Once in NATO, Ukraine will repay the free world by continuing to defend the gates of Europe
Oct 18, 2022
Ukraine is not new. As University of Toronto history Prof. Paul Robert Magocsi recently demonstrated in an incisive essay, titled “Ukraina Redux,” Ukrainians have attempted to forge a state of their own over several centuries. Yet their struggle for statehood has been repeatedly thwarted by its predacious, indeed rapacious, neighbours. This first happened in the 17th century, then several times in the 20th. And it’s happening again.
Despite this undeniable historical record, Ukrainians have often been told they don’t exist, have never existed and, more alarmingly, should not exist. Naysayers have sometimes insisted that Ukraine was nothing more than an imperial German construct, created during the First World War to undermine the Tsarist Russian Empire.
Others claim Ukraine was Vladimir Lenin’s project or maybe wasn’t even truly around until Joseph Stalin crafted it in the wake of the Second World War. Confusingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the KGB man in the Kremlin, claimed he “respects” Ukrainians, even as his legions deliberately target Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure.
This is the same fellow who, not long ago, spouted off about how the Ukrainian state has no raison d’être since Ukrainians are nothing more than misguided “little Russians.” After delivering that epistle, Putin assigned himself the duty of dragging them back into Russia’s orbit, with the goal of turning Ukraine into a vassal state.
Meanwhile, many western pundits blathered on about how eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speaking inhabitants were Moscow-oriented and not at all patriotically Ukrainian. Reality, however, has demonstrated otherwise. What many predicted would be a short war has become a Ukrainian war of independence. Those of Putin’s ilk who didn’t think Ukraine exists now know better.
Ukraine returned to its rightful place in Europe with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Soon thereafter, trusting in what they believed were the guarantees of the United States, United Kingdom and, yes, even the Russian Federation, Ukrainian leaders gave up their nuclear arsenal, assuming it would ensure their country’s territorial integrity and political independence.
At the time, I tried to warn them about their naivete but they didn’t listen. The 1994 Budapest memorandum has since proven to be a guarantee of nothing at all. If Ukraine had retained even a few tactical nukes, Moscow would not have been so cocksure in planning its genocidal war of aggression against Ukraine, nor would Putin today be trying to bully the world by threatening Armageddon. Meanwhile, countries like North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, India, and perhaps even Iran, have been reminded of why disarmament is for dummies.
Ever since the Soviet empire crumbled, many countries once described as the “captive nations” of the U.S.S.R. have voluntarily joined the European Union and NATO. This was not the result of some nefarious geopolitical conspiracy, nor did this growth represent any kind of existential threat to the Russian Federation.
What actually happened was that the East came West, quite willingly, indeed anxiously, doing whatever was necessary to escape the clutches of the Kremlin. Doubt me? Just ask a Pole or an Estonian whether they miss the “good old days” of Soviet domination. Then question a Georgian about whether her country should join NATO (the answer will almost certainly be “yes”).
In June, Ukrainians celebrated the good news that their country had been accepted as an EU member candidate. Haven’t Ukrainian sacrifices since then also earned them a place in NATO? That is what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said recently, when Ukraine applied for a fast-tracked NATO membership.
Thankfully, several NATO member countries, including Canada, have expressed support. As for Russian sensitivities on this issue, they should be ignored. Moscow shouldn’t have a say about what Kyiv does, because Ukrainians aren’t Russians — never were, never will be — and have every right to decide their own fate.
Once in NATO, they will repay the free world by continuing to defend the gates of Europe, a battle-tested bulwark blunting the designs of a rogue Russian state that will itself remain beyond the pale of civilization for years to come. Unless, of course, the Russians have a real revolution and rid themselves of those who led them into perdition. If that ever happens, Russia might still be redeemed. But I’m not hopeful.
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada and enjoys the distinction of having been declared persona non grata by the Russian Federation.