Asian American lawmakers condemn Ukraine invasion

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Ukrainians protest Russian invasion By Syced via Wikimedia Creative Commons

By Julia Tong, AsAmNews Intern

Asian American lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, criticizing President Vladimir Putin and promising to stand with the Ukrainian people.

Numerous Asian Americans, including Ro Khanna, Raja Krisnamoorthi, Tammy Duckworth, Ted Lieu, Pramila Jayapal, and Young Kim, are among the Congressional Representatives who have made public statements against the war. Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War who had served in the US Reserve Forces for 23 years, was especially vocal about the humanitarian cost of violence.

“The human suffering caused—and any blood spilled—as a result of this unjustified and unjustifiable attack on Ukraine’s sovereign territory are solely on Vladimir Putin’s hands,” she said in a statement released by her office.

“Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and inexcusable escalation of this violent invasion will succeed in only one thing: uniting the free world against Russia’s autocratic regime in support of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, its people, and its right to self-governance.”

Other Asian American congressmen echoed Duckworth’s calls for global solidarity. In an official statement, Representative Ted Lieu called on the “international community” to “act swiftly to hold Russia accountable and dramatically increase the costs it bears to deter further bloodshed.” New Jersey representative Andy Kim, meanwhile, called for people to “put politics aside [and] unite as a country and a globe against this despicable act of war.”

“[We] must be unequivocal in standing with Ukrainian people. No one can take Putin’s side,” Kim told the New Jersey Globe.

Republican representative Young Kim, whose mother-in-law defected from North Korea after the devastation of the Korean War, tweeted that she personally understood the Ukrainian struggle.

“As someone who grew up in the aftermath of the Korean War, I know freedom is not something to be taken lightly,” she tweeted. “The bravery of the Ukrainian people as they defend their freedoms is inspiring.”

However, as Representative Ro Khanna told Foreign Policy, the condemnation of Putin’s “invasion,” “callous disregard for human life,” and “violation of international law in a total war of choice” is only the first step in ameliorating the conflict. Lawmakers called on nonmilitary intervention—through economic sanctions or other nonlethal interventions— from the U.S. against Russia.

Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic representative from Washington state and the first South Asian woman elected to the House of Representatives, was especially vocal about non-military interventions to defuse the conflict. In a joint statement with Barbara Lee, she stressed that “delicate diplomacy is essential to de-escalation,” calling on the Biden administration to facilitate negotiation instead of war.

“There is no military solution out of this crisis — diplomacy needs to be the focus,” she wrote in an official statement.  “We have significant concerns that new troop deployments, sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions, and a flood of hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal weapons will only raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation. Russia’s strategy is to inflame tensions; the United States and NATO must not play into this strategy.”

“We call upon our colleagues to allow the administration to find a diplomatic way out of this crisis.”

Courtesy Ro Khanna via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Though Khanna spoke of the importance of honoring the U.S.’s commitment to militarily defending NATO allies, he echoed Jayapal’s concerns that “lethal aid” to Ukraine would only “inflame” the conflict.

“I also join [Jayapal, Lee, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders] in the concern that we need restraint, that the last thing the American people want is an escalation which could lead us to some long war in Ukraine with Russia,” he said in an interview with Democracy Now. “We should do everything possible not to escalate the situation while having the moral clarity that Putin is in the wrong in this case, that there’s simply no justification for the invasion or the threat of invasion.”

Many Asian American lawmakers have advocated for economic sanctions against Russia as an alternative to military intervention. Krisnamoorthi called upon global powers to “drastically expand sanctions on Russia” in an official statement. Kim, meanwhile, pressed Biden to not only “cut Russia off [and] enact severe, crippling sanctions,” but also cut the country off of the SWIFT banking system.

As AsAmNews reported, the Biden administration, lead by South Asian Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh, has since presed sanctions on Russia. Khanna views the sanctions as a particularly important tool in both condemning Putin’s actions without further violence.

“I support what the administration has been doing in being clear about Putin’s aggression and pointing out the extraordinary economic sanctions while also making it clear that we won’t be sending troops into Ukraine itself,” he told Foreign Policy.

Jayapal and Lee, however, raised concerns that “sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions” would only worsen the conflict and potentially undermine the potential for a diplomatic end to the war.

“Sometimes, when these sorts of challenges are developing, members of Congress feel they have to do something very quickly, that they have to sign onto something that sends a message,” she told The Nation. “We wanted to help people to think this through, and to understand that we don’t want to do anything that undermines the efforts of the diplomats.”

Lawmakers, like Khanna, have identified other potential interventions besides sanctions. In his interview with Foreign Policy, Khanna praised economic action: divesting from Russian gas like Chancellor Olaf Scholz has recommended in Germany, or following Labour leader Keir Starmer in instituting a windfall tax on oil to benefit the working class.

However, he stresses the most important role the U.S. could play is supporting displaced Ukrainians. Recalling the country’s “moral abdication in Afghanistan,” which resulted in considerable harm to the populace, Khanna stressed the importance of centering a humanitarian response to the violence.

“We have a big moral responsibility. We have a responsibility to help Ukrainians who are fleeing Ukraine, to help civilians, to have to accept Ukrainians seeking asylum, both in Europe and the United States,” he said.

“We need to make sure that we’re putting the civilians in Ukraine first and foremost in our mind and doing everything we can to mitigate the loss of life.”

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