In a statement that swiftly drew criticism from across the Democratic Party, the Democratic Socialists of America condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and called on the United States ''to withdraw from NATO and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict.''
Four House Democrats are avowed members of the DSA: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, both of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., considers himself a democratic socialist and was endorsed by the group in his campaign.
In the New York City area, where the DSA's largest chapter holds considerable political sway, it has also created a complicated dynamic for politicians associated with the group.
In New York's 16th Congressional District, a refugee from Kosovo is making foreign policy a key element of his primary challenge of Bowman, a former Yonkers middle school principal whose ascent to Congress was supported by the DSA.
''We're refugees from Kosovo, a country where me and my family had to flee because of ethnic cleansing and were saved, frankly, by U.S. and NATO intervention there,'' Vedat Gashi, a Democrat challenging Bowman, told The New York Times last week. ''Blaming Ukraine and NATO for the escalation of this Russian invasion of Ukraine is to me, at the very best case, naïve and certainly wrong.''
The DSA argues that NATO pushes for a militarized response to conflict at the expense of diplomacy, and in Ukraine's case, many DSA members say that the U.S. provoked Russia by encouraging NATO's eastward expansion.
The DSA also says that economic sanctions often victimize working people.
''There is a longstanding tradition with the U.S. left as well as in Europe that NATO has played a role, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in emphasizing militarized solutions when diplomacy could lead to more long-term stability,'' said Ashik Siddique, a member of the DSA's National Political Committee ''It feels a little bit absurd for people to be acting like it's a political crime to criticize NATO.''
The Times reported that Gashi called on Bowman to renounce the DSA position.
In a statement from Feb. 23, Bowman said, ''I support NATO and will continue to do so during this crisis.''
Bowman's office told the Times last week that the congressman called more than a dozen Ukrainian immigrants from his district who have written him letters, and he also joined the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and crafted a bipartisan letter asking President Joe Biden to let vulnerable Ukrainians enter the country without a visa.
Drisana Hughes, the former campaign manager for India Walton, the DSA-backed candidate for mayor of Buffalo, New York, said Ukrainians are not the only constituents DSA-affiliated politicians need to think about.
''I don't think it's just Ukrainian constituents; I think it's Polish constituents, Finnish constituents,'' Hughes said. ''It's a lot of countries that are sensitive to Russian aggression and anyone concerned about the future of Europe in particular.''
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