By Bohdan Nahaylo.
These are horrific days for Ukraine as it experiences the wrath of Russia’s unquenchable appetite for conquest, blood and empire – a terrible spectacle not seen in Europe since the apocalyptic scenes created by Nazi Germany.
But these are also days of shame and reckoning for those who could and should have prevented this dastardly blow in the face of the entire free world by the latter-day Hitler and his fascist Russian imperialistic Reich.
Let’s be brutally honest – the Merkels, Macrons, Trumps and others acted as modern Chamberlains and Daladiers, appeasing Putin in the same naïve, or was it self-serving, way as their predecessors wanted to placate the Nazi Fuhrer in the late 1930s. They did so, at the very time Hitler was becoming a danger to peace and freedom on the European continent.
Their myopic slogan of “Peace in our time” was replaced by today’s sellouts to Russian incipient fascists and seasoned kleptocrats with the implicit German-French mantra of “Business uber alles.” Instead of resoluteness, action and leadership, there was lip service to the principles on which the European community of free nations was supposed to be based.
Hopefully, Frau Merkel, and the numerous “Putin verstehen” types, will be tormented for years to come by the images of the carnage and destruction their “Liebe Vladimir,” emboldened by their indulgence, has wrought on Ukraine, and realize how wrong they got it.
And Monsieur Macron, who is already probably smarting that “cher Vladimir” has made such a fool of him, though he still keeps humiliating himself with his persistent futile calls to the Russian psychopath.
Do those who played up to the monster in Kremlin, who no longer hesitates to threaten the world with his nuclear arsenal (China, India, Venezuela – are you also listening?), realize where it’s got us?
Their reluctance even after 2014 to accept Ukraine into the EU, let alone NATO, or to even allow Ukrainians to obtain defensive weapons from them or their European partners, made of them, to use the Kremlin’s language, “fellow-travelers” and “useful idiots” – unwitting accomplices in the predatory schemes Putin was hatching.
They were not even prepared to call the Kremlin an aggressor in Ukraine’s Donbas, preferring to accept its narrative that it, like them, Russia was a peacemaker, and not at war with Ukraine.
Their stance made nonsense of the Minsk accords and so-called Normandy process that they promoted as the only way forward. For years they went along with Russia on a duplicitous road that led to nowhere – or, as we now realize, lead to hell.
Yes, while Ukraine counts its dead and rebuilds, they will have time to reflect on this. But no amount of money for reconstruction will erase their culpability for what has occurred.
They did not listen to the warnings and pleas from other eastern and central European states, members of the EU and NATO at that. They were pathetically slow to respond when the Belarusian tyrant Lukashenko brutally repressed his people.
Instead, it remained so important for them not to damage the special relationship with the subversive anti-Western killer in the Kremlin even as he was eliminating his opponents on their territory or launching cyber-attacks against them.
And of course, they wanted to ensure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would become their new economic and political umbilical cord connecting their countries forever to the Eurasian despotic Reich.
And what about the institutions and mechanisms that were supposed to have prevented Putin’s bloody sabbath in Ukraine from ever happening?
Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine confirmed the ineffectiveness of international so-called peace keeping and peacemaking institutions. Even of the defensive alliance – NATO – setting as its goal deterring others in its neighborhood from aggression, and even more obviously the well-sounding, but utterly lame, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – OSCE.
And here we are in the second month of Russia’s barbaric attack on Ukraine, characterized by its indiscriminate attacks on cities throughout the country, total disregard for international law, human rights, for the UN statute, OSCE principles and, indeed, the norms of civilized international behavior.
Yes, considerable sympathy has been expressed for the Ukrainian victims – the countless civilians killed injured and displaced by Russia’s Hitler-like offensive in total disregard of international norms, respect for the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And millions of Ukrainian refugees given temporary asylum.
But, once again we have seen the total impotence, if not irrelevance, of the United Nations as an institution founded to prevent war and maintain peace.
Yes, it is consoling to see that the UN General Assembly can still be used as a forum in which the aggressor can be roundly condemned by a majority of states – in Russia’s case by around 140 of them. But the obsolete monopolistic role granted to the members of the Security Council and their veto prerogative has again highlighted the sham nature of the institution and what it was originally established to do.
In 2022 the UN has again been an abject failure in preventing war, in this case on the European continent and stopping the Russian aggressor. We are left to watch as an aggressor Security Council member, Russia, supported by China – blatantly exploit their prerogatives and cynically shun the issue of the conflict of interest to trample on the very principles of the UN they are supposed to uphold.
Even the toothless League of Nations showed more of a backbone when, very late in the day, in December 1939, it expelled the USSR in response to the Soviet invasion of Finland.
And the OSCE? The institution founded in 1975 as a compromise between the Communist bloc headed by Moscow and the West, when the Kremlin was ready to make symbolic concessions in order to secure a recognition of the post-World War II status quo following on from the infamous Yalta agreement of 1945.
Where is the security and cooperation this updated “platform” for diplomatic interaction was supposed to bring? Again, the vetoes and influence of Moscow and its allies have made themselves felt and we are left with what?
We know that the OSCE’s monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine from 2014 onwards had a very limited mandate. The information on Russia’s war there and occupation of Ukrainian territory was heavily doctored for diplomatic purposes. Was the monitoring mission worth the costs and trust involved, for how just how seriously was it taken by Russia and its proxies?
And to the Red Cross too – the ICRC – the same question. Its record in Ukraine during recent days has raised many issues about its proclaimed neutrality and claims of being an effective humanitarian actor. Its role, too, is in dire need of serious examination which needs to be carried out before its coffers are filled with millions of dollars from well-meaning donors.
At this critical moment, we should consider very seriously where we have arrived, what awaits us, and what needs to be done. For this war is not just about Ukraine and the future of Europe.
Yes, Putin’s attempt to destroy Ukraine is a heinous crime for which Russia will be cursed for ever after and hopefully made to pay. We can only hope that it leads not only to “regime change” in Moscow, but also in a fundamental shift in the Russian mindset.
Putin’s regime has indeed invoked parallels with the Nazi German precedent – but it has also exposed weaknesses and gaps in the international order based on the proclaimed principles of peace, justice and tolerance. The hollowness and rottenness of the relevant institutions have been painfully exposed.
Therefore, it is time to draw proper conclusions. Do we continue to pretend that we do not see these failings and challenges and simply hope this particular huge storm will blow over – albeit at Ukraine’s expense – and life will go on much as before?
Or do we have the courage to see that we have got ourselves into a frightening mess – that complacency, duplicity and cynicism are a recipe not for recovery, but more setbacks and, ultimately, disasters?
There is a silver lining. There are signs that Berlin, Paris and others, along with Washington, London, Warsaw, Vilnius and those who grasped earlier on what Putin’s regime represented, have now finally also understood the error of their ways and what is at stake.
But meanwhile – SOS from Ukraine! It needs weapons, not words!