Photo: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images
the national interest

The House GOP Has a Pro-Russian-War-Crimes Caucus

The six hard-core Putin stans.

Photo: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images

Sixty-three House Republicans voted earlier this week against a resolution expressing support for NATO. That might sound extreme, but a subsequent vote last night exposed a smaller and even more hard-core faction: Six Republicans voted against a bill simply calling on the president to document evidence of Russian war crimes.

This bill does not commit the United States to war with Russia over its war crimes. It does not propose any retaliatory sanctions. It merely requires a report. That even this modest step goes too far reveals the full extent of the far right’s functional support for Russian atrocities.

Before the war, Russia commanded widespread admiration on the American right. Donald Trump repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin as a “strong” leader, social conservatives praised his advocacy of Christian values, and even traditional Republican hawks like Ted Cruz expressed envy for the manly appearance of the Russian army in contrast to the “woke, emasculated” U.S. military.

The war has, at least temporarily, tamped down open expressions of Russophilia. But the sentiment has instead been channeled into anti-anti-Russian rhetoric. Rather than openly endorsing Putin’s war aims, they focus their criticism on Putin’s targets: NATO, military aid for Ukraine, or the legitimacy of Ukraine’s government itself. Some right-wingers, most notably Tucker Carlson, have spread Russian propaganda about Ukrainian biolabs as a supposed weapons threat.

The deeper source of their animus against Ukraine is the fact the war has brought to the surface a conflict between authoritarianism and democracy. Putin’s goals in destroying Ukrainian sovereignty include destroying a democratic government on his border that might create a counterexample his own people can look to. The invasion has spurred an upsurge in pro-democracy sentiment in the West.

Representative Warren Davidson, an Ohio Republican, cited that very idea this week as the reason he opposed the pro-NATO resolution. His objection, he explained, was to the parts of the resolution highlighting the alliance’s commitment to “democratic principles” and strengthening “democratic institutions.”

This provision would “use NATO to interfere in one another’s domestic politics,” he complained. But Davidson seems to have deeper objections to the resistance to Putin. He has also voted against the war-crimes report, joining Representatives Tom Massie, Scott Perry, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andy Biggs, and Paul Gosar.

The anti-anti-Russia wing has multiple justifications for its stance. Will Saletan chronicles the arguments, which range from disdain for “socialist” allies to fear of escalation to an association between Ukraine and Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. What connects these disparate beliefs is an animus — sympathy for Russia and contempt for its victims — rather than a coherent agenda.

The war-crimes report is an issue that effectively strips away all those pretexts and reduces the question to a simple desire to record Russian atrocities. The refusal to accept even this step shows how deep the far right’s resentment of the resistance to Putin runs. They don’t merely oppose any steps to contain Russia’s war of aggression. They oppose even stating the truth about it.

More From This Series

See All
The House GOP Has a Pro-Russian-War-Crimes Caucus