By Victor Rud
May 25, 2022
Western support for Ukraine is fraying. A “diplomatic solution,” a “negotiated settlement,” Putin has “no way out,” he needs an “off ramp” — all are becoming de rigueur. French President Macron warned that there be no “humiliation” of Russia, and that Ukraine should cede its sovereignty so Putin can “save face.” True to form, Germany and Italy are bending the knee, and too many countries choke when it comes to clearly supporting Ukraine’s recovery of its sovereignty.
Last week, The New York Times published an editorial entitled “The War in Ukraine is Getting Complicated and America Isn’t Ready.” It begins unambiguously enough, citing its earlier March stance—that “No matter how long it takes, Ukraine will be free.. . . the United States must lead.” This is also reaffirmed in the editorial — “That goal cannot shift.”
The unambiguous however promptly becomes the opposite. In the very next sentence, US aims have become “harder to discern.” Evidently, the complication is due to Kyiv’s resolute defense– “Ukraine is close to pushing Russia back to its positions before the invasion. But that is a dangerous assumption.” The NYT isn’t even talking of Ukraine recovering it’s pre 2014 territory but ceding even more territory. “Regaining all the territory Russia seized since 2014 is not a realistic goal.” (What happened to “Ukraine will be free . . . that goal cannot shift?”) The US must reconsider the purpose of its aid, and Ukraine “will have to make the painful territorial decision that any compromise will demand.”
The article reiterated the need to demonstrate that NATO is “willing and able to resist” but argued the need for Ukraine (and the U.S.) to appease. Fortunately, we are assured, this is “not appeasement.” It’s “confronting reality.” At Davos, Henry Kissinger transmogrified appeasement into a virtue: “I hope the Ukrainians will match the heroism they have shown with wisdom.”
For eight years, we were “confronting reality” as we intoned the “rules-based international order” while simultaneously embracing the Minsk Accords, dictated by Russia at the start of the war. The democratic West joined with Putin in seeking to impose on Ukraine, the victim, restrictions and denial of its sovereignty that that “order” instead imposes on Russia, the aggressor. We simply defenestrated the global sacrifices of WWII in a prayerful quest for “predictability and stability.” But that was only achievable by the very “order” that Minsk negated. Ours was the ultimate reality reversal.
Washington’s goal of “management” for “predictability and stability” became the springboard for Putin’s expanded thrust into Ukraine. Before the Geneva Summit last year, President Biden called Putin a killer but then phoned to “explain,” formally accepted “Minsk,” quashed sanctions on NS2, canceled naval deployment into the Black Sea, withheld news of a successful
hypersonic missile test, and withheld further arming Ukraine for fear of “escalation.” NATO foreswore involvement in Ukraine.
It didn’t work. Belatedly, though fortunately, the US and Europe saw the light. After first standing firm, The New York Times is now however retreating. The editorial missed the essence.
First. Russia hardly needs more territory. Only one of its sub-regions is the size of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, or larger than France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Greece, Sweden and North Korea. All of Ukraine is less than three per cent the size of the goliath.
To the extent territory is implicated, it’s to expunge both Ukrainian sovereignty and populace. Russia’s war against Ukraine is a “genocide handbook.” Ukraine simply does not exist, the name “Ukraine” even being redacted from Russian textbooks. The Russian Orthodox Church issued wallet cards to the Russian troops: “Your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the earth.” What is there to negotiate – the speed of national extinction? Israel’s late Prime Minister, Golda Meir (born in Kyiv), made the point— “They say we must be dead. And we say we want to be alive. Between life and death, I don’t know of a compromise.”
Second. We dare not reprise our strategic witlessness by pressuring the most savaged target of WWII into another “Minsk.”
The editorial appeared 10 days after Putin’s May 9 WWII “Victory Speech.” Reading the torrent of commentary on the subject you would not have learned that the “rules-based international order” borne of that cataclysm was primarily paid for not by Russia but, first and foremost, by Ukraine. Yale’s Timothy Snyder lectured the German Bundestag: “The purpose of the second World War, from Hitler’s point of view, was the conquest of Ukraine. The Ukrainians were to be the center of a project of colonization and enslavement. The idea was to create a slavery-driven, exterminatory regime in Eastern Europe with the center in Ukraine.”
For Hitler then, as for Putin now, Ukrainians simply didn’t exist. Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, commanded: “The word ‘Ukrainian’ is forbidden, now and for all time.” In the Nazi concentration camps, Ukrainians weren’t even identified as Ukrainians, but only as “Russians” or “Poles.” Little wonder that, as Snyder and Oxford’s Norman Davies have written, Ukraine suffered the greatest loss of humanity of any country in the world. Some 8-9 million Ukrainians were lost, in absolute terms more than 3 times greater than Russia. And with Russia’s population some 3 to 4 times larger than Ukraine’s, the proportionate number of Ukrainian deaths was mind-bending.
Third. More “negotiation,” more “agreements,” is hardly the point. Enforcement is. A dozen bi-lateral and multi-lateral “diplomatic solutions” guaranteeing national survival have already been struck by the world community. The first one is called the UN Charter. Dozens followed. What was WWII all about, after all? Yet that very same “world order” has failed to prevent or stop Russia’s eight-year war against Ukraine, a “fascist war of destruction” now intensified by Putin. What does that say about the West if it pushes Ukraine into a “diplomatic solution” with Russia, in the process interring that order deeper than “Minsk” ever could?
Fourth. Russia is warring against us as well. What is the meaning of Putin’s statement that Russia “launched a pre-emptive strike at the aggression from Ukraine, the USA and NATO”? Either we stand fully with the Ukrainians to redeem the “world order” forged in the crucible of WWII, or we do not. That means Ukraine recovers its freedom from Russian aggression, liberates all its territories (including maritime), recovers from Russia the full measure of reparations, and Russian war criminals are punished under international law.
The NYT editorial concludes: “America’s support for Ukraine is a test of its place in the world in the 21st century, and Mr. Biden has an opportunity and an obligation to help define what that will be.” It’s not complicated — “Never again.”