The Russian-Ukrainian war is part of a cosmic confrontation between autocracy and liberal democracy – at least, according President Joe Biden. Yet the Western response to the Russian invasion is eroding liberal values in the democratic world, including in America. These eroded values include freedom of information and expression, the principle of non-discrimination, economic openness and the belief that diplomatic compromise can secure world peace.
In April, the White House introduced the Orwellian-sounding Disinformation Governance Council combat Russian propaganda. This is of concern since government officials have labeled legitimate reporting, such as the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, as Russian disinformation. “Instead of installing a Politburo of truth at DHS, the government should leave the job of controlling disinformation to competitive news outlets,” writing Jack Shafer of Politics.
As a result, some news organizations are censored. The European Union banned Russian outlets RT and Sputnik, and YouTube blocked access to their channels worldwide. PayPal suspended independent media accounts offering alternative views on the war in Ukraine, threatening to keep their money as “damages”.
The tech giants cannot be trusted to censor fairly. Facebook changed its policies to allow the praise of the Ukrainian Azov battalion, including Urooba Jamal Business Intern called “the armed wing of the country’s Azov white nationalist movement”.
My country of residence, the Czech Republic, was to chase public expressions of support for the Russian invasion; the maximum penalty is three years in prison. The prosecution told me that nine people have already been prosecuted and sixty-nine cases “are in [the] initial verification stage”, even if “the number changes every day”. In neighboring Slovakia, supporting the invasion could land you twenty five years in prison.
Throughout the West, the principle of non-discrimination has also suffered since the Russian invasion. For example, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra fired its star Russian conductor for his failure to condemn the invasion. Similarly, the Orchester symphonique de Montréal fall of his schedule a twenty-year-old Russian pianist who had condemned him. In the world of sport, Russians and Belarusians have been banned to participate in the Boston Marathon, and they will be prohibited Wimbledon as well. The Kennel Club itself banned Russian dogs from his annual show Crufts.
Elected officials are not immune to discriminatory Russophobia. Congressman Eric Swalwell, a once liberal Democrat co-sponsored the National Origin-Based Anti-Discrimination for Non-Immigrants Act (NO BAN). He now supports “Expel all Russian students from the United States.”
Liberals believe that economic openness is the key to global prosperity. But since Putin’s invasion, the US-led West imposed unprecedented sanctions that pose serious global economic risks. The consequences of these sanctions are not limited to Russians, and certainly not to Russia’s political elite. Indeed, second-order effects will impoverish workers everywhere, even as the Russian economy so far has proved surprisingly strong.
In particular, cutting off Russia from the global financial system could upset the global economy by sending a clear message to America’s adversaries: withdraw from common payment systems and regulatory frameworks or risk humiliating economic coercion.
The Charter of the United Nations, a product of liberal optimism, requires that the parties to any dispute seek “above all” a diplomatic solution. But before the Russian invasion, Washington refused to commit Moscow in serious diplomacy. As a result, many Western governments hinder peace negotiations, prefer to “see Russia weakened” than to stop the bloodshed (although recent grandstand in the New York Times suggests that this is no longer an American objective).
Fortunately, the same values that the West has recently undermined can still guide it out of the current crisis and guarantee a bright future for liberal autonomy. Russian President Vladimir Putin depicts the West as being at war with all Russians. Smarter targeting of sanctions against Russian political elites and ending discrimination against Russian nationals will rob him of this popularity-boosting talking point.
The United States cannot defend liberal democracy while suppressing freedom of information, which President John F. Kennedy believed was a “fundamental human right”. Addressing related freedom of expression, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim that everyone has the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas by all means and regardless of frontiers”. Protecting these rights would set an example for illiberal states and ensure that America does not set the stage for its own techno-tyrannical future.
The United States should live up to its international duties in seeking a diplomatic solution to the Russian-Ukrainian war. Mission creep brought the U.S. ever closer lead the war against Russia. Instead, Washington should work with Western allies to negotiate a settlement that not only ends the war but also creates a lasting European security architecture that includes Russia, like Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the New America Foundation. called for.
Finally, at the grand strategy level, the White House should review his Manichean vision of a world divided between autocracies and liberal democracies. The effort to defeat autocracies around the world jeopardizes the liberal values for which the United States claims to stand.
Andrew Day is a foreign policy researcher for the Nonzero Foundation. He holds a doctorate in political science from Northwestern University and currently lives in Prague.