Jack Laurenson: Ukraine’s Friend & Foe of the Week
By Jack Laurenson.
Editor’s Note: This feature separates Ukraine’s friends from its enemies. The Order of Yaroslav the Wise has been given since 1995 for distinguished service to the nation. It is named after the Kyivan Rus leader from 1019-1054, when the medieval empire reached its zenith. The Order of Lenin was the highest decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union, whose demise Russian President Vladimir Putin mourns. It is named after Vladimir Lenin, whose corpse still rots on the Kremlin’s Red Square, more than 100 years after the October Revolution he led.
Ukraine’s Friend of the Week: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
We should start with the obvious this week.
The COVID-19 disease and the novel coronavirus that spreads it have presented themselves as an enemy — not only to Ukraine, but to all of humanity. We must stand together to beat it. We must stand together to survive.
This disgusting disease has already claimed at least 90,100 lives globally. Other economic and social costs will be counted for years to come. Experts are right to say it’s the most significant challenge we have faced together since the Second World War.
The doctors, emergency workers, scientists, medical staff and other selfless frontline public service workers that are protecting us and ensuring the continuation of our society are not only our friends — they are heroes.
They are not only deserving of our Order of Yaroslav the Wise, but a lifetime of rest and peace after this madness has passed.
The rubric of our Friend and Foe of the Week requires that we choose a person who has helped Ukraine, and another who has hurt the country this week. At a time like this, when we face such an unprecedented nonhuman existential threat, it seems almost silly, and we are tempted to bend the rules.
But we’re trying to keep calm and carry on, as much as it’s possible, and that means we will carry on trying to select individuals like this.
And against the backdrop of such an international crisis, there are plenty of people who will try to undermine democratic freedoms, exploit a crisis, and solidify their grip on totalitarian power.
For a foe this week we look at Tehran, and for a friend we look to London.
We will stand with democracy, and we will always stand with those who have stood with us.
All of Ukraine’s major Western allies in Europe and North America and their leaders are fighting this new, viral enemy. They are all tallying their losses and trying to understand how to move forward. Ukraine looks to these lessons and these examples and hopes that it will not encounter the same, ferocious battle.
Nonetheless, this country stands with its friends, and in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still hospitalized in intensive care as he fights through his third week of the COVID-19 disease.
At least 7,100 British people have died from the infection, while more than 60,000 have fought it. Italy, Spain and the United States have been hit even harder, but their leaders remain healthy.
Johnson is not a perfect man and not a perfect prime minister. Critics may say he should have reacted quicker to COVID-19, and that the National Health Service in the U.K. should have been better prepared. He will answer those questions when he has recovered.
But for now, we want to recognize that Johnson and his Conservative government have been consistently strong and supportive for Ukraine. As foreign secretary and later prime minister, he has been a strong investor in the country’s future and a vocal and defiant voice in the face of Russian aggression against Europe.
In November 2019, he sent his famous humor into battle and said: “Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he [Vladimir Putin] is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, Vladimir, but there are some countries where capitalism is believed to be in the hands of oligarchs and cronies, where journalists are shot, and where ‘liberal values’ are derided, and where according to the Russian statistics agency Rosstat, a third of the country cannot afford to buy more than two pairs of shoes per year; where 12% of the population still has to rely on an outdoor toilet, and where real incomes have declined for each of the past five years.”
He continued: “It is a matter of economic fact that, when Vladimir Putin says that liberalism is obsolete, he is talking the most tremendous tripe. Liberalism is alive. It is well. It is delivering prosperity on a scale unimaginable to previous generations.”
Johnson’s sharp tongue has won him enemies in the Kremlin and friends in Kyiv. Former lawmaker and co-chair of the U.K. friendship group in the Ukrainian Rada Alex Ryabchyn said: “I believe that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the current U.K. government are friends of Ukraine… he has helped Ukraine to become a stronger democratic state.”
Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister from 2014 to 2019, said: “We all wish him a quick recovery. He is genuine and great, always very supportive of Ukraine… he has real feelings and genuine sympathy for Ukraine. We need more like him.”
John Whittingdale, a cabinet minister and friend of Johnson with close ties to Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post: “The UK breathed a sigh of relief at the news that Boris Johnson is getting better. I know that he also appreciated the message from President Volodymyr Zelensky wishing him a speedy recovery. Britain needs his leadership now, more than ever – but Boris is also a proven friend of Ukraine and his Government will always support Ukraine against external aggression and in making its necessary reforms.”
Before the health challenges are even over, COVID-19 will present us with economic, political and social challenges too. It will threaten our democracies if we allow it. When our friends, our leaders, are struck down or threatened, we must stand together.
The U.K. can and should improve its friendship and alliance with Ukraine. But we have no doubt that Boris Johnson is a friend to the country and we wish him a full and speedy recovery as we award him the Order of Yaroslav the Wise.
Ukraine’s Foe of the Week: Iranian Member of Parliament Hassan Norouzi
COVID-19 is eclipsing other important news. One story that hides in the shadows of this spreading virus is Iran’s bungling (or cover up) of the investigation into the fatal downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which killed 176 passengers on January 8.
We already had little confidence in the Iranian regime’s ability to properly and transparently investigate this horrific incident.
As we approach the four-month mark after the tragedy, we are less confident than before in Iran’s ability to deliver justice and compensate the victims. Families are still waiting for news from the crash site, let alone compensation.
And Ukrainian officials are in the same boat. On April 6, Iranian MP Hassan Norouzi sparked confusion, pain and outrage when he inexcusably stated that his country’s “military forces carried out their duties well” when they shot down the Ukrainian passenger airliner in January, incinerating 176 civilians in the air over Tehran.
This is a stupid and unforgivable statement and Norouzi is a foe to Ukraine for saying this, especially now, amid the worsening and spreading COVID-19 crisis and its human cost. Where is his most basic human compassion?
The Ukrainian government says it expects immediate follow-up from Iran. Deputy Prime Minister Vadym Prystaiko wrote: “We expect an immediate explanation from Iran on this deplorable statement. It shows full disrespect for human lives. Dozens of families from Iran, Ukraine, Canada, Sweden, UK & Afghanistan lost their loved ones in the attack against defenseless civilian aircraft.”
So far it is not forthcoming, and we are not really sure what to expect from Tehran these days. It seems increasingly possible that COVID-19 is a convenient excuse to suspend what’s normal and to undermine or threaten what is objectively right.
Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) President Yevhen Dykhne told Interfax-Ukraine: “It is unpleasant to state that today we are facing a dead end with regard to the technical investigation which was conducted in Iran… they did not pass the flight data recorders to any laboratories, there are no reports on the completion of the investigation, as well as no information about successful intergovernmental agreements regarding payment of compensations by Iran.”
The passengers of UIA flight 752 will not get justice — they’re already dead. But it is Iran’s legal and moral responsibility to ensure that their families are compensated and can have peace. Until that happens we will hold the Iranian regime accountable, and we will remember if they fail to deliver.