Editor’s Note: Garry Kasparov is a former world chess champion and chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI). Uriel Epshtein is the executive director of the Renew Democracy Initiative. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
In our era of political polarization, hardly anything can unite a majority of Americans. That’s why new polling from CNN on the crisis in Ukraine is so encouraging: 84% of both Democrats and Republicans support increased economic sanctions against Russia. A remarkable 65% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats think we should be doing more to support the Ukrainians.
This unity was obvious at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union on Tuesday, where Democrats and Republicans gave him and Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova multiple standing ovations when the President discussed Ukraine’s fight for freedom.
Anytime Americans agree on something is notable, but it is particularly remarkable given numerous partisan attempts to have us look away, do less and allow Russian leader Vladimir Putin to run roughshod over the Ukrainian people.
With the unity the American people now have, we must act quickly and decisively. First, we must continue to answer Putin’s war of aggression with an economic war of attrition. Already, the actions of democratic governments around the world are encouraging. Many Russian banks are being kicked out of SWIFT, a messaging service used for international banking, governments around the globe are announcing new measures to limit their economic ties to Russia every day, and even countries like Switzerland and Germany, traditionally averse to sanctions and military aid respectively, have reversed decades-old policies to punish Russia for its naked aggression.
If Putin ultimately does come to the negotiating table, the sanctions must not be lifted at that point. For far too long we’ve offered concessions as a sign of goodwill in our negotiations with a dictator who only answers to force. That failed strategy has earned us the largest war in Europe since 1945. Our economic warfare must not end until every Russian troop is out of Ukraine and a durable peace is achieved.
Second, we must go after the Russian oligarchs directly. The spoils of the Russian economy are siphoned by oligarchs who then park their money in luxury properties abroad. In exchange for backing Putin, they spend their summers along the Mediterranean cruising on yachts worth millions. Their children attend elite private schools in New England and the English countryside, then graduate into the Ivy League.
It’s time for the party to end. Seize their properties. Target the shell companies that protect their assets in tax havens. Deny them and their families visas to every country with a coastline, ski mountain or vineyard. Let them sit in Russia with the terrors they have enabled and see how long Putin’s war lasts. We won’t cut off the head of the snake; they will.
These measures are necessary, but the American unity they rely on may be fleeting. It’s easy to be unified when the shock of the Russian invasion is still fresh in our minds. When gas prices and inflation continue to soar, it will be harder. If supply chain issues worsen, it will be harder still.
What Americans must recognize is any suffering we experience now is a necessary price to pay compared to the world we would be ushering in through inaction. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to tear apart the fabric of the rules-based world order countless Americans have died to create and defend. In the process, it would make the current shocks we’re experiencing our new normal.
In a world lacking order, border disputes will be settled through conflict, destabilizing entire regions. If Kyiv falls, will Moldova be next? Putin’s ally in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, seemed to reveal plans to do just that. Meanwhile, China’s Xi Jinping is eyeing Taiwan for a forced “reunification” of the two countries that the Taiwanese leadership will not submit to peacefully. And fear of invasion from an increasingly belligerent China or North Korea has persuaded many South Koreans to support developing a nuclear arsenal of their own.
Despite this reality, the mission to further undermine American support for Ukraine is ongoing. On Saturday, mere days after Putin invaded Ukraine, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) released a statement condemning Russia’s invasion and expressing solidarity with the Ukrainians. But in the same statement, they then reaffirmed their “call for the US to withdraw from NATO and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict.” In making such a plea, the Democratic Socialists managed to frame the US as the imperialist expansionist, even as Russia wages an unprovoked and bloody war of imperialist expansion.
Then, on Sunday, Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic congresswoman turned Fox News regular, implored America to call on Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Biden to “embrace the spirit of aloha” and declare Ukraine perpetually neutral, “thus alleviat[ing] the legitimate security concerns of both US/NATO countries and Russia.” By “legitimate security concerns” of Russia, we assume she means Putin’s desire to dominate his smaller neighbor.
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These voices may be on the fringe now, but they will likely grow louder. When that happens, we must remember though the cost of stopping Putin is high, the cost of allowing the world order to be rewritten is far greater.
Americans must maintain this unity, continue our support of the Ukrainian people and recognize the fight for democracy is about much more than one country’s ability to determine its own fate. The struggle for democracy is also about the ability to live in a world where disagreements can be solved through diplomacy, where human rights are protected and where peace is the status quo.
When partisans attempt to undermine our support for Ukraine, when the effects of strong economic sanctions are felt at the gas pump and the grocery store, remember this is a struggle we must face head on.