John F. Hall Jr.Ukrainian servicemen rest near their military equipment inside a military camp in the Donetsk region, on August 29, 2014. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia on August 29 to halt its “illegal” military actions in Ukraine, accusing it of a “dangerous” attempt to destabilise its western neighbour. The conflict raging in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 2,600 people, the United Nations said on August 29, voicing concern about atrocities committed by armed groups and the increasing involvement of foreign fighters. AFP PHOTO / OLEKSANDR RATUSHNIAK © AFP
Russia has invaded Ukraine. Again. This time, it’s clear to everyone. The creative and patently absurd denials which we all have heard from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russia’s United Nations Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, regarding Russia’s support for the separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas, Russia’s complicity in the wholesale massacre of innocent civilians in the downing of MH-17, and now Russia’s undeniable invasion of Ukraine proper, all reside in the dustbin of credible international discourse. They are liars. They lie with impunity. The intrinsic deception of Russia’s leadership is both pathological and inalienable to them. They know no other way. But we believe that others know a different way.
We remain hopeful that other nations and their leaders still know how to lead with integrity. At least, we hope so. They just seem unwilling to lead now, when it matters most. Russia is not solely to blame for the awful, deepening crisis in Ukraine, of course. So are the United States, the European Union, Japan, NATO, and Ukraine, itself. Their collective response to Putin’s aggression has been too timid, too measured, and — obviously — too badly ineffective.
Today, only because of our collective ineptitudes, Putin’s army, his mercenaries, and his stooges in Ukraine advance, persist, and wreak havoc against any just and peaceful conclusion to his original, ill-considered gambit in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin threatened the security of Europe long ago, when he invaded Georgia six years ago, and then again when he stole Ukraine’s Crimea earlier this year, but the West sat on its hands in both instances and waited weeks before deciding upon even the most rudimentary, incremental, and limited sanctions, which have proven unsurprisingly ineffective. Putin has only solidified his Crimean and Georgian land-grabs during his reign.
What, after all, was the West’s response to Putin’s most recent conduct of a Duma session in Ukraine’s Crimea on Aug. 14? It was nothing. Not a peep.
Despite the increasingly-muted bleatings of the United States and others, the West has clearly now ceded Crimea and Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions to Russia, regardless of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s legal borders and their sovereignty. Just as there were no meaningful penalties imposed upon Russia for the annexation of Crimea, the July 17 downing of Malaysian flight MH 17, and the August invasion of Russian “humanitarian” convoys in Ukraine — which we all knew to be a diversionary tactic and a joke, there appears to be no true penalty in the offing for Russia’s most recent, boldfaced invasion of Ukraine . . . except for the penalty of death and deprivation suffered by those innocents in the path of Putin’s war-machine.
Putin’s troops have now opened a third front in Ukraine, with all of the trauma that reality implies.
For avoidance of doubt, it means that innocent Ukrainians and over-taxed Ukrainian soldiers are now fighting — face-to-face — a pure Russian enemy with advanced Russian weaponry to the rear, while concomitantly fighting Russian-sponsored terrorists with advanced Russian weaponry at the front.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Europe, Japan, Australia, and the United States — who always congratulate themselves as the guardians of peace and justice on the planet — do nothing. Not a damned thing. Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine is now being met with nothing more than condemnation and regret. What it should be met with is concerted action. Now.
Here is what the world’s pretenders to peace and justice need to do — and do now, if they hope to avoid the global conflict that is soon coming at Putin’s hand:
- Call-out lies as lies. Name wrong as wrong. Do not yield to the sophisticated Russian propaganda machinery that equates Russia’s invasion of its peaceful, non-threatening neighbors with the West’s proportional responses to the brutal acts of leaders and warlords in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan, which have serially threatened and exterminated their own populace, their neighbors, and innocents. Ukraine has never threatened either its own people or its neighbors. Russia, in contrast, invaded a peaceful neighbor that presented no threat to itself nor to anyone else. There’s a difference. Russia’s propagandistic comparisons would be laughable, except for the fact that so many more Ukrainian innocents are now dying at Putin’s hand. Call a lie a lie.
- Implement truly-meaningful, painful sanctions against Russia that also hurt the Allies’ own industries and financial institutions. The “painless” targeted sanctions by the United States, the EU, and Japan haven’t worked. Recognize that discomfiting fact, and move-on. Lead your nations in enduring truly-meaningful sanctions that DO work, including in the arms and financial sectors. Show true leadership, even when it hurts at home. That’s why you are leaders.
- Reduce Russia’s economy and its ability to wage war against its peaceful neighbors to ruin. Freeze Russia’s assets globally. Put Russia on the same international financial footing as North Korea. See how Putin and his oligarchs can deal with that, for once. This will be especially hard for the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and others, but it’s far better than what the future portends if Putin is successful in his current expansionist effort. If we believe that if we all just give Putin what he wants in Ukraine, he’ll be satiated, then we’re both mistaken and unaware of history. Tyrants are never satisfied. Tyrants must be disarmed and exposed. Do it.
- Russia’s out of the G-20. The Group of 20 is a collective of peaceful industrialized nations. Russia cannot now be counted among them. This is a no-brainier.
- Provide sufficient arms and training to the Ukrainian forces fighting an overwhelming Russian regular military. Do it now. This crucial aid was needed yesterday, but tomorrow will do. The Ukrainian army needs the very best equipment and training that the Free World can provide to it. That’s a lot to ask, but it’s overdue.
- Provide the vital financial support and guarantees to Ukraine that it needs, so that it can pay its bills while it gets its house in-order and fights an uneven war on two fronts. That’s also a lot to ask, but $5 billion in financial aid is cheaper than millions of lives sacrificed on the altar of freedom for a second time in a single generation.
- Publicize Putin’s corruption and the corruption of his oligarchs. As stated previously, tyrants must be exposed. Let the world know, through all media, of the rape of Russia’s economy by its leaders. Vladimir Putin’s fundamental need for holding-on to power is premised upon the uncomfortable truth that he and his cronies have amassed millions on the backs of Russia’s people, its industries, and its enterprises. It’s time that this fact was known, worldwide.
If Western leaders won’t do these things, and do them now, then they will face a much greater challenge in the future, one which will require the lives of tens of millions of their citizens to defeat. There is a choice now to be made among the leaders of the West and those who profess to champion democracy and freedom in the world:
Either suck it up now, name truths as truths and lies as lies, provide Ukraine with the arms that it requires to defend itself, and suffer the impacts of truly-meaningful sanctions that will undoubtedly reach home and require your strong leadership to weather, or . . . fight a devastating war with Russia that will claim at least 20 million of your constituents’ lives once Putin’s appetite for conquest to sustain his position reaches Europe and Asia proper, wrecking your economies and the lives of your constituents beyond your worst imagining, with the added risk of global catastrophe. Our leaders have the ability to shut-down this insanity — this still-stoppable grave injustice — now.
The choice is now with our leaders. What will they do? What will WE do?
(John F. Hall, Jr., is an international lawyer in Washington, D.C.).