My thoughts on war in Ukraine

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Owen Billcliffe
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Published on 24 February 2022

As Russian troops are crossing the border into sovereign and peaceful Ukraine, as border posts and military installations all throughout the country are coming under attack, war has returned to Europe. 

Early reports of casualties remind us, just like in 2014, that this is no longer an exercise in diplomatic posturing and sabre-rattling. Right now, Ukrainians and Russians are dying - brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. They are paying the price for the ambitions of an authoritarian ruler who is callous and calculating about the damage he is inflicting on Ukraine, but also seems woefully unaware of the impact of his actions on Russia and the Russian people. He and his inner circle should know that this invasion will not solidify Russian control over Ukraine. It may well weaken Putin’s hold on power.

To be perfectly clear, this war is Putin’s war, and his choice alone. It’s a unilateral, unprovoked act of aggression that must not only be condemned in the strongest terms, but met with the strongest of responses. The full range of sanctions must be imposed, and Ukraine deserves the full support of the global community.

Much has been written about the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which led Ukraine to give up its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal in exchange for Russia’s guarantee of its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Putin’s disdain and disregard for the Memorandum have been plain to see. But if international agreements are to have any meaning, if the universal rule of law is worth aspiring to, all of us must stand up and confront this threat. Peace and prosperity cannot exist without cooperation and commitments. The alternative is Putin’s world – a corrupt dystopia benefitting the few, built on coercive control, on constant fear, and injustice. 

I feel for the millions of Ukrainians now having to live under the threat of imminent attacks. I feel for those who have already lost loved ones in the early hours of this invasion. Just two days ago, I spoke to Ukrainian President Zelensky about the situation in his country, and he raised the idea of a peace concert, to build bridges and bring people together. Instead, he and his country are under attack.

But I also wonder how ordinary Russians, people young and old, trying to get by and live their lives in peace and dignity, feel about the situation Putin has placed them in. Between Kaliningrad and Vladivostok, between Moscow and Omsk, people must watch this crisis unfold with a mixture of anxiety and fear. They stand nothing to gain from Putin’s aggression, but are at real risk of losing even more than they already lost when their country’s riches were carved up by those in power.

It doesn’t take much for people to realise when they’ve been taken for a ride, and once Russian casualties start to mount, once crippling sanctions hit the Russian economy, the wonderful and resilient Russian people may realise that they deserve better, if they haven’t known that already. However, Putin may not be defeated by sanctions alone. That can only be achieved by the people.

As many have pointed out, the West does of course have its own history of unjustified wars. But this is not the moment for whataboutism. Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is the moment for all of us to call for an end to the aggression and the bloodshed, to stand up for freedom and self-determination, for sovereignty and independence, and against the spectre of totalitarianism once again rearing its ugly head over Europe and the world.