President Biden, do not abandon Ukraine

Dear President Biden,

You’re abandoning Ukraine. 

In your address on Monday 22 February, you said Putin was setting a rationale to invade Ukraine. You said he is aiming to take large sections of Ukraine by force. And you were right. 

He is taking more territory than even those controlled by Russian separatists. He’s launching attacks from all sides, across the entirety of Ukraine, and he will continue to do so until he is stopped. Actually stopped. Properly stopped. 

He is trying to take the whole country in one fell swoop, and it looks like we’re letting him. 

You said Putin’s attack on Ukraine was premeditated and completely unprovoked. You said “you don’t need blood unless you plan on starting a war”. You said his building of field hospitals was a clear indication of his intentions from the jump. And you were right about all of it. 

You said that we were prepared to stand together, in global partnership, if Putin moved against Ukraine, and he has, but we have not. You said we see unity amongst leaders, a more unified Europe, and a more united west; but we are mainly together in standoffish half measures and inaction that keeps Ukraine at arm’s length.

You said we need a firm, united response from the international community, but even our most extensive sanctions are weak as air raids continue in Kyiv, tanks roll through the streets of Kherson, and Russian forces capture Kharkiv. If this is truly our best response, we’re beat.

We are working in a world where threats of consequences, no matter how strongly worded, are empty and hollow when not paired with decisive action, and that is not even to mention that they already come eight years too late. Despite you saying that our sanctions go much farther than those from 2014, they are still not enough. 

You might ask how I can say that when in your State of the Union address you tell us that the Russian economy is reeling with the Ruble down 30%, Russia’s stock market down 40%, trading still suspended, and the Russian war fund functionally worthless.

I can say that because imposing economic sanctions on Russia does next to nothing when consistent allies like China throw them life lines that confound the effectiveness of sanctions. We cannot merely impose limits on Russian elites, make it more difficult to trade and invest or freeze the few assets they have in the United States. That is not enough. It’s great the sanctions are functional, but they do nothing now, and Ukraine needs help now. 

The turning point for me came in your address on 24 February, when you announced “this is a dangerous moment for freedom around the world”. You said that “Putin has committed assault on global peace and the principles that uphold them”. That “this was always about naked aggression. About Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary. By bullying Russia’s neighbors with coercion and corruption. By changing borders by force and ultimately by choosing a war without a cause”. 

How can you tell us this is happening and still say that sanctions are our course of action? How can you tell us we are “holding Putin accountable” when the reinvasion continues? How can our response to massacred civilians and violent expansionism consist of making it difficult for the Kremlin to trade on new debt?

We are failing Ukraine.

You said Putin rejected repeated efforts of diplomacy because he thought the US and NATO wouldn’t respond. You detailed the increase in shelling, the explosions, the airstrikes, the tanks. We’re already seen eight days of widespread violence, but you told one reporter that we needed to give it another month to see if the sanctions worked. 

Ukraine doesn’t have a month. 

In the State of the Union address, you said “Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he will never conquer the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people” and that “he will never extinguish their love of freedom”. That is all well and good until he uses those tanks to crush Ukrainian bodies. 

Please stop emphasizing that we are unwilling to go to war with Russia. Stop taking the option off the table. When we state that we have no intention of fighting Russia, we give Putin a green light to take his reinvasion to the end. It is Ukrainian civilians we abandon.

You said “Putin thought he could roll into Ukraine, and the world would roll over” because he is willing to use force while the rest of the world is not. Unfortunately, so far, we have proven him right. 

Invoking NATO’s article 5, ‘an attack on one ally is an attack on all’, framework, does not send a message for Putin to stop attacking Ukraine. Rather, it sends a signal for Putin to stop at Ukraine. Not to go any further than Ukraine. 

But, he won’t stop with Ukraine.

I understand your emphasis on protecting and defending NATO allies. I do, but it feels like an evasion of responsibility as Ukraine, for years, has been used as a pawn by both Russia and NATO to keep the other at bay.

If the point of keeping Ukraine out of the alliance was to avoid a Russian escalation, then there is no longer any reason to pander to Putin. Help Ukraine join NATO. Put an end to the war. Re-establish peace and stability. Otherwise, it sounds like we are willing to sacrifice Ukraine. 

We cannot sacrifice Ukraine. 

Putin is getting what he wants. He is doing exactly what he says he will do. He is taking territory with reckless abandon. He is shoving his might down the throats of peaceful civilians. 

You told us that we have already learned our lesson: that historically, when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos, they keep moving, and the threat to the world keeps rising. 

So, why are we not making the dictator pay the price for his aggression? 

His actions and our inactions are highlighting weaknesses within diplomacy as soft power economic tactics seem next to useless as we see children being killed. 

He is undermining everything that the world has built since the end of the Cold War. He is undermining the global multilateral system by flouting international law and showing the world that the global community does not have a sufficient recourse mechanism for atrocities like this. He is proving that the world powers cannot and will not come together in defense of everyone when faced with the likes of him. 

You said “liberty, democracy, human dignity; they cannot be extinguished. They cannot be erased from people’s hearts. They endure”. You said that freedom will prevail as long as we maintain our resolve.

Ukraine needs more than resolve. 

In my mind there is an America that jumps up, that goes toward the commotion, that values keeping others safe, in showing up, in helping those who ask for it, in staying good to our word, and in doing what is right. These are the values we instill in our people and inspire in others. This is who we aim to be and claim to be. You always talk about how America stands up to bullies; that it is who we are. And in my heart of hearts, I genuinely believe that to be true.

But, we have not yet stood up to the bully. 

Now we need to show up. You said, over and over, that freedom will triumph over tyranny, but how will it when we do nothing to let it triumph? I do not understand how we can be so deeply instilled with these values and then sit back and do nothing. I don’t mean to say I want a war. Nobody wants a war. I’m not advocating for war. But the fact is, there is already a war. 

The reality is that Ukraine needs us. President Zelenskyy has shown incredible courage, immense resolve, and immeasurable bravery. But he has not minced his words in his pleas for military reinforcements. 

So, what are we waiting for? What more has to happen? What more has to be said? You have told us the United States of America stands with the Ukrainian people, so why is Ukraine still standing alone? 

The world remembers how, in the 1990s, you argued so passionately in the Senate to deploy troops in Bosnia, to put an end to the genocide being committed at the behest of Slobodan Milošević. You understood what was needed then. Please, Mr. President, understand what Ukrainians need now.

With kindness and respect,
Eliza Miller

All views expressed are the writer’s own.

Article Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith

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