Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Opinion

Values, not territory, at stake in Ukraine

  • Many view the Ukraine conflict as a power struggle between the West and Russia (Photo: Sasha Maksymenko)

The United States and Europe need to do more to help Ukraine fend off a Russia that is intent on using intimidation and force to restore the Soviet empire that Moscow created and directed for 70 years.

Many view the Ukraine conflict as a power struggle between the West and Russia.

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But it’s more than that: It represents nothing less than a clash of values. A clash of values that was made all the more apparent through the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov within shouting distance of the Kremlin just last week.

On the Western side are such values as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. On the Russian side are authoritarianism and contempt for the individual and the law.

History has shown that Russia wants to dominate its neighbours, its region and the world with brute force.

History has also shown that when it does subjugate its neighbours, they develop the same belief in brute force and disregard for human rights that Moscow embraces.

Even Russia’s diplomacy depends on intimidation instead of persuasion: “Do this or we’ll cut off your gas ... join the Eurasian Economic Union instead of the European Union, or we’ll (insert your threat of choice).”

Until the Russian invasions of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Western Europe took its own democracy, human rights and the rule of law for granted. After World War II, its citizens basked in the longest period of freedom they’d ever had.

After the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, Eastern Europeans joined their western cousins in enjoying freedom they had never had.

During the 1990s, many Europeans believed Russia had changed, that it was no longer a threat to the continent’s freedom.

In reality, Moscow needed time to deal with the chaos accompanying the transition to a different government and economic system.

Unhappily for Russian nationalists, including former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, one of the manifestations of the turmoil was lack of money to keep its armed forces at world-class standard.

They chafed about not having a military powerful enough to allow Russia to reassert itself over its neighbors. So they sulked while vowing to restore Russia to what they saw as its rightful place in the world — that is, a country dominating its neighbours.

Some Eastern European countries, like Poland and the Baltics, weren’t convinced that Moscow had changed. They joined the EU and Nato to assure their freedom in the event there was a Russian resurgence.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Georgia, and its refusal to pull its troops out of Moldova and Armenia, showed they were right to be worried.

As to other Western leaders, most have admitted they were wrong to think Moscow had changed after Russia seized Crimea and sent troops and equipment into eastern Ukraine.

They have declared that, as in the days of old, the biggest threat to Europe is not terrorism but Russia.

At the heart of the clash between Russia and the West is values.

Russia believes that the state is more important than the individual, that might makes right and that deceit, trickery and lying are legitimate means to getting your way.

Conversely, the West believes that the individual is more important than the state and that diplomacy rather than force is the preferred way to achieve a foreign policy objective.

There is no better example of the difference between Russian and Western values than the pathological lying that Moscow has engaged in over the Ukraine crisis.

Given that the wrangle over Ukraine is really about Western versus Russian values, Europe stands to lose nothing less than the freedom it has cherished if Moscow is allowed to dismember Ukraine.

Because if Russia succeeds in stamping out freedom there, what is to stop it trying to do the same in Poland, the Baltics and the rest of Eastern Europe?

That leads us to the question of how the West should respond to the Russian challenge.

To start with, it needs to do everything it can to help Ukraine. The sanctions it has slapped on Russia have hurt. But it should do more, including cutting Russia off from the Swift money-transfer system, which would be a crippling blow to its global trade and financing.

It should also consider sending cutting-edge defensive weapons to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian forces that Russian troops and their separatist allies routed in the important battle for Debaltseve in mid-February said afterwards that their Soviet-era weapons were no match for Russia’s modern armaments and drones.

True to form, Russia has threatened unnamed consequences against the West if it provides modern arms and drones to Ukraine. Because, of course, this would make subjugation of its neighbour bloodier and costlier.

It’s high time for the West to get tough with Russia for its support of the Ukrainian separatist uprising. If it wants to preserve its values it needs to do everything it can to help Ukraine carve out its own destiny.

Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia

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