Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unites a divided nation: the United States

After two years of political divisions and economic disruption heightened by an endless pandemic, many Americans say they are coming together in a common cause: support for Ukraine, a country besieged daily by Russian forces.

The rare moment of solidarity is motivated, in part, by the perception of America as a steadfast global defender of freedom and democracy. Many Americans say they see an unbalanced fight between a great power and a weaker neighbor. They see relentless images of dead families and crumbling cities. They see the Ukrainian president asking for help.

In polls and interviews since the attack, Americans from all political backgrounds have said the nation has a duty to respond to President Vladimir V. Putin’s brazen invasion — even if it means feeling, at least in the short term. term, the pinch of high gas prices and inflation.

“I understand we want to stay out of this, but what’s happening is worse than anyone could imagine. We can go gasless when there are kids being killed out there,” Danna Bone said. , a 65-year-old retiree from McMinnville, Oregon, and a Republican “It’s horrible what’s going on out there, and we have to do our part. I’d like to see them do more. What it looks like, I don’t really don’t know.

Yet interviews with more than three dozen Americans from Georgia to California show that beyond a broad consensus that Ukraine is worth supporting, they are unstable and even divided on essential questions: how far should America go to defend Ukraine without plunging the nation into another cold war? Does the war require US military involvement?

The Biden administration has imposed a series of painful economic sanctions on Russia and blocked its imports of oil, gas and coal. The administration has already approved $1.2 billion in aid to Ukraine, and President Biden is expected to announce an additional $800 million in military aid. Three weeks into the invasion, most Americans from both political parties support US aid to Ukraine and overwhelmingly support economic sanctions, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Already, the question of America’s role in Ukraine is clouding American policy and reinvigorating the bond between the United States and its European allies.

About a third of Americans said the United States was providing the right amount of support for Ukraine, but an even larger share, 42%, favored the country doing even more, according to the Pew survey. . The same poll found, however, that about two-thirds of Americans do not favor military intervention.

In pockets across the country, how people viewed America’s global power and obligations was often influenced by their personal circumstances and economic stability. They often drew a line, if crooked, between war and domestic crises. Conversations about Russian strikes and shocked refugees fleeing Ukraine quickly gave way to discussions about the personal cost of gas and food, a sluggish economy and the lingering pain of the pandemic, the kind of grievances that could temper support for Ukraine over time.

North of Detroit, where Macomb and Oakland counties sit side by side but have moved in opposite political directions in recent years – Macomb on the right, Oakland on the left – liberals and conservatives are united in the belief that this what is happening in Ukraine is wrong and that the United States could do more. But they offered differing opinions on the causes of the war or Mr. Biden’s ability to handle the foreign policy crisis.

“I call it Russia’s unfinished business,” Roland Benberry Jr., 61, an artist and illustrator, said of the invasion. Mr. Benberry served in the Air Force in the early 1980s when Russia was seen as an imminent threat. Thirty years later, he experiences those feelings again. “We thought we were done with that,” he said. “We thought the Soviet Union was gone, and it just went underground for a while.”

Mr. Benberry, a Democrat who lives in Oakland County, believes that sanctions could be the most powerful and effective tool against Russia, and that the US military should only get directly involved if the Ukrainian army is forced to retreat. He viewed Mr. Putin as a lonely demagogue acting on his own, against the wishes of many of his own citizens.

Like Mr Benberry, Natasha Jenkins, 34, a Democrat and liberal arts student at an Oakland County community college, said she was willing to tolerate higher gas prices to punish Mr Putin. But she said she wanted Mr Biden to also push for higher salaries so people could have an easier time making ends meet. She sees firsthand the impact of US economic strains in the grocery store, where she works the night shift as a cashier. Parents complain to her about high product prices or the burden of homeschooling their children during the pandemic. Some supply shortages persist, and she can’t keep all the shelves stocked.

Ms Jenkins said she was hesitant to see direct US military involvement in Ukraine. She has several close friends still scarred from America’s wars in the Middle East, she said, and she doesn’t want to see more American soldiers deployed to fight overseas.

Indeed, for many Americans, support for Ukraine ends definitively on the threshold of a military intervention. History plays a role. The long war and the withdrawal from Afghanistan, together with the memories of the first Cold War, have weakened the tolerance for a direct confrontation with Russia.

On a suburban street in Macomb County, 75-year-old Kathleen Pate helped organize donations of clothing and medicine to send to Ukraine. His son and daughter-in-law, originally from Ukraine, turned their garage into a makeshift donation center.

“The support is overwhelming,” said Ms Pate, a Republican who spent her last days worrying about Ukrainian families. “I can’t sleep at night. I can’t get it out of my mind.

She said she supported establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine and was unhappy with the US response so far. “I really believe he could do more to help,” she said. “It’s the human thing to do.”

An Economist/YouGov survey conducted in early March showed that a majority of Americans, around 73%, sympathized more with Ukraine than with Russia. The poll also showed that 68% approved of the imposition of economic sanctions and slightly less approved of the sending of financial aid or weapons. But only 20% supported sending US troops to fight the Russians in Ukraine.

Alejandro Tenorio, 24, said sanctions should be the main tool to force Mr Putin back down and perhaps motivate the Russian people to act.

“I think these political sanctions should continue. Let the Russians take matters into their own hands to maybe try to change the government and change their ways,” said Tenorio, a tech support specialist for a data company who describes himself as a “left-wing moderate.”

The Biden administration, said Mr. Tenorio, who lives in Johns Creek, Georgia, could be a bit more aggressive, with “more things hurting their economy.”

“I think that should be about it,” he said. “I think Biden is doing everything he can, or everything he’s allowed to do.”

Others believe that US troops on the ground are a dangerous but necessary response.

Dan Cunha is a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran and retired small business owner who lives in Anaheim, California. He describes himself as a political independent and wrote in John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio in the 2020 election.

“It breaks my heart to see what’s going on there now, to see an autocrat come to power, and we’re not doing anything to stop it,” he said. “He is an extreme nationalist. If it were up to me, I’d put troops there. Putin is a tyrant, and tyrants need to be slapped.

Mr Cunha regularly hangs out at the local VFW outpost, where most of his friends are what he describes as “hardcore Republicans”, and said many argue the conflict would not have happened. not produced at all if Donald J. Trump was still President.

“The majority of veterans I talk to say the same thing I do – boots on the ground,” he said.

While supporting the plight of Ukraine, some Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants outside Detroit said this conflict is different from those in Afghanistan and Iraq because the world pays attention to the suffering of European families. white in a way they thought he didn’t have with theirs.

“I grew up watching my country tear apart,” said Maria, a Syrian student who asked that her full name not be used for fear of endangering her family still in the country. She stressed that she felt and understood the pain of the Ukrainians and that she herself had been stunned to see the Europeans going to war. But she said she hopes Americans realize that this is how life has been for people in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries for decades.

The war feels personal for Maryana Vacarciuc, 24, and her husband, Radion Vacarciuc, 25. The Ukrainian immigrants have lived in metro Atlanta with their two children for three years, but they still have family in Ukraine.

Unlike some Ukrainian immigrants who are pushing for greater American involvement, they resent the plight of their homeland and family members – and remember the last conflict in 2014 – but said they recognized the limits of the US government.

“I understand what America is doing. He doesn’t want to help any more, because he doesn’t want to get into any more conflict with Russia,” Vacarciuc said.

Her husband added: “But if America gets too involved, then maybe we’re the ones leaving our kids and going to war,” he said. When asked if America had a role to play in the war against Ukraine, he said no.

“America is its own country,” he said. “Ukraine, Russia, they fight their own battles.”

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