Washington Examiner Editor-in-Chief Hugo Gurdon yesterday made a good case that President Joe Biden should “escalate the Ukraine war.” Gurdon is right, but that’s only part of the equation. The whole world should get tougher against Vladimir Putin’s thuggery.
Now that the world has seen irrefutable evidence of the atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, and now that Ukraine’s brave military and citizenry have sent those forces into retreat from the Kyiv region, the case for and means of a worldwide response are more evident.
Some of us don’t have much use for the United Nations, but if there were ever occasion for one of the U.N.’s two primary aims — namely, collective defense of sovereign territory — Russia’s brutal and utterly unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is it. Russia is so obviously violating all international norms and all semblance of civilized behavior that the rest of the world, not just Europe, should unite against it.
On April 4, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said she would request that Russia be suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council. That’s fine and good, but it’s weak tea. The Human Rights Council is a sham anyway, and it has no powers useful in a military conflict.
The United States's position should be bolder. Ever since the start of the war, Ukraine has argued that Russia should be evicted from the powerful U.N. Security Council, both as punishment for its actions in Ukraine and on the legal argument that its Security Council position was never formally ratified after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without a Security Council position, Russia could not veto a concomitant move to suspend it from the General Assembly for clearly violating the terms of the U.N. Charter. On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated the call to oust Russia from the Security Council.
Ukraine is right. And with Russia no longer able to veto a collective-defense move, the General Assembly should authorize one. The authorization should provide carefully circumscribed parameters that give Putin no pretext for attacking NATO nations or using nuclear weapons. (Granted, in practice, most of the troops required would come from NATO nations, but by operating under the U.N. rubric, the deployment would isolate Putin without the specific Russia-vs.-the-West narrative that feeds Putin’s preferred propaganda.)
The mission would be defined as follows. Part one would be the easiest and least controversial. Because Russian troops are effectively gone from the region around Kyiv, the U.N. military contingent should deploy to the outer limits of Ukrainian-held territory there. Its announced purpose would be not to pursue retreating Russian forces but to maintain a security perimeter, purely defensive, to ensure Russia does not mount a renewed assault in that region.
Crucially, the security perimeter would be described as essential protection for a humanitarian relief mission. The carnage left behind by the Russians is so dreadful and widespread that international relief efforts are morally necessary. Those efforts to provide food, medicine, and infrastructural necessities absolutely must be protected from further Russian violence.
This is exactly what the U.N. was created for.
Left officially unsaid, but important, is if international forces are there to protect Ukraine’s north and west, that will free up Ukraine’s military to concentrate all its forces in its beleaguered southern and central regions, where Russia continues to conduct its murderous rampage. Very little Ukrainian remnant need be left behind to guard Kyiv. As Ukraine’s trained armed forces are a finite resource, that human resource should be used where most needed before Russia’s superior manpower can deplete that resource beyond repair.
Part two of the mission would push the envelope just a bit further but still well enough within reason that it shouldn’t come close to catalyzing a nuclear response. It would involve deploying U.N.-authorized troops in a defensive ring around the great port city of Odesa, which right now remains free from major Russian assault. The salvation of Odesa is crucial. It is the only remaining major seaport in Ukraine’s hands, allowing Ukraine to conduct basic international commerce and deliver humanitarian sustenance, and it also is a cultural gem the world cannot let be bombarded.
Known as the “pearl of the Black Sea,” Odesa is culturally far more Mediterranean than Russo-Slavic. Its museums, gardens, and parks (including Gorky Park) are famous, and its architecture is exquisite. None of this can be allowed to be turned into Mariupol-like rubble.
The message to Putin should be clear: You absolutely may not attack Odesa. Your forces will be repulsed and annihilated by the U.N.-sponsored forces. But if you steer clear of Odesa, U.N. forces will not attack yours. Again, the U.N. mandate would be defensive, cultural, and humanitarian.
Surely, the U.N. should not be so feckless as to be unable to authorize such desperately needed action. Surely, not even President Joe Biden is so feckless as to be unable to lead the world to agree to such a collective reaction to ongoing war crimes.
Stop tip-toeing around — let’s act.