The Observer’s take on the Russian invasion of Ukraine | Observer Editorial

The chilling sound of gunfire, shelling and the screaming of children in the cities of Ukraine reverberates throughout Europe. The full-scale Russian invasion launched last week is a heinous and unprovoked crime perpetrated against the citizens of Ukraine, their sovereign democratic state and all free peoples of the world. February 24 is a day that will live in infamy. It will not be forgiven. He will surely never be forgotten.

So far, reports suggest that Russia has not won the quick victory it expected. The fierce street battles in Kyiv and other cities bear witness to the bravery of the country’s soldiers and ordinary Ukrainians determined to defend their land. To the east, the invaders are pinned down. But they are better equipped and armed. They have control in the air. If a disgruntled Kremlin orders its forces to step up attacks, a bloodbath of Ukrainian citizen fighters could ensue.

In this moment of maximum danger, it is imperative that Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and sole architect of this needless calamity, put in place an immediate ceasefire. Militarily, he miscalculated. Diplomatically, he is isolated, as shown by the condemnation of Moscow’s actions by the UN Security Council. Even its ally, China, refused to support this vile aggression. Politically, at home, Putin’s war is causing widespread protests and unrest.

It’s time for cool heads and sound advice in Western capitals. The longer the fighting continues, the more people will be killed and maimed, the greater the political chasm will widen and the greater the prospect of this conflict spreading to Poland and other neighboring countries. As NATO strengthens its eastern flank and tensions rise at all levels, the risk of a confrontation between Russia and the Western alliance increases.

Help is urgently needed for Ukrainian families who are fleeing west in ever-increasing numbers to escape indiscriminate Russian attacks in civilian areas. Aid agencies are predicting a large-scale humanitarian and refugee emergency. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Romania cannot manage this terrible human crisis alone. Britain and all EU countries must be generous in offering assistance and hopefully temporary asylum to Putin’s victims.

Western democracies are facing a moment of truth. For years they have watched the global and polarizing rise of authoritarianism. If the world order established after 1945 – guaranteeing the sovereign right to national self-determination, the rule of law and fundamental human rights – is not effectively defended today, then no individual, no people and no State will in the future be immune to malevolent powers. . Ukraine is the front line of democracy.

Grandiose claims about epic turns and historic turning points in world affairs are often made and just as often wrong. But for once, it’s not exaggerated. Not since Soviet tanks arrived in Prague in the spring of 1968 has Europe seen anything like it and even this grimly remembered horror does not offer an exact analogy. Since Hitler, Europe had not seen the leader of a great country behave in such a predatory manner.

The attempted crushing – indeed, the attempted extinction – of an independent state and its freewheeling multi-ethnic traditions by the stormtroopers of a delusional dictator is inevitably reminiscent of the Nazi era. How extraordinary, how unbelievable, that Europe is pushed back into this dark place. The sense of shock and outrage, especially in Russia, where 20 million people died in the fight against fascism, is palpable.

fight for survival

How much greater still must be the perplexity felt by the European generations born after 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Unlike baby boomers, they did not grow up in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. How do you explain that another aggrieved and angry little man – a despicable KGB scion who daily mourns the demise of the Soviet Union – is now threatening them with nuclear annihilation?

In a sense, this moment comes after Putin cruelly cracked down on Chechen separatists, razing the city of Grozny in 1999-2000 without caring about its inhabitants. In Georgia, Syria and Crimea and Donbass in 2014, he repeatedly acted with equally ruthless brutality and reckless disregard for consequences. His record is that of an international hooligan.

Putin may or may not be crazy. But he’s definitely a thug. Strength is his only argument. Lies are his ammunition. He seems determined to turn Ukraine into a mere buffer, ruled by a puppet regime. US reports that the Kremlin has a list of public figures to jail or assassinate are credible. If Putin is successful, he will build an open-air prison with torture chambers similar to darkened Belarus. Ukraine as an idea will cease to exist.

The Ukrainian people, their leaders and their army know that they are fighting for their survival. So far, they are doing exceptionally well. They slowed the advance, causing real damage to the Russian forces. The stories abound with extraordinary individual courage and sacrifice. All men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been called to arms and they respond willingly. Civilians lined up for guns and Molotov cocktails to throw at the Russian tanks. The irony will likely be lost on Putin.

Nevertheless, logic and numbers suggest that the Ukrainians cannot resist a much stronger enemy indefinitely. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calls for Western military aid while sympathetic Tory MPs propose a no-fly zone over Ukraine patrolled by British and NATO planes. There is also talk of arming a semi-permanent and irregular resistance force. All of this is very problematic. As British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said, a no-fly zone could lead to clashes between NATO and Russian forces and possible wider war. This is not a feasible idea. More broadly, after insisting that NATO would not fight for a non-NATO country, the West has no choice but to stick to this position – even if the pressure is mounting, and it certainly will be, to protect the beleaguered Ukrainian people.

Corrupt regime

This situation virtually guarantees that Putin’s superior forces will prevail in the short term. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest and longest battle is lost. It is not true to say, as Zelenskiy does, that Ukraine is alone. The outpouring of support for Kyiv around the world is powerful. Putin is hated on all sides. The US, UK and others are rightly increasing the supply of defensive weapons. And then there are the penalties.

The punitive measures imposed on Russia last week by the US, UK, EU and other countries are unprecedented in scale. Moscow tried to ignore them. They will have little immediate impact. But as a concerted collective exercise designed to isolate, degrade and ultimately impoverish Russia’s economy, finances and Putin himself, it has no equal.

That said, more could and should be done. It is wrong to exempt Russian oil and gas exports. Energy revenues are the regime’s main source of income. It pays for the wars it wages and the regressive policies it pursues. He keeps Putin in warm socks and fancy yachts. Of course, Europe itself will pay a high price if Russian energy is cut off. But it is a price that must be paid. It is to be welcomed that Germany seems to be on the verge of agreeing to the exclusion of Russian banks from the Swift payment system.

These sweeping sanctions and the UN vote make it official: Putin’s Russia is a pariah state. If maintained and strengthened, as they must be over time, the sanctions could help bring down his corrupt regime. Putin, clearly, has gone too far. This war and the unlimited political and economic damage it will cause to Russia could finally force an overdue settling of scores between the Russian people and their oppressive president – ​​and bring a grateful end to the shameful era of Putin.

Britain showed a lead in pressuring reluctant Germany and Italy over Swift, just as it did in ensuring defensive armament reached the Ukrainian army. Promises by Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to finally clean up the Russian laundromat of dirty money in London and to penalize the cronies of Putin’s oligarch are welcome, if kept – although questions remain over the funding of the Conservatives.

The Ukraine crisis has undoubtedly boosted Johnson. By playing international statesman, he has dodged, for now, the mess he made at home. It is heartening, meanwhile, to see Keir Starmer’s Labor returning to the mainstream, standing four squares behind NATO and vanquishing the pale phantoms of the Corbyn era. Unlike before the Iraq war, Western intelligence assessments of Russia’s intentions have proven to be very accurate.

The fact remains that post-Brexit Britain is a secondary actor. US President Joe Biden says the invasion marks the complete severance of Western relations with Russia. This split has serious implications stretching beyond Ukraine to, say, Taiwan, which fears that China will emulate Putin. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the vulnerable former Soviet republics and other eastern European states also fear they could be next – if Putin gets his way.

He shouldn’t. The Ukrainian crisis may alter the international balance of power and permanently reshape the security map of Europe. But that is a question for the future. Right now it is vital, as Johnson says, that Putin fails and is seen to fail. Right now, today, Ukrainians are dying in a vicious war chosen by Russia. Putin says he is ready to talk. It’s a trap. The tyrant must understand: the dialogue can only begin when the shooting stops.

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