Category Archives: Ukraine

“Close the sky!”

Pres. Zelenskyy’s impassioned plea to the U.S. and NATO for a no-fly zone over Ukraine goes not unheard, but unheeded.

The fear that direct engagement with Russia initiated by downing a Russian plane over Ukraine’s airspace would spark a confrontation with Putin is realistic. He is being backed into a corner that leaves him few options. The most likely is what he is doing now, doubling down and intensifying the terror and destruction. That he would suffer the humiliation of surrender is inconceivable. Like TFG, Putin cannot admit he was wrong. He miscalculated by assuming the Ukrainians identified as Russians and would welcome the Russian troops as liberators from non-existent Nazis.

Diplomatic initiatives, devastating sanctions and arming the Ukrainians have not curbed the hostilities, let alone ended the fighting. Ukrainian resistance has slowed the Russian invasion, but brave as the Ukrainians are, they are being killed and losing ground. They will eventually have to succumb to Putin’s force majeure.

If Western allies allow Putin to continue the annihilation of Ukraine by mercilessly shelling and besieging its cities, depriving them of power, water, food, and heat in sub-freezing weather; mining and blocking humanitarian corridors for fleeing civilians; bombing hospitals and wantonly killing civilians, Putin will have no incentive to restrain from forcibly annexing former Soviet republics to achieve his dream of restoring the Russian empire.

But the Baltic states and Poland are now members of NATO, so any aggression against them will constrain the alliance to defend them militarily, probably igniting World War III. In other words, inaction now could well result in the very thing NATO seeks to avoid. And Ukraine would be smoking rubble.

The greatest fear in provoking Russia is that Putin will make good on his threat to use nuclear weapons. Since 1945, the nuclear option has been off the table. The Cuban missile crisis was the exception, but even then, nuclear missiles served as deterrents because the would-be combatents recognized that in a nuclear war there could be no winners, only mutual destruction.

As terrifying as Putin’s putative willingness to go nuclear is, we are now at a point where we will have to risk it, if not now, then very likely later. Though Ukraine is not a NATO member, and thus we have no treaty obligation to defend it, letting 44 million Ukrainians die or go into exile will expose our professed ideals of liberty and democracy to be shallow and hypocritical. Putin has few options, but so does the West.

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A bright light in the darkness

Daily footage of new and unspeakable atrocities in Ukraine and the terrifying prospect of a nuclear accident or a deliberate launch of a nuclear weapon dominate the news coming from the war. There is even the possibility that bombing a Ukrainian nuclear reactor could release a “dirty” bomb. Not an actual nuclear bomb, but a lethal explosion that would scatter radioactive material, poisoning the air, water and earth, not to mention human beings.

Despite the horrors, good news manages to leak out, showcasing not the worst, but the best of humanity.

At the Hungarian border Ukrainian refugees are pouring into the country, 140,000 in the first seven days of the war. The Hungarian government is notoriously anti-immigrant, but Hungarians are streaming to the border to greet them. As the trains arrive in Budapest loaded with refugees, they are met by volunteers who welcome them with hot tea and toys for the children. They do not understand each other, because the Hungarian language is radically different from the Indo-European languages of Ukrainian and Russian (as well as English).

Women are carrying children and pets and dragging suitcases packed with the little they could salvage from homes that were burned or bombed or likely targets of Russian aggression. From the train platform they are directed to a staging area where tables piled with food await them: hot and cold beverages, sandwiches, snacks, fresh fruit and more. People with special dietary concerns, like vegans, find their needs have not been overlooked. Besides food, the refugees are given essentials they were unable to take with them. Medication, clothing, hygiene needs, blankets, paper goods— the Hungarians have tried to anticipate every need. 

From this hall in the train station, the refugees are directed to a transportation hub where they are matched with people who will drive them to where they want to go— to embassies or homes of friends or family. Hungarians have lists of their compatriots who have offered temporary lodging to Ukrainians who arrive with no plans and nowhere to go. Some arrive with train tickets in hand for farther destinations. The ones who know where they want to go but have no way to get there are given train tickets.

From a humanitarian perspective, the outstanding feature of all this is that volunteers, not government, have organized and are executing this outpouring of generosity and love to their devastated brothers and sisters.

H/T to the on-the-spot reporting of MSNBC’s Ali Velshi.

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Inflection Point

Last week Putin’s intentions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were being evaluated differently in Washington and Kiev. U.S. intelligence was predicting an imminent invasion, publicized by Pres. Biden, but Pres. Zelensky downplayed the threat, perhaps wanting to believe a possible Russian incursion might be a ways down the pike and not wanting to panic the Ukrainian public.

Until now we didn’t know that the invasion was stalled because Putin was acquiescing to Xi Jinping’s request that he wait to attack until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing were over. The two leaders met just before the Olympics and issued a joint statement affirming that their partnership would know “no limits.” Russian soldiers crossed into Ukraine days after the Olympics ended, following the playbook laid out by the U.S.

But China hasn’t endorsed Putin’s war. It is in a delicate position: China has pledged a partnership with Russia, but now can’t bail Russia out without risking a rift with its primary trading partner, the United States. No matter what action it takes, China will alienate either the U.S. or Putin. It can’t make up Russia’s deficit caused by Western sanctions without jeopardizing its relationship with the U.S.

The surprising resilience of the Ukrainians has so inspired the West that it has responded in ways no one could have anticipated (see Zelensky and the World v. Putin and Russia). The most astonishing result of Putin’s unprovoked aggression is the shoring up of the alliance of the free world on every continent. The solidarity with Ukraine and the outpouring of financial, military and moral support is completely contrary to Putin’s assumptions that the West is too weak and fat to execute harsh sanctions and withstand the consequent hardships like runaway gas and oil prices. The former U.S. president had done his best to rupture the bonds of NATO, but Putin (to his undoubted dismay) has singlehandedly revitalized the alliance. Even the warring political parties of America have found common ground in opposing the invasion.

The world has undergone a transformation.

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Zelensky and the World v. Putin and Russia

Ukraine’s courage, like David’s defying Russia’s Goliath, has caught the imagination and support of the free world. Everyone expected the country to crumble under overwhelming Russian military might. Six days later, Ukraine is resisting the Russian juggernaut with unforeseen mettle and determination. Putin must be confounded that his projected slam-dunk occupation is not going as planned.

His troubles began with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who refused the evacuation offer from the United States. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he (now famously) responded. The young, former comedian with no political experience has evolved into a heroic wartime leader. Zelensky is rallying his people every day, exhorting them to fight in any way they are able. And they are responding. Fiercely. Civilians are taking up arms, studying TikTok video instructions for driving captured Russian tanks, gathering bottles to fill with explosives. Girls are making camouflage nets for their soldiers. A brewery in Lviv stopped making beer, producing Molotov cocktails instead.

Conversely, Putin is revealing himself to be not so much a master strategist, but rather an aging autocrat who, after decades of no opposition, has lost his ability to perceive hard-edged reality. Some of his troops are reported to have surrendered and their tanks run out of gas.

Zelensky’s example is inspiring not only his countrymen, but the entire world. Crowds are protesting Russia’s invasion worldwide, even inside Russia, where thousands have been arrested.

NATO and the European Union have imposed devastating banking sanctions. Germany has executed a complete reversal of its decades of nonintervention: it is now sending military equipment to aid Ukraine and canceling the Russian gas pipeline to stymie Russia; historically neutral Switzerland and Sweden are sending arms to Ukraine. Beyond Europe, Taiwan, Australia and Japan are joining forces with the anti-Russia coalition.

International support for Ukraine is symbolic as well as tangible. Landmarks around the globe are sporting the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag: the Empire State Building in New York, the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the London Eye, are just a few of the many. And not only in Europe: monuments in Toronto and Sydney and Tokyo are also illuminated in blue and yellow. 

The sports world is joining in. The International Skating Union has barred Russia and Belarus from its competitions. In soccer, some countries threatened to boycott the qualifying games for the World Cup if Russia were a participant. Then the international soccer associations UEFA and FIFA banned Russian teams from competing on the world’s fields for an indefinite period, and St. Petersburg will no longer host the very important Champion League’s final game.

In the entertainment field, Disney is boycotting Russia, and Netflix will no longer carry the propaganda channels required by Russian law, though it means the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of Russian subscribers. Warner Bros. has indefinitely delayed the Russian opening of The Batman, an eagerly anticipated blockbuster film.

Without taking away any appreciation of Ukrainian heroism or the international support it has galvanized, I have to remark that our unhappy world has many conflicts and suffering peoples. Is it right or fair that Ukraine receive so much sympathy and attention while other travails go ignored? African students fleeing the Ukraine to return to their homelands have reported being made to wait at the border for a much longer time than Ukrainians, even being beaten and abused by Ukrainian border guards. Of course, Ukraine and the Slavs are White and European while Africans and Arabs are people of color.

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