have been broadcasted globally, prompting onlookers to question whether Ukraine should consider alternative avenues to resolve the conflict with Russia. However, Ukraine faces a dire predicament with limited favorable options. Without adequate military support, it is left with the grim choice of either engaging in a potentially more devastating conflict with Russia or acquiescing to significant territorial concessions and ceding control over crucial aspects of its affairs to Russia.
Ukraine bears no responsibility for igniting this conflict; rather, it was instigated by Russia, blatantly violating international law and the principles outlined in the Charter of the United Nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently cited the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into Eastern Europe as justification for his country’s invasion of Ukraine, despite NATO never formally agreeing to Ukraine’s membership, both then and now. It’s plausible that NATO refrained from extending membership to Ukraine precisely due to concerns about provoking Russia, given that its 31 members, predominantly European states along with Canada and the US, aimed to avoid escalating tensions.
Hence, the more plausible motive behind Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, which commenced with the invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, long predating the current military escalation, is Vladimir Putin’s persistent aspiration to absorb Ukraine into Russia.
Any act of aggression against a sovereign state warrants universal condemnation to preserve peace and stop war. This principle holds particular significance for smaller nations, whose defence against aggression by more powerful entities relies heavily on worldwide adherence to international law. The toxic behaviour exhibited in the US undermines the credibility of the Congress in upholding international principles.
It is the behaviour of the US Congress that is causing other nations to ponder other choices for Ukraine.
Mixed-up with the global attitude to the Russian-Ukraine conflict is the Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza, which is now in its fourth month since October 7, 2023, when Hamas militants killed some 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages. Whatever Hamas thought it would achieve by its actions, it succeeded in giving a license to Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to rain down a war of hell in Gaza. Israeli military forces are now responsible for the deaths of more than 27,000 people. The war’s death, destruction and displacement are without precedent in the decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine. Netanyahu’s confrontational stance has sparked international outrage, prompting South Africa to file a case with the International Court of Justice. The case accuses Israel of genocide in its campaign against Hamas, alleging a deliberate intent to annihilate Palestinians in Gaza as part of the broader Palestinian community.
Netanyahu’s persistent and aggressive stance against Palestinians, exemplified by his rejection of a Hamas ceasefire proposal as “delusional,” has stirred international frustration. Of greater concern is Netanyahu’s decision to intensify military operations in Gaza, despite the support of influential Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar for a peace plan that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Netanyahu’s insistence on pursuing “absolute victory” and opposing a Palestinian state further complicates the situation.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is actively pursuing what has been termed as “a practical, timebound, irreversible path to a Palestinian state,” as part of negotiations involving the US, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia. While there are no assurances that such a deal could be reached or effectively implemented, Blinken’s efforts are set against a backdrop where the reputation of the US government has, in the eyes of many governments, been tarnished by its previous staunch support for Israel.
However, conflating the plight of Ukraine, a victim of Russian aggression, with the Israeli-Hamas conflict is a misstep. Refusing to address the Ukrainian crisis unless Gaza receives comparable focus is counterproductive. What is necessary is equal global attention to both crises and a steadfast commitment to actively pursue their resolution.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized to the UN General Assembly when outlining priorities for 2024: “Peace is the missing piece across the globe and across a spectrum of issues. People yearn for peace and security, peace and dignity, and quite frankly, peace and quiet”.
Representatives in the US Congress should reconsider their posture of bargaining for domestic political advantage over global issues that is costing lives and disrupting the world. All other nations should refrain from treating the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflicts as bargaining chips. These crises demand urgent humanitarian attention and the application of international justice.
If the US Congress and governments around the world continue the present approach to these two conflicts, much more destruction and many more lives will be lost. This will exacerbate the current global instability, and potentially expand into other countries, pushing the prospect of global peace further out of reach.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also the current President of the OAS Permanent Council. The views expressed are entirely his own. For comments and previous commentaries, see: www.sirronaldsanders.com)