The War in Ukraine Is Not Complicated: A Response to the NYT Editorial Board

Russia’s unjustified and brutal war against Ukraine has centered the importance of good journalism. And the New York Times newsroom has provided excellent coverage for the duration of the war. On May 19, the newsroom released more footage of an execution in Bucha, providing much-needed evidence of Russian war crimes.

This makes the recent piece released by the New York Times Editorial Board questioning the United States’ readiness to support a Ukrainian victory all the more pronounced. It seems that, again, the New York Times Editorial Board has undermined its own newsroom’s critical reporting with an irresponsible, out-of-touch, and poorly reasoned editorial demonstrating anything but expertise on Ukraine and on Russia’s colonial violence in the region.

The editorial rightly states that “it is the Ukrainians who must make the hard decisions.” Unfortunately, the authors then undercut this call for self-determination by outlining what those decisions should be: concessions of territory to Russia in order to end the war. This is an idea based on the false premise that Russia will honor any sort of ceasefire or security guarantees, and halt atrocities on the territories it controls. Thus, the Editorial Board accepts the horrific, criminal, and genocidal treatment of Ukrainians that will take place on Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, all in the name of a “negotiated peace.” With Russia’s flagrant violations of the Minsk Agreements as precedent, this “peace” would in fact condemn Ukraine to a permanent state of war. The Board claims to support the message that, no matter how long it takes, Ukraine will be free. But if all of Ukraine is not free, Ukraine is not free.

In the face of an equivocating dictator with no regard for diplomatic efforts—and an army that continues to slaughter, terrorize, and rape civilians of all ages—Ukrainians have made the “difficult decision” to fight and defend their homeland and the values we in the West hold as our birthright. It remains unclear on what grounds the Editorial Board envisions a negotiated settlement with a despot, war criminal, fascist, and “butcher” (in the words of the editorial itself)—who regularly calls Ukraine statehood a fiction. The repeated insinuations that Ukraine will have to make “hard decisions” and make the “painful territorial” concessions that these would demand are head-scratching, not least because the Board, in the very same piece, (aptly) identifies Putin as an “aggrieved, volatile despot who has shown little inclination toward a negotiated settlement.”

And so, if we heed the paternalistic calls of the Board to “shake off the euphoria” and stop “chasing” a win, what does that look like for the millions of Ukrainians who are and will be living under a brutal Russian occupation with genocidal intent? 

The editorial itself is rife with poor reasoning and contradictions. But the insidious insinuations are of particular concern and damage. Continued support of Ukraine allegedly carries “extraordinary costs and serious dangers,” and yet the dangers enumerated—a threatful Russia grasping at straws—persist and endanger more without Western resolve to help Ukraine defend itself. Any attempt of appeasement, by that or any other name, bears “extraordinary costs and serious dangers” when the receiving end is a fascist regime by every possible metric. We have, unfortunately, amassed a large “dataset” specific to what that may look like, what happens when the West bargains with Putin’s aggression. In each instance, we embalm a war. In each instance, we get a more serious, more brazen instance of violence and war that follows.

The Board presents itself as a group of journalists whose views are informed by expertise. But Ukrainians are all too familiar with people who claim expertise on Ukraine based on years in Moscow bureaus and degrees in Russian studies. Too many experts on Russia, many of whom have rebranded themselves as Ukraine experts, see Ukraine as a subsection of their fields, claiming to know Ukraine because they know Russia. This is the root of the problem. You cannot see Ukraine from Moscow.

In characterizing a Ukrainian victory as unrealistic and the amassing Ukrainian successes as “stunning,” the Board shows its own misguided character. For those who keep their eye on Moscow and have only seen Ukraine on the periphery, Ukrainian resolve, victory in an entire theater of war, and continuing successes at pushing back an invasion on a scale not seen since the Second World War have, no doubt, been surprising and unbelievable. But—to Ukrainians, to those Western analysts that forewent colonial and imperial frameworks for understanding Eastern Europe and those formerly under Soviet domination, to those of us that see Ukraine as a truly independent and dignified people and not a mere vector of Russian power projections—Ukrainian successes do not come as a surprise. And we know that, with the necessary support from the United States, Europe, and the international community, Ukraine will win this war.

Ukraine has made the “hard decision” to oppose the extermination of its people in Russian-occupied territories and to fight for all its freedom and all its people. US support, whether extended or not, will not prevent Ukraine from negotiating a peace if it ever became an option. But it will determine whether Ukraine has what it needs to keep fighting for what Ukrainians deserve and what we believe in. It’s now up to us to make sure we support them in this.

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