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Sun, 14 August 2022
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Ukraine: the painful path that must be taken

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by Anna Yavorska

Since the Revolution of Dignity* eight years ago, my country and all its people embarked on a historic journey. Those who subsequently visited Ukraine noticed how modern, curious and creative it had rapidly become. EU officials were at pains to mention that Ukraine was reforming faster in those years than at any time since its independence in 1991, even while being under attack from Russia. Ukraine continues to change in its people’s mindset: devotion to values, sharper focus on priorities, need for reforms and vision of our European future. The higher the price, the faster are our transformations.

However, we can’t keep waiting for tragedies to make things right. 

In order to face future challenges we have to learn from mistakes. One of the important lessons is to see and recognise things as they are, namely Russia and the Putin regime: it is crucial for shaping and adjusting effective policies. 

How could, for years, the West call a country supporting and engaging in terrorist activities “a partner in antiterrorist measures?” All the while this country was launching cyber attacks on its partners, knowingly targeting civilians and vulnerable groups in order to cause human suffering and exacerbate the refugee crisis in the EU? 

Several years ago someone asked me what format of negotiations was more effective – Normandy format, or Minsk – or perhaps something else. I was frankly surprised because for Ukrainians it soon became pretty clear that no matter what the format, Russia was not interested in a peace deal. We lost precious time and human lives because some kept pushing wishful thinking instead of hard policy. 

Let’s take Nord Stream 2 as an example. It nearly took off. It was mostly seen as a Ukrainian problem. Did Russia really have to  invade the whole of Ukraine for decision makers to see clearly that the EU must get back on track on its core energy security objectives? Did it take this catastrophe to underwrite the need for diversification of resources and sources, initiating REPower EU and boosting greener solutions?

It is also important to call things as they are. Calling a flood a leak? Not Climate change or global warming, but climate emergency. Not conflict in Ukraine or invasion, but genocide. Words really matter in shaping our adequate and timely response to various crises. 

We are aware that some Member States are still hesitant about supporting Ukraine’s defence capabilities. Perhaps with time, some might hint that Kyiv must sacrifice some of Ukraine’s land for peace. Let us not forget that the occupied territories are not a subject for political bargaining talk. They are places of inhuman war crimes, destruction, spread of epidemic disease and ecological disasters.

Furthermore, any advance of the Russian army towards our nuclear stations could cause a Europe-wide catastrophe. Russia’s war has a direct impact on Europe- and the Kremlin knows it. We are being attacked together, and the response has to be common.

We have to admit that the Russian world is not just Putin and his cronies. 

Facing this fact will be crucial for our unity and common security. Russians have bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol, a major rail evacuation hub in Kramatorsk and a shopping mall in Kremenchuk and a bombing of Odesa after agreeing to allow exports, to name but a few. It’s the same old story as in Syria and elsewhere. 

According to the Levada Centre, Putin’s popularity soared to 83% after the beginning of the ‘special military operation’. Granted, the public information space has been muzzled in Russia and the propagandists on the official channels were spreading false narratives about, among other, denazification and demilitarisation. These narratives, however, fell on fertile ground. 

The phone conversations between Russian soldiers and their relatives intercepted by the Security Service of Ukraine are revealing. Many people clearly support the invasion. Moreover, a lot of our personal efforts to reach out to our relatives and friends in Russia fall on deaf ears. In Ukraine we speak a lot about Russians’ collective responsibility for this brutal war. Ignorance of people in Russia also played a crucial part.

We have to see clearly what Russia is doing. While Europe is meticulously recycling everything from plastic top bottles to apple peels, Russia is causing massive destruction in Ukraine, wasting billions of foreign investments, destroying our crops, causing a huge blow to our sustainability plans. Russia, aware of the climate emergency in the 21 century, is investing in missiles instead of research and development funds. A question comes to mind: Does Russia have a real vision for the future? Is it really just a war against Ukraine, or should we call it a crime against humanity? Or both?

Those biggest supporters of a dialogue with Russia and softer sanctions for “Russian people’s sake” are simply hypocrites. Quoting the Russian occupants raiding and looting Ukrainian villages, they say that “cows in Ukraine live better than people in Russia”. So whom are we really fooling when we hear calls for business as usual? 

I understand it is very tricky to calculate how to respond to Russian aggression even for the most sober partners. But if Europe, including Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia puts democratic and human values in the core of their policies and responses, it will immediately become more clear. Decisions through unity will become faster, more flexible, creative and offer more real security to citizens. 

Indeed, people need reminders to say “Never again” and really mean it. Ukraine became such a reminder in the 21 century. Ukraine is paying the price to keep that memory alive so the next European generations are on track to preserve this world and humanity.

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  • Anna Yavorska is a geopolitical consultant and was a key speaker at the AEJ ‘Life afer Ukraine’ conference in Brussels.

The Revolution of Dignity also known as the Euro-Maidan Revolution, took place in Ukraine in February 2014 at the end of the Euromaidan protests, when deadly clashes between protesters and the security forces in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv culminated in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the reload of the Ukrainian political system.

This followed the Euromaidan protests erupting in November 2013 in response to President Yanukovych’s sudden decision not to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. In February of that year, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) had overwhelmingly approved finalizing the agreement with the EU. Russia had put pressure on Ukraine to reject it. These protests continued for months; their scope widened, with calls for the resignation of Yanukovych and the Azarov Government. Protesters opposed what they saw as widespread government corruption and abuse of power, the influence of oligarchs, police brutality, and violation of human rights in Ukraine. Repressive anti-protest laws fuelled further anger. A large, barricaded protest camp occupied Independence Square in central Kyiv throughout the ‘Maidan Uprising’.

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