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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn: New thinking needed in the global democratic camp on Russia’s war in Ukraine

June 22, 2022 11:55 pmby Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn: New thinking needed in the global democratic camp on Russia’s war in UkraineA Ukrainian kid is holding EU flag at the pedestal of the former monument of a Soviet marshal repainted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag after the Russian invasion in February, in Krakow, Poland on June 1. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Make no mistake, talking about off-ramps and non-humiliating exits for Russia or lack of Ukraine’s readiness for EU membership as it battles for its existence against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s illegitimate war is the height of betrayal of democratic values. Shame on Germany, France, Italy, Austria and others.

Such conniving gives succor to democracy’s chief enemy, Russia. It endangers world peace by telegraphing that criminal activity needs pardoning not punishment. Ukraine has been extraordinarily successful in protecting nearly all of its territory – even regaining some of formerly taken Donbas — and exposing Russia for what it is despite the high cost. Terrorized children, execution of civilians, torture, rape, abductions, de-Ukrainization fail to meet the rules of war. Kremlin’s no holds barred devastation of civilian and industrial infrastructure, theft of grain, steel, ore, cultural artifacts, blockage of the Black and Azov Seas smacks of Putin’s sadistic hate designed to obliterate a young democracy.

To see the endless crosses of Mariupol grave sites or the carnage in Bucha is to weep. But Ukraine keeps giving back. Russia’s mothers are weeping too while looted toilets — all household goods attest to the backwardness of Russia’s civilian life where some half of its close to 150 million exist without electricity and running water. This, not a trumped-up war against a peaceful neighbour, should be a priority of a good Russian government. It’s quite certain, however, that his loss would encourage better days for Russia.

And that’s the key issue: Ukraine’ victory against the senseless war is a win for all humanity, including Russians because Putin’s leadership is a model for neither home nor abroad. Immigrants aren’t clamoring to live there: Russia’s abduction of Ukrainians attests to that. Global humanity understands the dire situation Putin has created. Nearly eighty percent want him to lose. Brave people from America, Canada, Chechnya, Morocco, Europe — some fifty countries are volunteering their lives to fight for justice, peace and democracy in Ukraine knowing that a win here will contain Putin’s expansion elsewhere and, hopefully, lead to better governance worldwide. High flyers like Arnold Schwarzenegger pont fingers: The West has Ukrainian blood on its hands for not doing more to help.

But not all democratic leaders accept this view. Some notables prefer Russia’s victory. They’re the ones who denied Ukraine NATO membership that would have prevented or ended Russia’s marauding months ago now deny Ukraine desperately needed heavy artillery and supplicate on Putin’s behalf.

President Emmanuel Macron grasped this wrong-thinking just in time to win his election against a stronger Putin fan but, alas, reverted to the anti-Ukraine position immediately after his victory. He joined Germany’s Olaf Scholtz in hours of conversation with Putin without prior consultation with Ukraine or other Europeans.

What is making them jeopardize Ukraine’s efforts to be independent of Russia like they supposedly are and for that to endure immeasurable suffering from the retrograde? Russia has been anti-Europe and expansionistic since WWI. It has precipitated and supported wars throughout the world. It has bluffed with propaganda, bribes, nukes and other calamities in order to achieve its ends. It has murdered at home and abroad people that don’t fall into line.

Ukraine rejects this sort of existence while Germany and France consider it their duty to promote it for Ukraine by offering mercy instead of punishment for Putin’s crimes. Perhaps it’s a historic issue. Both countries lost heavily to Russia under Napoleon and Hitler. (Importantly, the Ukrainians were in the front lines of the then Russian and Soviet armies.) Are they now concerned that Ukraine’s present victory against Putin might show them up? Make Ukraine a powerful competitor in Europe? To prevent this new reality they are behaving recklessly; supporting a maniac killer with designs on the free world, including themselves?

They need to rethink this. Their efforts to change Putin’s approach has been hopeless in the past including the disastrous 2014 Minsk peace agreements. A new mind set is desperately needed. It calls for a shift from pro-Russia to pro-Ukraine thinking; from might--not sure Russia still qualifies--is right to right is right.

To begin, German and France must admit that Russia needs to be punished commensurately with committed crimes to ensure that it, or a wannabe, will not be tempted to break international law again. They must speak out in favour of Ukraine’s victory; become democracy’s champions. If they they want Russia to lose, they must help Ukraine with appropriate military hardware.

Now! Remember, Russia — USSR lost the 1989 Russo- Afghanistan war when the U.S. provided the defenders with appropriate arms. New thinking by pro-democracy leaders will be punishing. It will require Russia to return Ukraine’s territories Crimea and Donbas — and unblock the Azov and Black seas. 

Democratic leaders will call for the transfers of Russia’s footholds in Europe Transnistria, Kaliningrad – as a guarantee against its unpredictability and deadly aggression. Russia will need to demilitarize, denuclearize. It will be charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

Russia will need to return all prisoners of war, abducted Ukrainian nationals and children. If will be billed for reconstruction and make reparation payments for the dead, widowed, orphaned and wounded. It will be removed from the UN Security Council as its aggressiveness — threats of a nuclear holocaust, global starvation, energy shortages, and other dangers to global peace and security — will no longer be tolerated by global democratic leaders.

New thinking about Russia’s role in the world among democracies will support its reeducation to promote its transformation into a law-abiding state that rejects war, allows political freedom, and meets world standards of good government at home. It will also reject the use of the orthodox church as an instrument of state propaganda.

The new thinking will be messaged to Russia by all democratic countries in NATO and EU on behalf of Ukraine while it fights for their values and its existence alone, without their direct support.

Shameless urgings to promote Ukraine’s capitulation to Putin’s even more deranged scenario by withholding necessary arms or championing face saving off ramps for the criminal will stop. Perhaps there’s hope given the words of the French, German, Italian and Romanian presidents following their June 16 visit to Kyiv.

Let’s see what develops.

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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