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I admire the Ukrainian people. I admire the richness, beauty and sophistication of their culture. I admire the tenacity of their struggle for freedom against tsarist and Soviet oppression and against the neo-imperialist ambitions of post-Soviet Russia. Just as Poland emerged from centuries of occupation and subjugation to play a pivotal role in the end of Soviet tyranny, Ukraine is leading the fight against the rising authoritarian threat of our generation.
Many people, however, do not agree. They may regard Ukraine as too distant or abstract, or they may hold affection for the Russian people. Some who believed the Soviet Union was a champion of progressive causes around the world are determined to see today’s Russia as its heir. Some are troubled that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn so much more international attention than the Sudanese Civil War and other conflicts. Some fear that Russia will enlarge the conflict into a world war or even deploy nuclear weapons.
Yet even for someone who does not care one bit about Ukrainians, supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion is vital for the world as a whole. Some concerns often cited for withholding aid are in fact among the best arguments for doing more.
Anyone who supports democracy should support Ukraine. Russia repeatedly interfered in Ukrainian elections to make its loyalist Viktor Yanukovych president. It invaded Ukraine in 2014 after the Ukrainian people took to the streets to demand Yanukovych’s ouster. It has lavishly funded far-right parties throughout Europe.
Anyone who is committed to world peace should support Ukraine. Strong countries will always have designs on their weaker neighbors. If they believe they can get away with invading, many will. Earnest invocations against war will not stop them; clear, widely accepted rules limiting the grounds for war can. The justifications Russia has claimed for its invasion of Ukraine could justify a host of wars around the world.
For example, Russia claims to be seeking unity with ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Africa, the Middle East and Asia have numerous national borders that divide ethnicities. Russia claims Crimea because it once was part of Russia. That rationale would justify Bolivia invading Chile, Denmark marching into Germany and Turkey attacking over a dozen countries of the former Ottoman Empire. And if disliking the alliances your neighbors might join at some point in the distant future is cause for war, no country is safe. The only way to prevent reckless, unjust wars in the future is to ensure that countries launching unprovoked wars reap no benefits from doing so. If Ukraine is forced to agree to a ceasefire while Russia holds any Ukrainian territory, all the stern denunciations will be meaningless. Thugs around the world will take note.
Anyone who is concerned about nuclear war should support Ukraine. Ukraine inherited a sizable inventory of nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union. It voluntarily gave up those weapons in 1994 in exchange for guarantees of its sovereignty and territorial integrity from Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The fact that a denuclearized Ukraine has been repeatedly bullied and invaded will drive other countries around the world to prioritize getting and keeping nuclear weapons. If the guarantees of territorial integrity we gave Ukraine prove unavailing, we can hardly expect North Korea or Iran even to consider foregoing nuclear weapons.
Anyone who cares about human rights should support Ukraine. Russia’s tightly controlled state media is full of demands for wholesale genocide against Ukrainians. Both President Putin and former President Dmitry Medvedev have made public statements denigrating Ukrainians’ right to exist as a separate nation. Areas liberated from Russian control have revealed mass graves and numerous sites where Ukrainian civilians were tortured and killed. Russia has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians with indiscriminate shelling and drone attacks, reducing several thriving cities and towns to rubble. President Putin was indicted by the International Criminal Court for taking Ukrainian children from their parents and sending them to Russia for “re-education.” Unless Russia loses thoroughly, it will not allow prosecution of its war criminals.
Anyone who champions working people should support Ukraine. Russia’s invasion is a classic case of elites forcing impoverished workers to die for their narrow interests. Elites spared their own from Moscow and St. Petersburg, sending working people from the hinterlands to die instead. Indeed, the children of many elite families are safely in Western Europe. The crowned heads that slaughtered a generation of workers in World War I could not have been prouder. By contrast, Ukrainians fighting, and dying, for their homeland have spanned all social classes.
Anyone who opposes bigotry and racism should support Ukraine. Not only have Russian elites sent impoverished workers to die in Ukraine, they have disproportionately sacrificed Muslims, indigenous people from Central Asia, and others they consider racial inferiors. This has included Ukrainians drafted from occupied territories in blatant violation of international law and threatened with death if they fail to fight.
Anyone who cares about the environment should support Ukraine. By blowing up the Nova Kakhovka dam, emptying one of the largest reservoirs in Europe, Russia unleashed devastating floods. They washed toxic chemicals, 150 tons of oil, human and animal corpses, landmines and other munitions and the possessions of countless civilians into the Dniper River and the Black Sea. Animals in the Kakhovka zoo and downstream refuges for endangered species drowned. Russian troops blocked rescue efforts and did nothing themselves. Southern Ukraine and Crimea — both occupied by Russia — face desertification. And the largest nuclear power plant in Eastern Europe has lost access to water to replenish its cooling ponds. This comes on top of countless lower-profile instances of environmental destruction — deforestation, toxic contamination, mine-laying, destruction of other dams — from Russia’s needless invasion.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brings together the very worst of the last century. It is up to us whether it becomes a harbinger of renewed depravity in this century or a cautionary tale for today’s despots.
Prof. David A. Super explains in simple terms why western people should support Ukraine today.