14 June 2022 14:28:30 IST

A management and technology professional with 17 years of experience at Big-4 business consulting firms, and seven years of experience in high-technology manufacturing, Rajkamal Rao is a results-driven strategy expert. A US citizen with OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) privileges that allow him to live and work in India, he divides his time between the two countries. Rao heads Rao Advisors, a firm that counsels students aspiring to study in the United States on ways to maximise their return on investment. He lives with his wife and son in Texas. Rao has been a columnist for from the year the website was launched, in 2015, and writes regularly for BusinessLine as well. Twitter: @rajkamalrao

Is the US taking a hypocritical stand in the Russia-Ukraine war?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken 

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the US led a coalition of countries to supply arms and munitions to Ukraine, to the tune of $70 billion. This effort will likely continue at the expense of billions of more dollars. The US has also imposed crushing economic sanctions against Russia, which have only escalated as the war shortly enters the fifth month. Europe has joined America to stop buying Russian oil altogether.

The EU has also said it will no longer import Russian coal. More than $630 billion of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves held in Western banks have been frozen. The US has forced Russia to not even make debt payments from interest earned in American banks, forcing Russia to default on its obligations. The large Russian banks have been cut off from SWIFT, an international payments system. In solidarity, more than 1,000 western companies have withdrawn from Russia. 

The US, joined by Europe, has also delivered large amounts of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Neighbouring country Poland has led the acceptance of refugees. The UN estimates Ukraine’s destruction to be around $100 billion, all of which will again get subsidised by western grants and loans.

While the US’s actions have quickly supported a besieged state with overwhelming solidarity, how do they compare with American policy as recently as 60 years ago? Has it been consistent, or has there been a policy shift?

In hindsight

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that America intervened in the war to uphold a fundamental principle of sovereignty. Appearing at a United States Senate hearing on April 26, 2022, two months into the war, he said about Ukraine’s bid to join NATO or the European Union, which President Putin cites as one reason to attack Ukraine: “These are sovereign decisions for European countries to make... but this goes to the heart of the international system and the international order. And part of that is a basic principle that one country can’t dictate to another the choices it makes about with whom it allies, its foreign policies, or its decision or not to try to engage with the European Union with NATO.”

But what did President JFK, another Democrat, do in a similar situation? In October 1962, the US had based Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey, two European countries sharing borders with Soviet-era states. These were the first nuclear-armed, medium-range ballistic missiles of the United States Air Force, with a 1,500-mile range, easily capable of reaching multiple Soviet Union countries.

The Soviet Union quickly retaliated and moved nuclear missiles to Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida.

What followed were “thirteen days” of the tensest period in world history, well-captured by a Hollywood thriller of the same name. The two world leaders, President JFK and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, unbridled by the modern pressures of having to appease social media platforms, helped strike a peace deal to avert nuclear armageddon.

Accordingly, Khrushchev agreed to remove Cuban missiles if JFK agreed not to attack Cuba. Further, JFK secretly agreed to remove the Jupiter missiles, which, as a practical matter, were error-prone and obsolete anyway. The Jupiters were permanently retired in April 1963, giving Khrushchev great talking points back home.

Blinken today insists that one country can’t dictate to another its choices about with whom it allies or its foreign policies —  but this is what America did precisely. JFK was indeed prepared to engage militarily with Cuba if Cuba possessed nuclear weapons and became a proxy state for the Soviet Union 90 miles from Key West, Florida.  

‘The American stubbornness’

Fast forward to today. On November 10, 2021, the US signed a strategic agreement with Ukraine, with an entire section devoted to countering Russian aggression: “Bolstering Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against threats to its territorial integrity and deepening Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions are concurrent priorities.” 

Within two months, Russia had amassed 1,50,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, protesting a border state’s alignment with the US, a nuclear power. The Russian action is similar to what the US did in 1962. The US then opposed Cuba’s decision to ally with the Soviet Union and threatened to attack if Cuba didn’t comply. The only difference between then and now was that two astute world leaders constantly spoke with each other in 1962 and prevented the firing of a single shot in the pursuit of world peace. 

When the history of the current war is written, it will become clear that Blinken never engaged sufficiently with Putin to avert war. In December, the US listened to Russian grievances in Geneva but did not cave, insisting on Ukraine’s right to determine its alliances, a right that America denied Cuba in the 1960s.

But American stubbornness, especially given Ukraine and its history and geographical proximity to Russia, has led the world to an unknown future in which Russia is making gains in eastern Ukraine. More than 4.5 million people have been displaced, and the world is facing famine, inflation, and a shortage of crucial components of modern life, such as fuel, fertilizer, and chemicals. 

Ukraine may have to yield territory to stop further bloodshed, a suboptimal outcome for the West. For, then, the war would have been about nothing but misery.