Putin’s attack on peace and democracy

On the 24th of February, I, and millions across the country awoke to a BBC Breaking News notification on my phone, outlining that Russia had begun a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It’s difficult, and possibly impossible to comprehend what place this date will have in books of European history and International Relations. At the time of writing, the situation is evolving minute by minute.  

International relations are a broad, complex, and bewildering subject, one of which even the most skilled diplomats and scholars struggle to approach. As it is clear through the current situation, after centuries of learning from past mistakes and conflicts, the code is yet to be cracked. The invasion of Ukraine has taken place in the context of a problematic relationship between the country and Russia.  The breakup of the USSR in 1991 saw Ukraine succeeding themselves and becoming a fully independent nation. Since then, Ukraine have moved towards Western values, liberal democracy, market economy, and the freedom to decide whether to enter blocs such as the European Union and NATO. Putin and the Kremlin don’t want this to happen. They see the gradual movement of Western influence towards the east as a threat towards their country. Putin argued in a speech that Ukraine affected Russia’s ability to feel “Safe, develop and exist”. It appears he’s clinging onto, in his mind, the utopia of a Soviet Bloc and the power of the USSR, showing nothing but pure disregard to the sovereignty of Ukraine. He simply rejects the countries state of existence, remarking in one of his speeches before the invasion, that ‘Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood’. These statements show a grim ideology.

He has claimed a supposed genocide in Ukraine and has stated his invasion is to ‘demilitarise and de-nazify’ the country. Such claims are absurd. Ukraine is a modern, dynamic democracy. Considering Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, Putin’s claims of the country being run to the ground by Nazism can be debunked in an instant.

Putin, along with a small group of countries on the international arena such as Syria, Belarus, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, argue the war is justified. They cite the US and the West as causing the conflict, due to conducting unwarranted ‘Nato Expansionism’ which is, according to them, a threat to Russian peace. American Realist International Relations scholar John Mearsheimer claims part of the blame does sit on the US and their approach to foreign policy in Europe. But if there is a majority consensus in Ukraine for NATO membership, why can’t it happen? Because Putin doesn’t want it to happen. His view that Russia should have the right to determine the sovereignty of other countries dangerously undermines the quest for a peaceful world.

While journalists, historians, politicians, and International Relations scholars can point fingers and offer arguments on the whodunnits of the context and build-up of tension behind the war, one thing is obvious and needs to be known. What is clear is that Putin is waging a war against peace and the innocent civilians of Ukraine in an act of unwarranted aggression.

Over the course of the conflict, devastating footage has emerged of Ukraine. The capital Kyiv, for example, a once vibrant cosmopolitan city rich in culture is now a ghost town, under attack from Russian forces. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled, leaving their livelihoods and possessions behind, not knowing if they’ll ever return. Residential apartment buildings have had chunks blown out of them due to bombing. Nightlife strips once home to students, residents and tourists alike are now subject to empty roads of sandbags and soldiers, and the sound of music and laughter has been replaced with gunfire and explosions.

Since the war began there have been a minimum 1,200 civilian casualties, with over 400 dead. Civilians are struggling to escape the country due to continued Russian shelling and attacks, despite Russia promising to hold a ceasefire to allow the creation of a peaceful corridor for citizens. In the city of Mariupol, which is ongoing a brutal obliteration of shelling, tens of thousands of citizens are trapped without food and power. Almost a million people, currently in the freezing cold climate of Eastern Europe in March in Ukraine are without electricity, and a quarter of a million people are without gas. 

These dire scenes are the results of something which Putin himself called a justified ‘special military operation’, which would seek to act in the interests of the civilians in Ukraine. The operation in which Putin claimed that his forces had no plan to ‘impose ourselves on anyone’. Despite Putin claiming that only military infrastructure would be targeted with precision, he is attacking civilian areas.

Because of the invasion, Europe is facing a humanitarian crisis. So far, more than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine. The UN claim that the war has sparked the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Refreshing news however has seen some countries and organisations putting in huge efforts to support these displaced Ukrainian, with the EU proposing to allow those Ukrainians who are fleeing for their lives, to have a right to live and work in any of the 27 member nations for up to 3 years .  Specifically, Poland alone has taken over 1 million refugees. Other countries close to Ukraine such as Hungary and Slovakia have taken in hundreds of thousands of civilians. Such countries like these embrace refugees with community and government support. The refreshing actions of these countries and organisations should be a lesson to Boris Johnson’s government and Home Secretary Priti Patel. Currently, the Home Office has granted 50 visas fleeing Ukrainians. For Ukrainian refugees seeking to enter the country, they can only do so if they have family links, or if they have been ‘sponsored’. Johnson however claims that the UK is already being ‘very generous’ to those seeking to enter the country. This is very hard to believe, however. Only 1% of the over 5000 visa applications have so far been approved. 

The nature of these contemporary times means that we all get 24/7 coverage of the conflict. Live aerial footage of cities under siege. Round the clock coverage on the status of the Russian attack. The Ukraine Military have been cited to be winning the information war, celebrating the destruction and elimination of enemy jets, tanks, and planes. Recently, the Ukraine military claimed to have shot down a Russian Ilyushin Il-76, an enormous plane packed with paratroopers. The Russian Military on social media do the same, boasting about military victories. 

It must be remembered that the soldiers fighting on both sides of the war, at the end of the day, are just boys, fighting the unjust war of politicians. Boys with mothers waiting back home. Boys with families and mouths to feed. Some captured Russian soldiers have revealed the lies fed to them from their own government, with them being told that their actions were that of a military operation in the interest of Ukrainians, not a full-blown invasion, destroying and scarring the lives of millions. They have been brought up in a country, which is led by a government retched with the qualities of authoritarianism and bans opposition parties and press. They have been brought up to believe a disingenuous agenda regarding the foreign relations of their country. 

This is not a war caused by regular Russian or Ukrainian civilians. This is not a war caused by now over a million, and counting displaced civilians engulfed in a refugee crisis. This is not the war caused by the residents of Ukrainian cities, currently making homemade-Molotov cocktails in bomb shelters to thwart off Russian attack.

As described in Germany, this is ‘Putin’s War’.  

[Tom Rees]

[Image credit: Kathleen Perez]

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