Crisis in Ukraine: What We're Watching and Why We Care

As the global Jewish advocacy organization, AJC has naturally been following events in Ukraine closely. AJC’s experts in international affairs and human rights as well as its representatives in European capitals maintain ongoing contact with U.S. and foreign diplomats who are dealing with the situation, and AJC's director of Russian affairs traveled to Kiev for comprehensive discussions with leaders of the Jewish community.

AJC has a number of serious concerns about developments in Ukraine and their possible repercussions.

Threat to the International Order

The death and destruction wreaked by the 20th century’s two world wars—in both of which Ukraine figured as a particularly bloody battleground—underline the importance of maintaining peace and security. Political disputes should be resolved through diplomacy and international law, not force. The illegal actions of Russian troops in Crimea, the referendum under the intimidating eyes of soldiers that detached the peninsula from Ukrainian sovereignty, and Russia’s annexation of the territory constitute a blow to international order. If it is left unchecked, not only might Russia be emboldened to make more territorial demands in the region, but other states may see it as a model for pursuing their interests through force, and possibly lead us down the road once again to strong nations bullying their weaker neighbors, the very aggressive behavior that brought such devastation in the last century. That is not the kind of world that AJC wants to see.

Threat to the Credibility of International Agreements and Nuclear Nonproliferation

Since 1994, soon after it achieved independence, Ukraine’s security has been based on its agreement to give up nuclear weapons in return for guarantees from the permanent members of the UN Security council—Russia included—of its territorial borders, and the establishment of a process for settling any future disputes. Russia’s recent actions clearly violate the agreement, as President Obama has noted. If security assurances can so easily be overridden, why should anyone trust assurances that might be given in the current negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations? Besides placing into question its international credibility and the validity of international agreements, Russia is also raising the risks of nuclear proliferation. The example of a country—Ukraine—giving up nuclear capability and then being browbeaten by a stronger power will surely make Iran and other nations who may harbor nuclear ambitions more reluctant to put them aside.

Anti-Semitism and Its Use as a Political Football

Concerned as it is with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, AJC takes very seriously any allegations of anti-Jewish manifestations in Ukraine. In justifying Russia’s takeover over of Crimea, President Putin claimed that intervention was necessary to save Russian-speakers and Jews from the “nationalist” forces that had removed Ukraine’s pro-Russian president and formed a new provisional government. Anti-Semitism indeed has deep roots in Ukraine, and one of the parties involved in the new Ukrainian government, Svoboda, is a nationalist group that has, in the past, been guilty of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Furthermore, there seem to have been some anti-Semitic comments made during the demonstrations that brought down the previous government, as well as some damage to synagogues—although it remains unclear who was responsible. Yet AJC has so far seen no evidence that the elements now in control of the country are motivated by such sentiments, and our contacts in the Ukrainian Jewish community confirm this. Indeed, several top leaders of the provisional government are Jewish. AJC will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that anti-Semitism does not rear its head. But AJC is equally concerned about the Russian authorities’ use of false allegations of Ukrainian anti-Semitism to justify its aggressive steps. Russia’s cynical use of the anti-Semitism card could muddy the waters and make it more difficult to discern and fight actual anti-Semitism in the region.

Media Inquiries

212-891-6771 / bandlerk@ajc.org