Davos Day 1: Ukraine

Davos highlights Ukraine's war and AI challenges. Ukraine's dire situation, US partisan disagreements on aid, and global consequences are central, emphasizing NATO's role and historical parallels.

2 minutes

The headline events from Davos’ opening day were top-of-mind topics for the globe:  The ongoing war in Ukraine and the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI). 

Ukraine:  One of the biggest centers on the Promenade — and the one with highest security — was a powerful illustration of the horrors of war in Ukraine. A whole floor showed videos of sleeping children who had been abducted by Russian forces and later rescued by their parents from Russia, Crimea or behind the Russian lines in occupied Ukraine. Russia aims to extinguish not only the country of Ukraine but also the national identity. These children were kidnapped and forcibly “re-Russianized” culturally and linguistically. Showing them safe and asleep back home in their own beds underscored the innocence of these most vulnerable victims of the war.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, led off of panel of speakers who made a compelling case for continued robust support for the Ukrainian troops in their brave efforts to stave off Russian aggression. She was joined by retired US Senator Robert Portman (R-Ohio) other advocates in making the case that Ukraine is fighting this war on behalf of the western democracies in the US and Europe — and they desperately need all the help they can get. Putin won’t stop with Ukraine, just as he didn’t stop with Crimea or the eastern Donbas — and just as Hitler didn’t stop with Austria, or Poland, or Belgium.  And Ukraine borders 4 countries that are members of NATO.  Under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty the United States (and all NATO members) are obligated to treat attacks on those countries as attacks on their own territory; they would respond with ground troops and full-scale military intervention. That scenario would be vastly more costly in both blood and treasure than providing weapons, intelligence support, humanitarian aid, and financial aid for rebuilding infrastructure in Ukraine today.  

General Mark Milley, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs, was in the front row. He drove the argument home with a powerful history lesson. After WWII the US led the allies in designing a set of governing institutions and protocols for a world order designed to avoid World War III.  What we tend to forget is that that world order has successfully avoided a devastating WWIII for 80 years. Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine is a direct attempt to bring down that US-led world order. Failing to stop a thug like Putin in his tracks could lead to direct conflict between NATO and Russian troops. It’s a no brainer for the US and Europe to pull out all the stops — short of committing our own troops — to support Ukraine’s fight to maintain its independence and territorial integrity. 

So far so good. But then session took a surreal turn as the speakers claimed “bipartisan support” in both the Senate and the House for the Ukrainian aid package. That’s patently misleading; if it were true the aid package would have sailed through Congress 5 months ago when President Biden first proposed it. The President and the Democratic members of Congress have been resolute and unified in their support for Ukraine throughout this whole period. It’s ONLY the Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus that have successfully opposed aid to Ukraine, led by know-nothing isolationists like Marjorie Taylor-Greene. And just a couple weeks ago, the House Speaker Mike Johnson took 60 of his members to the Texas-Mexico border to make a big show of their commitment to hold Ukrainian aid hostage to their radical hard-line proposals on immigration. Johnson proclaimed that the visit strengthened his resolve to prevent Ukraine aid from passing without tying it to his extreme hard-line immigration policy. 

The Ukrainian panel at Davos didn’t take any questions from the audience. So I confronted Ambassador Markarova in private afterward for her failure to place the blame squarely on the Republican hard-liners in Congress. And also for her failure to call out the Democrats for their unwavering support. Ambassador Markarova said she has to stay bipartisan; she’s clearly worried about what would happen if (God forbid) Trump should win the presidential election later this year. He already tried to shake down Ukraine in his first term (and got impeached for it). Imagine what he’d do if Ukraine got too cozy with the Democrats. 

Just because there were no Democrats on this panel in Davos doesn’t mean the President and his party shouldn’t get credit for their steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s freedom. It’s not an easy ask for Democrats to back still more military spending in a time of ballooning deficits; Democratic members of Congress pay a real political cost back home for doing the right thing to protect the security of the world. Trump’s revenge fantasies notwithstanding, it’s a farce to pretend that the aid Ukraine so desperately needs and deserves is being blocked by anyone but a handful of extreme right-wing Republican members of Congress. In Washington, even your best friends don’t stay friends for long when you fail to express gratitude for their support. 





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