Guest Essay: Defending Ukrainian sovereignty is an international imperative

Accountability for the war in Ukraine should be held only by Russia.


Joshua Becker

More than 400 members of the NYU community convened at the steps of the Kimmel Center for University Life to participate in a vigil for Ukraine. (Photo by Joshua Becker)

Lincoln Dow, Guest Contributor

Lincoln Dow is a senior studying politics. 

In a recent essay for WSN, Karsten Stoeber of NYU’s International Youth and Students for Social Equality chapter characterized Russia’s war in Ukraine as provoked and maintained by the United States and NATO. This narrative is not only demonstrably inaccurate, but profoundly harmful to Ukrainians.

The singular actor responsible for the immense suffering in Ukraine is Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion must be called what it is: an unprovoked war of aggression with the objective of conquering a sovereign nation. Despite Russian propaganda to the contrary, this war cannot be justified as anything other than an effort to seize Ukrainian land and depose its democratically elected government, in flagrant violation of international law. Despite Putin’s baseless belief that Ukraine historically belongs and must return to a greater united Russia, Ukrainians hold a resoundingly negative attitude toward the country. They have demonstrated their resolve to live freely in their steadfast, formidable fight against the invasion.

Russia’s war is also not in any way defensive. Ukraine poses no threat to Russia and has no ambitions of expanding its territory. Its population, geography, economy and military all pale in comparison to those of Russia. 

Stoeber is not the first to assert that NATO’s expansion has somehow necessitated Putin’s war, but these claims are entirely uncompelling. NATO is a defensive military alliance that seeks to guarantee the collective defense of member states in the case that any are attacked. It is true that many Russian leaders have opposed NATO’s expansion, in which sovereign, former-Eastern Bloc states have elected to join the alliance. Russia’s dislike of this realignment, however, does not justify aggression. Any country that meets certain standards of democracy has the right to apply to join NATO and Russia must respect a state’s decision to do so as a fundamental question of self-determination. Furthermore, Ukraine is not a NATO member, and had not applied to join the alliance prior to Russia’s invasion — although it has sought increasing security cooperation with NATO since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The United States is equally not to blame for Russia’s war and further, has no national interests of its own in Ukraine. Stoeber’s unfounded assertion that U.S. military support for Ukraine “is intended to place the immense wealth of natural resources that the Eurasian landmass holds under the direct control of American imperialism” is simply not supported by any evidence. There is no will at any level of either U.S. political party, or within the military or intelligence communities, to fight a war with Russia or to conquer any part of the Eurasian landmass. These are not strategic objectives of the United States, claiming otherwise is indefensible.

Neither Ukraine nor its allies, the United States included, sought this war. Before Russia’s invasion, the United States took dramatic steps to persuade Putin to change course. President Joe Biden pledged to respond forcefully to an invasion and U.S. intelligence was declassified to alert the world to Russia’s plans, even as Ukrainian officials were in denial.

In truth, U.S. and European aid to Ukraine has only two objectives: defending the sovereignty of a democratic nation and upholding the prevailing international convention since World War II, which forbids states from violating the independence of another country. It is inaccurate to describe U.S. aid to Ukraine as constituting a proxy war. The United States does not seek to weaken Russia beyond defeating its invasion of Ukraine, which is evident in how it has ensured that Ukrainian forces do not strike Russian territory with U.S. equipment.

It is true that Russia is a nuclear power and has threatened the use of nuclear weapons in the war, but western kowtowing to that threat would only set a dangerous precedent — that a nuclear-armed state can disregard the independence of other nations and seize territory without resistance, merely by threatening nuclear war.

The framing of the war in Ukraine as caused, either directly or indirectly, by imperialist interests of the United States or NATO is not only fallacious, but actively harmful to the interests of Ukrainians and diminishing of Ukraine’s self-determination. Ukraine is a sovereign state, home to a people who embrace the principles of democracy. In recent years, the country has sought closer alignment with NATO and the European Union, viewing western alignment as the best path forward to achieve peace and prosperity. Due to no fault of Ukrainians or their self-chosen allies, an aggressive neighbor led by an authoritarian has sought to take over the country by force, committing brutal war crimes in the process. Ukraine has mustered a heroic defense, and it is only right that proponents of democracy and international law stand with the Ukrainian people and equip the Ukrainian military to secure their homeland, as the United States and other western allies have done.

All war is horrible, and the world eagerly awaits the resolution to the war in Ukraine, but the only just resolution — the only resolution that Ukrainians will accept — is the decisive defeat of the Russian invasion. It is incumbent upon supporters of democracy around the world to continue backing Ukrainians and urge their governments, the United States included, to help ensure Ukraine’s independence.

Contact Lincoln Dow at [email protected].