Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) addresses thousands of demonstrators on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 2021. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Omar Warns Democrats' Ukraine Proposal Only 'Escalates the Conflict'

"I cannot in good conscience support a bill that places militarism and economic warfare over the urgent needs of both Ukrainian and Russian civilians," said the Minnesota Democrat.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Wednesday delivered a detailed rebuke of congressional Democrats' proposed legislative response to the escalating crisis involving Ukraine and Russia, declaring that "when the United States says it champions human rights, democracy, and peace, we should mean it."

"Instead of spending $500 million on weapons, we should be centering civilian needs with refugee and humanitarian assistance."

As U.S. President Joe Biden orders more troops to Europe while Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses Washington and its allies of ignoring Moscow's security concerns--elevating global concerns about a potential conflict between the world's foremost nuclear powers--Democrats are working on the Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act of 2022 (H.R. 6470/S. 3488).

Sponsored by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the bill would send $500 million in military aid to Ukraine--which critics such as Medea Benjamin of the peace group CodePink warn would "only intensify the conflict and feed the war machine."

Omar (D-Minn.) echoed that warning, saying in a statement Wednesday that Democrats' legislation "escalates the conflict without deterring it effectively."

"With a very soft trigger, it vaults Ukraine overnight into the third-highest recipient of U.S. security assistance and weapons sales in the world," she said. "The consequences of flooding Ukraine with half a billion dollars in American weapons, likely not limited to just military-specific equipment but also including small arms and ammo, are unpredictable and likely disastrous."

The proposal, Omar notes, "also threatens unbelievably broad and draconian sanctions that will utterly devastate the Russian economy, likely doing very little to deter Putin's aggression while causing immense suffering among ordinary Russian civilians who did not choose this."

The Biden administration has recently warned of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, pointing to the buildup of 100,000 troops along their shared border. Moscow has denied any plans to invade while making various security demands, including that Ukraine be blocked from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

"A Russian invasion of Ukraine would be catastrophic and must be avoided at all costs," Omar said. "A core progressive principle is opposing war, and it should go without saying that I strongly oppose the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. The United States and our allies should be doing everything we can to stop another disastrous war and pursue all possible diplomatic avenues to resolve this crisis peacefully."

The congresswoman, who was born in Somalia, also referenced her own experience with conflict:

As someone who survived war, I know the devastating consequences of military conflict and the impact it has on millions of lives and entire societies. The bottom line is an invasion would have devastating consequences for both Ukrainian and Russian civilians, who will bear the brunt of this military escalation. We have already seen the devastating consequences of this conflict by the loss of 14,000 Ukrainian lives as a result of Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea and territories in Donbas, and displacement of millions of people who were forced to leave their homes because of the fighting. This conflict has already shattered families and created generational harm, which will only worsen with new military escalation. I am under no illusions about the horrors an invasion will unleash, or that it is Russia that is responsible for bringing us to the brink.

"I am committed to doing everything I can to support diplomacy and peace on behalf of my constituents, especially Ukrainian Americans and those with families in Ukraine," Omar stressed, "but I cannot in good conscience support a bill that places militarism and economic warfare over the urgent needs of both Ukrainian and Russian civilians."

"The foreign policy establishment has been drawing on the same tired playbook for generations, with very little success," she said. "We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results."

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Along with announcing her intention to vote against Democrats' package, Omar pointed out that Senate Republicans reportedly want to go even further.

"It is very likely that what will actually be in front of us for a vote will include some of these drastic and dangerous arms sales and sanctions implemented immediately," she said, "removing any possibility of deterrent and giving away crucial leverage our diplomats should be using to secure a peaceful resolution."

According to Omar, "Instead of spending $500 million on weapons, we should be centering civilian needs with refugee and humanitarian assistance."

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