EXCLUSIVE: Koch group says U.S. should deliver partial "victory" to Russia in Ukraine
In an internal email obtained exclusively by Popular Information, Stand Together, the influential non-profit group run by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, argues that the United States should seek to deliver a partial "victory" to Russia in Ukraine.
The email was sent to Stand Together staff by Dan Caldwell, the group's Vice President of Foreign Policy, on March 16. The subject line was "An Update on Ukraine."
The email opens with a boilerplate denunciation of the Russian invasion. "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is immoral, unjustified, and should be immediately halted," Caldwell writes. "In addition, the regime of Vladmir [sic] Putin is authoritarian and has inhibited the Russian people from enjoying the benefits of a free and open society."
But it quickly pivots to a broad rebuke of the international efforts to sanction the Russian government and assist the Ukrainian resistance. Caldwell writes that "overly-broad sanctions rarely work as intended and often strengthen the authoritarian regimes." Therefore, Stand Together only supports "aggressive and targeted sanctions against Russian leaders."
Practically, this means that Stand Together supports unilaterally abandoning nearly all of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia since the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Anything else, Caldwell argues, risks escalation "into a larger conflict between a nuclear-armed Russia and the United States."
Caldwell then argues that the United States should seek to deliver Russia a partial "victory" as part of a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.
Daniel Fried, a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Popular Information that the policy outlined in Caldwell's email was deeply misguided. Fried had a 40-year career in the Foreign Service, including stints as the top American diplomat in Europe and the U.S. Ambassador to Poland. He was the State Department Coordinator for Sanctions Policy after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.
"The policy recommended in this unfortunate e-mail would essentially cede victory to Vladimir Putin in Ukraine," Fried said. "The argument that sanctions don’t work is wrong. They are already working to damage Russia’s economy and reduce Putin’s resources for further aggression. Sanctions need to be increased. Our objective should be [to] help Ukraine defend itself, a realistic goal, and thus defeat Putin’s war of aggression. We should not talk ourselves into accepting Putin’s victory under the false premise that resisting Putin is futile or risks escalation."
Brian Katulis, a DC-based foreign policy expert and the co-author of The Liberal Patriot, was also critical. Caldwell's email "naively proposes steps that would actually make it harder to achieve a diplomatic resolution," Katulis said. "It's easy to see how the Kremlin would be encouraged by voices like this."
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Koch non-profit promotes Koch Industries' decision to continue operating in Russia
Koch Industries, as Popular Information first reported, is one of a small group of American companies maintaining operations in Russia. While hundreds of companies have withdrawn or curtailed their business in Russia, Koch Industries continues to operate through at least three subsidiaries, including Guardian Glass, which operates several major plants in Russia.
The same day that Caldwell sent his email about Ukraine to the staff of Stand Together, Koch Industries publicly defended its decision to continue doing business in Russia, claiming that leaving would "do more harm than good."
Caldwell's email linked to Koch Industries' statement and encouraged Stand Together staff to read it.
Caldwell's decision to link Stand Together's work with Koch Industries could be problematic. Stand Together is a non-profit and, as a result, receives tax benefits from the federal government. Specifically, any money donated to Stand Together by Charles Koch (or others) is tax-deductible, and Stand Together itself does not have to pay income taxes. But, as a result, Stand Together's resources cannot legally be deployed for the specific benefit of Koch Industries.
Caldwell and Stand Together did not respond to requests for comment.
Broader Koch network opposing economic sanctions in Russia
Popular Information previously reported that groups supported by Charles Koch were publicly opposing economic sanctions. Will Ruger, for example, spent "eight years as Vice President for Research and Policy at the Charles Koch Institute, and Vice President for Foreign Policy at Stand Together." In January 2022, Ruger became the president of the Koch-funded American Institute for Economic Research. In that role, Ruger has been a leading voice against imposing economic sanctions against Russia or doing anything to deter Russian aggression.
"The United States can and should do very little for Ukraine," Ruger said. "Ukraine simply doesn't matter to America's security or our prosperity."
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a group started with millions in funding from Koch groups, has staked out a similar position. CVA is now advertising a letter that urges “Officials” to “exercise and encourage restraint as America responds to Russia’s immoral invasion of Ukraine.” The letter goes on to say, “The United States has no vital interests at stake in Ukraine … I urge you to do everything in your power to foster diplomacy and peace.” Caldwell is CVA’s former executive director and current senior advisor.