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The Moment of Truth: A year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Article by Bohdan Nahaylo

April 4, 2023

The Moment of Truth: A year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine


A year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chief Editor of The Kyiv Post, Bohdan Nahaylo reflects on the war and its wider global implications.


Nobody expected the genocidal war that Russia unleashed against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, to happen. Yes, we saw the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border and heard the threats from the Kremlin.

And there were warnings, of course. We even heard them from the American President. But I think we were all in denial, thinking that this was bluff, sabre-rattling and blackmailing by Moscow and that Putin would never go ahead with such a dastardly, barbaric, deed.


But he did

When it happened, we were all caught in shock. In Ukraine, initially, it was not even a case of panic. It was a question of trying to reassure ourselves that we had the will, strength, courage and forces not only to resist but to fight back and defeat such a seemingly powerful and unstoppable enemy.


Ukraine passed this test, and slowly but surely, at an increasingly faster pace, it also began receiving the crucial support that it needed from the West, from those who have become, in effect, de facto, its allies.


Despite the horrific losses of people, immense damage, and temporary loss of territory that Ukraine has suffered as a result of Russia’s war crimes, Ukraine managed not only to stand firm but to regain ground and is poised to achieve victory in the not-so-distant future.


Ukraine’s president and leadership have risen to the historic occasion; its heroic armed forces have made it proud and confident; and the nation has remained united in its determination to defeat the invaders.


And now?

We’re at a very delicate stage. Ukraine is desperate for the weapons it needs – the long-range artillery, rockets and fighter planes if possible. Its forces are brave, dependable, and well organised, so this is not a problem. The challenge is to withstand the pressure from the very crude methods that Russia employs in its understanding of warfare by throwing masses of cannon fodder at the Ukrainian forces, and by firing missiles in a cowardly manner from long range into our cities, trying to destroy our infrastructure and also to undermine the morale of the Ukrainians.


But if the weapons Ukraine needs arrive in time from its supporters – and they are certainly beginning to be delivered from a host of diverse but united sources ranging from the US and UK to Poland and other European states – it will withstand any new offensives that Russia attempts to launch in the early spring and then go on the offensive and on to victory.


We’re the heart of the matter

Ukrainians are strengthened by the fact that for more than a year Ukraine has been the centre of international attention all over the planet, not only in the countries sympathetic to Ukraine, but in Asia, Latin America, and to some extent within China and India. Even in Russia, with all the distortions notwithstanding, coverage of the Ukrainian issue – and the country’s aspiration to be a sovereign, democratic Western state – is a remarkable achievement in itself. Moreover, the vast number of journalists and politicians visiting Ukraine has also helped the world to discover Ukraine.


For many decades, if not centuries, Ukraine and its people had to endure in their predicament under various rulers in virtual obscurity. Now, finally, to paraphrase Gabriel Garcia Marquez, its One Hundred Years of Solitude have ended. Suddenly Ukraine has been rediscovered as a European nation which was unjustly kept off the radar screen by force of circumstances. On its fate depends so many things, ranging from international security to whether some regions of the world will face food shortages because of Russia’s attempts to block the export of Ukrainian grain, energy shortages, and rising prices.


Moscow would like the world to view its war as a local, backyard, conflict wherein the Kremlin is simply regaining ‘Russian’ imperial territory that it was forced to give up. But the war that Russia has launched against Ukraine clearly has a much greater significance for the entire world. It has undermined the international order, and challenged fundamentals – the very notion of Europe and European security and indeed, international security as we understand it – the very basic principles on which the UN Charter is based.


Russia’s cynical actions have exposed the ineffectiveness of international institutions, such as the UN and the OSCE, that are supposed to prevent wars, invasions, war crimes, genocide and nuclear threats. They have forced the democratic world out of its complacency and united it around the need to defend not only its security but also basic democratic values.


The struggle is not just about our independence

Ukrainians are fighting for their independence and their identity, but they’re also defending the idea of a democratic, peaceful, prosperous, united Europe. They are defending European ideals and Europe’s borders, and in doing so are also serving as a catalyst in Europe’s reshaping and consolidation.


After all, we are witnessing a historic reconfiguration of Europe and what it represents. Britain left the EU after Brexit but on account of the war has become a far stronger European autonomous player on the international scene and a staunch supporter of Ukraine. Poland, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, and Romania have also gelled together as a force to be reckoned with. So, in the east of Europe, another healthy and much-needed counterbalance to the would-be domination by Berlin and Paris has emerged. Britain has played a leading role in this regard and its principled stance and sterling support for Ukraine have won the admiration and appreciation not only of Ukrainians but many other nations. Britain, in this regard, has set the tone.


In Eastern Europe, Moldova now has a pro-Western democratic president. And Belarus itself shouldn’t be written off. Remember, Belarus had a ‘quiet’ but game-changing national democratic revolution a few years ago which we should not forget. That peaceful revolt has been suppressed by crude force and there are hundreds of political prisoners in the country. Yes, Lukashenko is a vassal of Moscow and he allows Russian troops to be based in Belarus, but as soon as Moscow’s power is curbed and Russia defeated it is highly improbable that the majority of Belarusians will prefer to remain a colony of their Eurasian neighbour.


China and India, together with many other Asian, South American and African countries, have continued to sit on their fence. Their declared neutrality, or ambivalence, only plays into the hands of Moscow. This is also a moment of truth for them and for all of us.


So, in this unfolding scenario, Ukraine’s struggle and eventual victory with the help of its allies, will have had profound consequences not only for its region, but for Europe as a whole and far beyond. Ukraine’s victory and that of the free world over despotic Russia, and by implication its tacit or explicit supporters, will create the conditions for the establishment of an enhanced international security architecture and for the establishment of Europe’s real borders at the frontiers of Ukraine and Belarus with Eurasian Russia.


It will also force the self-styled ‘non-aligned countries’ implicitly backing Moscow to come clean and show if they are with the forces for freedom or autocracy or cynical self-interest.


And Ukraine’s other task

In the revamped new Europe, Ukraine will have not only to rebuild and restore the country, but to renew itself. National unity and the wellbeing of a large, regionally diverse, country consolidated in a modern political nation enjoying proper security and economic growth will be the priority. Old ways will have to be discarded and corruption curbed. Conditionality from Western partners offering financial, technical and military assistance will help in this regard to ensure the governance, openness and accountability needed.


In the Herculean task of self-renewal of the country and the region, Ukraine is confident it will continue to enjoy the mutual benefits of the special new ‘strategic’ partnership that has come into being with Britain. The latter has not only honoured its strategic partnership with Ukraine with financial and military assistance but, in true Orwellian tradition, helped the country face up to the pressure of Russia’s misinformation warfare.


In his historic recent speech before Britain’s political elite in Westminster Hall, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, invoking the image of Winston Churchill, thanked Britain, its leadership and population, for helping Ukraine withstand its darkest hours and move into its finest ones.


Who would have thought that Ukraine and Britain, on different sides of Europe and traditional historical narratives, would one day draw so close. But together, they close the circle, and make of Europe a genuine cohesive entity based on shared mutual values and not simply the proclaimed semblance of things.


Reproduced with the kind permission of the FCDO Association and the Chief Editor of The Kyiv Post.


Image by Office of the President of Ukraine.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


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