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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn: Dictatorship and isolationism don’t work in the 21st century

March 2, 2022 10:11 amby Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
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Russian forces launched heavy air strikes on Vasylkiv, a town 40 kilometres south of Kyiv, on Feb. 27, 2022. The attack hit an oil depo. (Ukraine Now/Telegram)

The heroic feats of Ukraine are a balm for our heart and soul. It’s been a long time since anything like its national resistance to Russia’s war has nurtured the spirit. Humanity loves heroes. The Ukrainian people, its military and president have shown it in spades. Respect, love and praise are flowing to Ukraine. But as worthy and wonderful as these are they are not the same as winning the war against a bloodthirsty untermensch, subhuman. That requires hard-nosed assistance. Immediately. Ukraine is a global emergency but there is hope.

The severe sanctions imposed by Ukraine’s friends and allies are punishing the invaders. Russia’s foreign minister is not allowed to fly to the UN security meeting. Luxembourg and Monaco, the playground of Russia’s filthy rich, are
censuring them. The world of commerce, sports, academia, entertainment, telecommunications —all sectors — are removing them from participation. More pain is on the way.

But Ukraine needs more help now.

The most pressing is the call for military assistance. It’s reassuring to see how the democratic world finally awakened to its own vulnerability and pledged military support for Ukraine. Even Switzerland cast aside its steadfast neutrality to assist. The challenge, however, lies in on-time deliveries. The Black Sea is blocked, the airspace restricted, and the roads congested with refugees or Russia’s intimidating war machine brought over to meet Putin’s objective: annihilation of a young European democracy.

One way to deal with the urgency may be to arrange neighboring Poland the Czech Republic, Romania — all neighbors —to send their stock piles of lethal weapons, including anti-tank weapons, Stinger surface-to-air missiles, and wait for replenishments.

The good news is that such support for the land operations has already begun but Ukraine’s air force --which has performed beyond expectations with some 25 Russia kills--desperately needs more air power to defend its sizable territory and win against Putin’s encirclement.

The US and NATO are reluctant to provide air support to a non-member of the Alliance. They are concerned about escalation beyond the conflict zone. It’s a little late for that. Putin has already promised a harsh response to all states involved in implementing sanctions or offering military assistance. The only check to this is a victory by Ukraine. That will determine what will happen to Putin’s hate. If he wins, however, he will ensure a savage regime to deal with his adversaries both in Ukraine and globally.

He must not win. The rational choice for the West therefore, is to provide Ukraine with the means to win against the invader. It’s self-preservation; the deterrent against his barbarian determination to destroy what isn’t his, especially democracy. However, to deal with political landmines of air power assistance deliveries from the West can be made by private enterprises and by using volunteer pilots rather than nation states. Or engage Ukraine’s newly created International Legion.

Richard Branson, the owner of the Virgin Group — airlines and more — spoke with President Zelensky recently and offered support for Ukraine. He and other outstanding entrepreneurs — Elon Musk comes to mind — thrive and seek big challenges. They like the heroism they see in Ukraine and move to be part of it.

It cannot be stressed enough that to be meaningful military support must come now. Mustard served after dinner —the Ukrainians say — is of no use. Among the most pressing needs deals with the potential use of Russia’s Multiple
Rocket Launcher spotted by CNN in Belarus near Ukraine’s border. It is used to launch rockets with thermobaric warheads. These “vacuum bombs” — filled with fuel and chemicals — suck in the oxygen and obliterate everything in their path; buildings, nature and humans. They are considered to be the next most terrible weapon after the nuclear bomb. Russia used them to annihilate Grozny in its war with Chechnya and again in Syria. Preventing their engagement will be difficult but not impossible. It may mean a “loan” of America’s own thermobaric rockets to Ukraine with conditions that they are to be used only as a deterrent or if Russia uses theirs first. And, they must be
returned after the war.

Without this deterrent, there’s real possibility that with the use of the vacuum bombs Putin can take Kyiv and Ukraine. After this war, this horrific weapon must be banned but at this juncture he must be stopped. If not he will advance on his next most hated objective: the United States and other democracies in the West or
use it and other such weapons to exact blackmail.

Neither the U.S. nor NATO have any intentions of stepping into Russia’s latest war with boots, airpower or thermobaric rockets but Putin’s aggression is reaching them. Today’s event make many realize that America’s isolationism like Russia’s empire building belong to history while NATO’s procrastination and pandering to
Russia’s concerns about Ukraine’s membership has cost it a most valuable card: preventing this heinous war in Europe. It is quite clear that if Putin conquers Ukraine he conquers democracy and the Alliance. Depriving him of the means to do this is vital.

If his war continues to unfold as it has to date — global aversion to his recklessness, democracies stepping up for Ukraine, Russia’s military revolting, sanctions and military assistance revving up — the West must stay the course. It must not offer Putin an “off-ramp”. He’s been mollified and his criminality has been tolerated at our expense for too long. He must be punished by whatever history has in store: be it resignation, banishment, the criminal court or whatever option he personally takes. His insufferable dictatorship must end. This will be Ukraine’s and democracies’ contribution to history: the start to eliminating, in the 21st century, his kind of rule.

This means stepping in now, stopping him, and not letting him go unpunished. It’s the only way.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
Author:  Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is the former Director of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and President of U*Can Ukraine Canada Inc., a management firm specializing in democratization projects for Ukraine. Bashuk Hepburn has been commenting on international issues in global media for decades.

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