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Current essay:
Slava Ukraini

Our moral duty to defend Ukraine

The greatest danger facing Ukraine in their defense against Putin's brutal attack is that western eagerness to assist may fade. We cannot allow that to happen; the media as well as politicians have responsibilities to keep this Russian outrage front and center until it is vanquished.

Russia's brutal (but fortunately incompetent) attack on Ukraine is like no other war in the last sixty years: a European member nation of the United Nations violating their UN oath to attack another member nation for the purpose of seizing their territory! The world's largest country is not yet large enough for its lawless president, Vladimir Putin, who imagines himself on a sacred mission, blessed by the sycophantic Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, to restore the czarist empire and to reign as Czar Vladimir I. The increasingly isolated and apparently paranoid Putin – a vain, self-imagined hero obsessed with displaying himself in staged demonstrations of his manhood but turns out to be a pathetic coward hiding from his people – seems to have constructed a fantasy in his mind where he is seen as the restorer of former Russian glory. Nothing but a loss of grasp on reality can explain his order to his unprepared, understaffed, and underequipped army to conquer Ukraine. He also seems to "give a damn" about Russia's international obligations, such as its specific guarantee in the 1994 Budapest Agreement to respect the borders of Ukraine. Nor does he seem to care about his own people's welfare: the reaction of the world to his attack, which has brought his nation to the edge of economic collapse, was predictable.

But now on August 24, 2022, as we celebrate the 31st year of Ukraine's current period of independence (the last ended in 1918 when Ukraine agreed to join the failed experiment in communism known as the USSR), the outcome of Russia's barbaric invasion of its neighbor has begun to clarify. Putin has found that the Ukrainian people have not abandoned their devotion to their country; they don't want to be part of Czar Vlad's imagined empire, and they will not allow themselves to be blitzed by his storm troopers. Nor have the nations of the world abandoned Ukraine; rather they have steadily increased their material support. The countries of Europe and North America, which Putin expected would let Ukraine face the invasion alone, are instead nearly unanimous in their support of the independence of Ukraine, and are contributing decisively to its defense.

And yet, while Putin's expectation of initial indifference from the West was frustrated, his new hope is clearly that these countries will eventually tire of siphoning off their comfortable wealth to support a "forever war". And that is indeed the greatest danger facing Ukraine. We have seen daily coverage of the war drifting off the front page of our newspapers, and in some cases out of the paper altogether. But we must not allow our attention to Ukraine to flag; we must continue to meet their need for increased assistance, no matter what it takes. Ukraine has one goal, which must also be the goal of its allied nations: driving the invading Russian forces out of all of Ukraine.

The stakes are even higher than the fate of Ukraine – not to diminish that, which is our all-important present business. Europe has repeatedly experienced Russia's lust for expansion; Russia's penchant for attacking its neighbor states is legendary and real. Russia has many neighbors, but there aren't many of them that Russia has not attacked, invaded and seized during just the past century. Russia's neighbors have good reasons to expect Russian aggression again, and the current attack on Ukraine demonstrates the barbarism and inhumanity of Russia's style of warfare, illegally oriented toward terrorizing the civilian population by bombings and missile strikes on apartment buildings, schools, shopping malls and office buildings – all in violation of the international laws of war, endorsed by Russia and every other country in the Geneva Conventions.

Ukraine has historically and repeatedly been brutalized by Moscow, not least during the early 1930's when Josef Stalin's artificially created famine killed an estimated three to seven million Ukrainians. (Read Anne Applebaum's Red Famine (2017) for a dramatic rendering of the terrors of that period.) Some aged Ukrainians are now experiencing existential terror for the fourth time, including the Nazi horrors of the 1940s and Russia's post-Stalin "Russification" program of the 1960s and '70s, which sought to suppress the Ukrainian language and threw their writers, teachers and participants in social debate in prison or labor camps for expressing views forbidden by the Russian Communist dictatorship.

Let's take a quick look at the current combatants: Russia, with a population of 140-odd million, is a substantial foe, but its economy is weak, its volunteer army of short-term recruits is unevenly motivated and equipped, and its goals, leadership and strategy have shifted erratically. Ranged against Russia is the population of Ukraine – about 40 million, backed by the populations and economies of western Europe – about 520 millions, along with the US and Canada at about 370 millions, so Russia's opponents number roughly 930 millions. This should translate to an overwhelming advantage in military equipment and munitions for Ukraine, if its western allies recognize the absolute necessity of turning the Russian army out of Ukraine post haste. The need for speed in this rescue is imperative; dragging out the war is to Russia's benefit, as it is they who are short of equipment, soldiers, and munitions, and need time to rearm. If the west's deliveries of surveillance, missiles, drones, ammunition and equipment can now be maximized, the Russian army will be overwhelmed with firepower. Slow-walking this war would result in gradual loss of western popular support for the effort; this must not be allowed to happen.

Why should the countries of Europe and North America be so concerned about this scuffle in a country that they have no formal security arrangement with? No treaties require us to come to their aid. Two clear reasons, at least: For one, we know from Putin's public fantasizing that his goal is reconstruction by conquest of his mythic Russian empire, which is to conquer any and all territories in any way associated with Russia in the past. This means, after Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, then likely attacks on the countries of the Caucasus, and the "stan" lands who were in the USSR (such as Khasakstan, Uzbekistan and others) are certainly not safe. Nor is Mongolia. Countries along the western and southern borders of Russia have clamored to get into NATO for protection against Putin's aggression. The Baltic nations have joined, Finland and Sweden have just been accepted, Georgia has applied, Moldova is hopeful, and the countries earlier dominated by the USSR – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria – joined as soon as they could after the USSR break-up in 1991. By now, practically all of Europe is in NATO, each country joining for the same reason: fear of being attacked by Russia. No one fears attack by any other European country – only by Russia. That's telling, and Putin's plan of conquest must be nipped in the bud now, in Ukraine.

But I will posit that the best reason for our decisive support for Ukraine is moral. I grew up in Europe knowing the sound of bombs, and the feeling of hundreds of frightened people huddled in a basement bomb shelter. Millions of innocent people died horrible deaths because of the amoral fantasies of a madman. That's what war typically is, and that's the potential we're seeing in Ukraine. The world does not yet have an effective mechanism to prevent war, so it's up to countries to work together to at least try to keep their corner of the world at peace. Europe has been such a culturally identifiable and interacting corner of the world for thousands of years, and for the past five hundred years North America has been a part of that culture. We have had plenty of wars, but the hope for the twenty-first century was that wars were behind us, that our common culture had matured to the degree that our politicians would settle their differences like adults, not like schoolboys. Alas, along comes Putin, another madman with grandiose fantasies and an army. He's not just attacking Ukraine, he's attacking Europe and its culture. He doesn't care a whit about how many innocents must die to satisfy his lust. To establish the principle that the European culture is done with wars; that killing innocents and destroying cities is no longer acceptable under any circumstances, we in "the west" must stop Putin and his evil here and now, in Ukraine. And we must do it quickly and decisively.

And yet, the western allies were late to formulate a plan, and have been less than clear in statements of their goal. Up to this point the goal has at times seemed amorphous, something like "to help Ukraine". That's a less-than-clear goal. Ukraine's goal is to drive the invader from their soil, and that must also be the goal of those who wish to help. It's not enough to give Ukraine the means to last longer, to drag out the war. Whatever help fails to succeed in the Ukrainian goal of driving the Russians from all Ukrainian soil (yes, including the Crimea) is in the end more harm than help. Ukraine deserves to know what "help" means. They deserve to know that our goal is the same as theirs; in this case a clear victory: to send Putin's army home as quickly as possible. This the allied leaders need to make very clear; they need to place the quick and decisive rescue of Ukraine at the top of their priorities, and to prepare their citizens for whatever temporary inconvenience this may bring.

Then it will be time to talk about reparations, which should cost Russia dearly for several decades forward. It should also cost Putin both his job and his freedom.

H. Paul Lillebo

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Previous essay: 
The Biden climate plan

A start but far from complete

The Biden plan will not get the job done without emphasizing energy conservation, which it currently does not do. Conservation by both citizens and governments will be a key to beating the climate threat.

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