By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Fair warning to the reader: this article is admittedly intemperate. I am venting the anger I feel even as much as what I think—and maybe then some.
Watching the news on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, about to go into its third week, I’ve been building up to a big, steaming mad-on. If I were a cartoon character, the cartoonist would draw smoke coming out of my ears.
I am, of course, disgusted by the horror Putin has wrought—cities under medieval-style siege, their hospitals and schools targeted, their buildings turned to rubble, and citizens fleeing by the millions, attacked as they flee. But my greatest frustration comes from my own sense of impotence and the slowness of our leaders in the West to take timely action to aid Ukraine in its stand against the Russian invaders.
Watching the talking heads on television, whether pundits or official representatives of various western nations, I have come away with the impression that all they do is talk talk talk. They metaphorically wring their hands and dither about what NATO could do, should do, might do, or will do at some point in the future. And that appears to be mostly imposing sanctions on Russia in increments, now including a ban on Russian oil, and confiscating assets to put pressure on Putin through his people and his oligarchs which—all admit—will take months or even years to have an effect.
By then, the Ukrainians will all be dead or, if they’re lucky, displaced from their country.
The Ukrainians don’t have months or years for sanctions to work. And neither does Western Europe. And neither do we. Ukraine is the only thing standing between the NATO countries and Putin’s ambitions. Western leaders are not behaving precisely like Neville Chamberlain; that is, they are not talking appeasement. But the slow, belabored discussions over how to handle Putin may create the same sort of result, bringing on the very World War III that the world is trying so hard to avoid by not acting, or not acting much. Certainly, by not acting fast enough.
On many recent nights, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell has adamantly and repeatedly emphasized that “no-fly zone” is a fictional term for what is really an “aerial combat zone.” He has explained that the no-fly zone Ukraine keeps requesting would actually be the United States going to war with Russia—with us shooting down their planes and them shooting down ours, possibly expanding the conflict into another world war, this one between two nuclear powers.
Given Putin’s recent reminder to the world that he has nuclear weapons, along with Russia’s attacks on some Ukrainian nuclear plants and takeover of others, the U.S. and NATO do not want to test themselves against Putin’s nuclear blackmail on behalf of a non-NATO nation. Surely, Putin has counted on that in making his threats. And if he is allowed to get away with his scorched earth tactics, backed by his nuclear warnings, what is to keep him from using such blackmail to take over a NATO nation? Or ultimately, bit by bit, control of the entire world?
But, fair enough. I’m not advocating we establish a no-fly zone or, as O’Donnell has perhaps better defined it, an aerial combat zone.
But the Zelensky government has also asked, as its second choice, for planes—old Russian MiG’s that the Ukrainians know how to fly—so that they can police their airspace against Russia’s aerial attacks themselves. I hear that plea every single day on the news. Most recently, I see that the United States is trying to broker a deal for Poland to give Ukraine the MiG’s in exchange for the U.S. giving Poland more modern F-16 fighter planes. With aerial attacks threatening civilian targets every day, every hour, every minute, where is the action on this? It is needed now. Not days or weeks from now—if Poland agrees to it at all.
But perhaps I am not being completely fair about NATO’s lack of action. According to CNN, there is an undisclosed airfield near the Ukrainian border that is being used as a hub for shipping weapons. CNN has said that, so far, the U.S. and other NATO members have sent Ukraine 17,000 anti-tank missiles, and 2,000 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles—and that Ukraine has put them to effective use. In addition, $240 million of a $350 million U.S. security assistance package, including anti-armor capabilities, has been delivered to Ukraine.
Nevertheless, watching cities turned to rubble through Russia’s aerial attacks, and hearing President Zelensky and other Ukrainian representatives’ daily pleas for aid, what has been given thus far doesn’t seem like nearly enough. After all, the Ukrainians must know what the Ukrainians need and what they are capable of using, and they’re still pleading for military aid—especially planes. And given the aerial bombardments, planes are what they need most. Without at least supplying Ukraine the planes, all the nations’ claims of support amount to empty words.
As for the rest of us--we do what? Wear the colors of Ukraine’s flag, yellow and blue, to show solidarity? Place signs in the window and memes on Facebook? The symbolism is nice, but does more for our psyche than Ukraine’s survival. Some stalwart souls may go to Ukraine’s borders to help refugee efforts in person. And the rest of us can give contributions to charities or NGOs that will aid the refugees. Helping to pick up the pieces may be all that we as individuals can do. But it does not make me feel less impotent. It’s not enough. It’s just not enough.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.