At the core of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine is the notion of sovereignty — and in particular, whether Ukraine deserves it. Ukrainians, and the vast majority of people and governments in the rest of the world, say it does. Russia, which invaded the country in late February in an attempt to overthrow its government and make it into a subservient vassal state, says it doesn’t. Apparently, U.S. Senator Rand Paul also believes Ukraine isn’t a state, based on this head-scratching exchange with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
BLINKEN: If you look at the countries Russia attacked, these were countries that were not part of NATO
RAND PAUL: You could also argue the countries they've attacked were part of Russia
BLINKEN: I firmly disagree. It's the right of these countries to decide their future pic.twitter.com/4ZeZOVrK0i
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 26, 2022
Paul’s position is shocking but not entirely uncommon. Ukraine’s current security situation is the result of years of policy decisions made by Western countries, the Ukrainian government, and Russia, and Paul belongs to a camp that thinks the actions of NATO member states are more responsible for the current war than, say, Russia, the nation that started it. The core of this argument is that NATO’s courtship of Ukraine was the primary accelerant in the current crisis. There are points in this argument’s favor — NATO’s expansionist policies since the early ‘90s have not been exactly stabilizing to the region — but they often overlook the only question that should matter: What do Ukrainians want to do? Since 2014, they’ve overwhelmingly wanted to join NATO.”
The argument, unfortunately, is an easy gateway to what we see in the video, which is a tacit denial that Ukraine has the right to exist as a state. This is also one of the key justifications Russian President Vladimir Putin made when he first announced a “Special Military Operation” against Ukraine.
The exchange between Paul and Blinken perfectly sums up the opposing rhetorical sides of the conflict, which in practice has resulted in the destruction of cities and thousands of deaths. Blinken’s point is that Ukraine is an independent nation, and that if it were in NATO, Russia wouldn’t have attacked it. Paul’s point is that Ukraine — and other post-Soviet republics like Georgia and Moldova — share ties to Russia that make them part of the same state, essentially, and that bringing them into NATO would risk a confrontation between nuclear-armed powers. Paul says he opposes the invasion itself, of course, but his stance on self-determination makes this point basically moot.
Both points are in some ways correct — a conflict between NATO and Russia would be unbelievably disastrous — but in making this point, Paul denies the self-determination of a country of people who did not ask for war. It’s well worth criticizing NATO’s policies in the formation of the current crisis, but only one party in the conflict thus far has violated another nation’s sovereignty and killed its people en masse. The only way to rectify this is to support — preferably by peaceful and diplomatic means — the ability of the Ukrainian people to make decisions on a world stage with their own interests at heart, rather than the interests of a state staring at them down the barrel of a gun.