Progressives Face Pushback After Supporting Ukraine Diplomacy

Progressives Face Pushback After Supporting Ukraine Diplomacy

After beginning by thanking Biden for his support for Ukraine and insistence that the United States does not enter an active military conflict with Russia, the letter then called for a ceasefire.

Ever since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia earlier this year, support for Ukraine's war effort has been mostly bipartisan, with various aid packages passing by huge margins. However, libertarian and isolationist factions of the right and the progressive left have objected to such funding.

The latter group wrote a letter this week calling for talks to end the war, but they were seeking to clarify their position by the end. 

The letter to President Biden came from the House Progressive Caucus. After beginning by thanking Biden for his support for Ukraine and insistence that the United States does not enter an active military conflict with Russia, the letter then called for a ceasefire. 

“Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict. For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire,” the letter said. 

“We are under no illusions regarding the difficulties involved in engaging Russia given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory. However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine. Such a framework would presumably include incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians.”

The letter concluded by stating that “we urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.”

The letter was signed by thirty Democrats, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the head of the Progressive Caucus. Other prominent signatories include Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). 

According to the Washington Post, the letter led to such pushback that Jayapal released another letter later in the day, “clarifying” their position. 

“Let me be clear: we are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion,” Jayapal said. “Diplomacy is an important tool that can save lives—but it is just one tool.”

One signatory, Rep. Mark Pocan, said that the letter was meant to be released in July and expressed surprise that it was instead released two weeks before the midterm elections. 

Per the Post, White House spokesman John Kirby said that the administration “appreciates their very thoughtful concerns,” but that “we’re not going to have conversations with the Russian leadership without the Ukrainians being represented… Mr. Zelensky gets to determine—because it’s his country—what success looks like and when to negotiate.”

There also appears to be a schism on the Republican side about funding for Ukraine. 

According to CNN, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Minority Leader and likely House Speaker in the event of a Republican victory in the House midterm elections, has said that there will be “no more blank check.”  

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republican leader in the Senate, supports continued funding of Ukraine’s war effort. 

“It is in America’s core national security interest to make it clear that revisionist states such as Russia or China cannot simply gobble up smaller neighbors. The Biden Administration and our allies need to do more to supply the tools Ukraine needs to thwart Russian aggression,” McConnell said in a statement this week. "It is obvious this must include additional air defenses, long-range fires, and humanitarian and economic support to help this war-torn country endure the coming winter.

“A Republican majority in the Senate will focus its oversight on ensuring timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine, rebuilding and modernizing our military capabilities, standing up to terrorist states like Iran, and shoring up our defenses in Asia to deter Chinese aggression.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.