Progressive caucus withdraws call for US-Russia talks after backlash

‘The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians' just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time and we withdraw the letter’

Andrew Feinberg
Tuesday 25 October 2022 18:01 BST
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Ukrainians queue for water after Russians cut off city's main supply

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has officially renounced its call for the US to directly engage in talks with Russia in hopes of finding a diplomatic solution to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement, CPC Chair Pramilla Jayapal said the caucus “hereby withdraws” a 24 October letter to President Joe Biden calling for negotiations had been “drafted several months ago” and erroneously released by staff without permission. The Washington state representative said she took full responsibility for the error.

In the now-withdrawn letter, 30 signatories – including Ms Jayapal, former CPC chairs Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Barbara Lee of California, Democratic “squad” members Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush, and other high-profile progressives such as Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin – called for the US to mount a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a cease fire” as a condition of future military support for Ukraine.

Ms Jayapal said the timing of the letter’s release led to the call for negotiations being “conflated by some as being equivalent” to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s recent threat to withhold further aid for Ukraine absent policy concessions from the Biden administration.

“The proximity of these statements created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats, who have strongly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic, and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support for President Zelensky and the Ukrainian forces,” she said.

“The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians' just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time and we withdraw the letter”.

The now-withdrawn letter had laid out a series of concerns, chief among them the fact that the US has not maintained a bilateral dialogue with Moscow as part of efforts to bring the war to a close. The lawmakers relayed these concerns to Mr Biden despite months of statements from the administration stressing that the US would not engage in direct talks without participation from Ukrainian officials.

It drew a swift backlash from defence experts and prominent Ukrainians, including Ukrainian journalist, Anastasia Lapitina, who took to Twitter on Monday to slam the letter, writing that the signatories seem not to understand that Russian “operates on a completely different set of assumptions about the world and this war” than the progressives who spearheaded the missive to Mr Biden.

The negative reaction to the letter was sufficiently swift and intense that Ms Jayapal was forced to issue a statement to “reaffirm” the progressive caucus’ support for Ukraine just five hours after it had become public.

“Let me be clear: we are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion, and nothing in the letter advocates for a change in that support,” she wrote.

She added that the progressive caucus continues to support the Biden administration’s policy of “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine”.

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