This weekend marked the first anniversary of the ousting of former Ukrainian president and Putin’s talking doll, Viktor Yanukovych.
In the year since he fled, Russian President Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea, and funneled Russian Special Forces and advanced weaponry into East Ukraine.
It is these same Russia-supported proxy fighters who shot down a civilian airliner with nearly 300 people onboard. It is these same terrorists who have taken the lives of some 5,500 Ukrainians.
We are long passed the point of pathetic euphemistic language like ‘conflict’, or ‘civil strife’, or ‘separatist uprisings’. Let’s stop beating around the bush. This is a war of aggression. It’s that simple. Vladimir Putin has invaded a sovereign state. His lies to the contrary should be called out as such.
Tragically, in response to this shredding of peace, all we have seen from President Obama and other Western leaders has been a handful of visa bans and asset freezes on a few top Russians. Yes, the ruble (Russia’s currency) got hammered this year, but that was largely due to falling oil prices. Moreover, and this is the key point, Russia’s recession hasn’t exactly thwarted Putin’s ambitions to advance deeper. As I write, Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from the geographically strategic town of Debaltseve. Putin now controls the arterial highways in south-eastern Ukraine.
What’s most absurd about all of this is that the withdrawal comes hot on the heels of the so-called Minsk II ceasefire agreement. Given that the first Minsk agreement signed in September 2014 failed almost immediately, it is curious why anyone thought this latest diplomacy would succeed. And of course, there are other reasons we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Merkel and our perpetually two-faced ally, France, continue to suckle on the Russian gas teat. Why has the European Union continued to reject broad-based economic sanctions on Russia? Because they are afraid of harming their own economies and are prepared to sell out Ukraine. Like the mafia state it is, Russia has bought Western Europe.
This is a tragedy. Ukraine’s future should be up to the Ukrainian people. They certainly believe this – which is why, against all odds and with such little foreign support, they’re resisting the Russian bear. And we better remember something else: those brave Ukrainians are fighting not only for their own freedom, but for the ideals of Europe.
To be sure, I recognize and respect the reservations put forth by top NATO commander Philip Breedlove with respect to arming Ukraine’s military. General Breedlove and others fear that doing so would trigger a more strident reaction from Putin. But I’m also deeply concerned about the message we’re sending by our absence. If we let Putin get away with what he’s doing now, if we treat political sovereignty as something that exists only in rhetoric, then no one is safe. Who is next? The tiny Baltic states? Poland? After all, Russia’s foreign ministry has maintained that Moscow will do everything it takes to “defend the rights and interests of Russians living in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.” The language is eerily reminiscent of Putin’s rhetoric prior to the Crimean invasion.
I’m not suggesting NATO intervene militarily in Ukraine, but the people of that nation deserve our help to defend themselves with arms. By ignoring them, we’re undercutting the promises we once made to aid Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum. That memorandum, signed in 1994, agreed that Ukraine’s decision to surrender its nuclear weapons meant it deserved Western security support.
We need to wake up.
Eastern Europeans recognize the threat. Those who lived behind the Iron Curtain don’t want to go back in time. But far too many Western Europeans think they can live comfortably and that geographic space alone will protect them.
While the Berlin Wall might have fallen and the Soviet Union rightfully lies in the ash heap of history, it’s now abundantly clear that Emperor Vladimir is unwilling to respect Eastern Europe’s freedom. We can’t sit idle in the face of this repugnancy.
Let’s arm Ukraine and put an end to the notion that Putin can trample human freedom and find it funny (see here).