Opinions

Preventing Appeasement in the 21st Century

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Issue 12, Volume 112

By Muhib Muhib 

President of Russia Vladimir Putin declared on February 24 that Russia was commencing a “special military offensive” in eastern Ukraine. Three days earlier, Putin had recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent nations and had deployed troops to assist them. The invasion was the conclusion to a year-long military buildup on the Ukrainian border and an eight-year conflict in the Donbas region. This unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation is outrageous and illegal. Russia invaded without a proper declaration of war and indiscriminately attacked civilians, which is considered a war crime.

Putin launched such an invasion because he opposed Ukraine becoming increasingly pro-European and pro-Western, essentially leaving his authoritarian grasp. He repeatedly demanded that Ukraine be prohibited from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and these statements were rightly rejected as just another of Putin’s attempts to exert control over Ukraine. In a speech days before his invasion, he declared that the Ukrainian and Russian people were one ethnic group with a shared culture and language, a claim that is heavily inaccurate.

The response to this power grab will be one of the most significant decisions made in this century. The United States, many NATO members, and the European Union (EU) have rightly placed sanctions on Russia. Many European countries have banned Russian planes from their airspace, causing Russia to retaliate by barring them from Russian airspace. The United States and the EU have removed major Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a major component of the global banking system, and have frozen the Russian central bank’s assets abroad. Germany, a country dependent on Russia’s natural gas, has sanctioned Russia and has suspended construction of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline. Turkey, which became increasingly friendly to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the election of a conservative president, has limited Russia’s military ships from using the Bosphorus using the authority it has under the Montreux Convention. The Montreux Convention regulates the Bosphorus under international law and keeps it open to the warships of nations at peace.

However, these responses are insufficient. Energy exports have been mostly exempt from these sanctions, and the energy sector is a significant part of Russia’s economy. The United States, the EU, and other NATO members must sanction Russia’s energy exports in order to significantly attack its economy. Poland and Lithuania have not yet closed their borders with the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia, which would cut Russia off from one of its few year-round ice-free sea ports, thus further dealing damage to its economy.

The United States must be ready to hold Russia and Belarus accountable for their actions. Our government should go through with its plan of prohibiting Russian oil imports and should sanction all individuals and corporations complicit in this war crime. The United States Congress should pass the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022, a bill that would establish a lend-lease program with Ukraine, allowing the United States to provide Ukraine with necessary materials to support them in the war, by voice vote in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate. The United States should maintain their sanctions on Russia and Belarus until they comply with international law and withdraw from Ukraine. We must continue to supply the Ukrainians with arms to aid their defense against Russia. The American people must abstain from commerce with businesses registered in Russia and Belarus that are complicit in this invasion.

The delivery of repercussions should be, as much as possible, placed on Putin, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has assisted with the invasion, and the Russian oligarchy, who is close to Putin. Nearly all suggested measures meet this test, but a few do not, such as a proposal by Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Representative Eric Swalwell of California to expel all Russian international students from the United States. This measure is xenophobic in nature and serves to do more harm than good, as it would deprive this nation of the talent of those who have chosen to come here to learn for the betterment of civilization. The Russian and Belarusian people cannot be equated with the institutions contributing to the invasion. Economic sanctions may hurt the people, but they need to be structured in a way that hurts their governments with greater severity.

Repercussions must not just be economic in nature, but legal as well. The invasion in itself is a war crime that must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of international law. Though it is nearly impossible to try Putin, Lukashenko, and the other leaders of this invasion, prosecutors should nonetheless file charges against them. Under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, prosecutors from any nation can file charges against a war criminal. If the perpetrators of this war crime enter any jurisdiction where they are being prosecuted or have an extradition treaty with the one that is prosecuting the perpetrators, they will be tried under international law for their war crimes.

Russia and Belarus must face repercussions for their actions. Sufficiently punishing Russia and Belarus is essential to preventing a repeat of appeasement in the 21st century. We cannot tolerate this hostile aggression by Russia toward independent nations. Insufficient punishment emboldens Russia’s aggression, as it sees little ramification for its actions and may lead to eventual invasions of other Eastern European countries, which many of these countries fear. Russia may also disestablish the democratic institutions that Europe has slowly gained, given their track record. If Russia is punished, however, their government may feel internal and external pressure to cease and desist with this invasion. The obliteration of their economy through sanctions will likely put pressure on the Russian government through the Russian people who are affected by the crisis. Russia cannot be permitted to be a hostile and aggressive power that dismantles democracy and individual freedoms at every turn, and it must be punished to the fullest extent possible.