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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn: To win in diplomacy, take the advantage

February 15, 2022 7:38 pmby Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
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Demonstrators shout slogans as they march behind a banner which reads "Ukrainians will resist" in the colours of the national flag during a rally in Kyiv on February 12, 2022, held to show unity amid US warnings of an imminent Russian invasion. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s needless war in Ukraine uncovered the best and the worst sides of international politics and diplomacy. The best produced what looks currently like a win over Vladimir Putin’s war. The worst is that his lunacy against democracy continues. What now? 

First, the best.

Bravo Ukraine! It stands up to Putin's obsession to steal its sovereignty and perpetrate a genocide by some 130,000 Russian attack troops on its border. It must continue defending “our land, our people, and our families”.

This prevalent Ukrainian sentiment is voiced by former two-time world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko. He will join the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces in Kyiv to fight! So will his brother Vitali, also a former world heavyweight boxing champion, and now mayor of Kyiv. This is the stuff of winners. 

Over 30,000 women now serve in the military: they are a special source of national pride as are Ukraine’s civilians learning how to counter-attack Russia. Their practice guns are of wood — even cardboard and, heaven forbid, they should be needed — but if the enemy strikes, the people want to be ready.   

Ukraine is no longer alone. After eight years of fighting Russia with little support, the United States, NATO, and their allies are now engaged realizing Putin is after more than just Ukraine. This is good news for the young democracy whose only crime is wanting to be like them: free. U.S. President Joseph Biden’s warning of “serious and swift consequences” if Russia crosses Ukraine’s frontiers is deterring Putin. 

Some democracies are offering drones, boats, and lethal weapons. Countries like Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech republic know the horrors of Russia’s domination from the USSR days and don’t wish them repeated on their neighbor or on themselves. They understand that only a show of strength diverts a dictator. Such gestures from friends are good news. 

More good news. There is opposition to Putin’s war inside Russia. Thousands of Bashkir patriots have declared “not our war” in response to his saber-rattling.

Putin fears opposition and uprisings among the over-hundred national groups comprising the federation and in Russia itself. Letters, like the one from intellectuals, writers, artists published in the New York Times recently challenge his supremacy and underscore his vulnerability.  

The most damaging assault on his ‘needless’ war came from the retired chair of Russia’s military officers. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov calls on Putin “to resign over the criminal policy of provoking war.” This is an unheard-of act of defiance — and courage — in Russia’s modern history.  

Such boldness is causing Putin to seek an exit scenario, a “diplomatic” solution.  

To date, the worst side of diplomacy has produced an ugly stream of cowards and appeasers. The latest, French President Emmanuel Macron’s humiliation in Moscow underscores the need for Western powers to speak as one and resist personal showmanship which only gives Putin a platform to cut down democracy and harangue against it. 

Meanwhile, Russian politicians and officials cheering for his bloodbath plan to abandon “mother Russia” should a war break out. An extensive list of senior politicians and officials holding international passports and residency permits has surfaced. It includes the family of Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky. His son Igor Lebedev reportedly has a U.S. green card, Spanish citizenship, and Swiss permanent residence. In 2020, Lebedev denied having any citizenship other than Russian.

Countries like Germany, France, Austria, Israel, the U.K., and others are offering privileges to key haters of the West. This undercuts sanction and mocks diplomacy. And it must stop. It’s also time to rev up the pain rather than pander to Russia’s outrageous “security” demands, interference in NATO’s membership, or holding back sanctions till another attack.  

Putin is sinking in the mess of his own doing. To escape, he embraces diplomacy with the “only way out” being “the Minsk talks”.

Caution lights are blinking. Minsk, formulated primarily by Germany and France — to deal with Russia’s grab of Crimea and Donbas in 2014 —favors Russia by treating it as a judge rather than as the criminal. The composition of the talks — three against Ukraine — is stacked against it.

Germany’s ongoing pandering to Putin continues and is unacceptable.  

Despite being a lead arms-exporting country it withheld the sale of lethal weapons sending helmets instead. Then it blocked arms transport to Ukraine from NATO members. Worst of all it repeatedly denies Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance. There is also its stubborn determination to build the unnecessary Nord Stream 2 to harm Ukraine and put Russia in control of Europe’s energy. This is a serious mistake identical to the one by which “friends” of Ukraine— the West — gave exclusive control over the former USSR’s nuclear might to Russia.

Clearly, Germany has a conflict of interest. It must recuse itself from the upcoming Minsk or be removed.  

France, too.  

Emmanuel Macron’s latest performance in Moscow was an embarrassment. He behaved like a little schoolboy awaiting the principal’s approval. Instead, he got a dressing down from the Russians. 

Minsk is old news; an eight-year old failure. For diplomacy to succeed a new format and new negotiators are needed.  

The real news is that despite his military show of force, Russia’s boggy man has been cornered by Ukraine’s defiance, the threat of elevated sanctions, and NATO’s newly found resolve to oppose his aggression. As things stand presently, Russia has lost the standoff. The West has the upper hand.

The peace plan must reflect this. Germany and France must not be allowed to negotiate again a bad deal for the West or Ukraine as was done eight years ago. They must also be recused from any decisions by NATO — while in a conflict of interest situation favoring Russia — regarding Ukraine above all its membership. 

As a minimum, the peace plan must stipulate the date of Russia's withdrawal from Crimea and Donbas. It must underscore that non-compliance will advance the newly proposed sanctions against Russia just as if it had advanced further on Ukraine.  

Better yet, the Western allies should not wait for a new peace plan. They should put the serious sanctions to work immediately before Putin commits another Russian genocide.  

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
Author:  Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, formerly a long-term senior policy adviser with the Government of Canada and president of U*CAN, a consulting firm brokering interests for Ukraine, comments in international media on its determination to be a free European country.

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