The Ukraine and Russia: How will it end?

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The Ukraine and Russia: How will it end?
Illustration by Agung Wahyudi/IO

IO – For nearly 400 years the different regions of Indonesia rebelled against the Dutch colonialists ruling Indonesia. From the 17th century onwards there were wars and rebellions in Java, Banten, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, Aceh, West Sumatera, Lombok, Bali and the list goes on. None of them were successful until finally the whole nation from 1945 to 1949 joined together and fought a war of independence which only now the Dutch are admitting was far uglier than previously acknowledged. We wanted so much to be free and later the nation realized more and more how much we also wanted to be a democracy. So, how could Indonesian hearts not be moved at the great courage and determination with which Ukrainians are so desperately fighting for their merdeka, their freedom …. and their democracy?  

And Ukrainians have truly shown the world how prepared they are to put their lives on the line for this. From farmers to shoemakers, lawyers, museum directors and presidents they are donning military fatigues and taking up arms. Both men and women (including former beauty queen Miss Ukraina, Anastasiia Lenna) are carrying arms to help defend their country as is the former President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. Even the current president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy carries weapons to fight for Ukraine. When America offered to take him to a safe country he refused and said that he would remain and fight with his people. Even abroad Ukrainians fight for their country as did the sailor, D. Taras O. who tried to sink a luxury yacht worth nearly US$ 8 million owned by the Russian arms tycoon, Alexander Mikheev, in Mallorca Spain. After a Spanish judge granted him bail while he awaits trial, he said, “I don’t regret anything I’ve done and I would do it again.”

On Feburay 26th 2022, the Ukrainian President called on Ukrainians to return home to defend their country. The French Foreign Legion immediately released its Ukrainian soldiers to return to Ukraine. The President of Ukraine also called on foreign nationals to volunteer to fight with the Ukrainian army.  The Georgian National Legion is a defense force of volunteers from all over the world. It used to be a front line unit during the Donbas War fighting on the side of the Ukrainian government, consisting mainly of volunteers from Georgia which Russian forces invaded in 2008. It is now a legion for foreign fighters from all over the world. There are currently nearly 17,000 foreign fighters in Ukraine and they say that everyday there are a hundred requests to join. The volunteers come from countries that are democracies mostly from Europe, the United States and Australia but even from as far as Japan and India because it is the place where they feel democracy needs most urgently to be defended. An Albanian volunteer explained that 26 years ago Albanians and Yugoslavians were killed by Serbians and Russians, then Georgians were, and now the same thing is happening in Ukraine. “So, we all have the same enemy.”

Former Indian Secretary of State, Shyam Saran writes in the Indian Express that there is a David versus Goliath feel to what is unfolding in Ukraine and many across the world seem to feel the same but it is not quite that simple. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and in 1992 Yeltsin spoke to the United States Congress and offered the hand of friendship to the American people. Vladimir Pozner, the French-born Russian-American journalist says that it was at this point that the United States should have treated Russia like Germany at the end of the Second World War and created a Marshall Plan for Russia, to ensure the development of democracy within the country but that it let that opportunity go by and instead treated Russia like a second rate world power. He says that this was a missed opportunity and a mistake.

He asserts that when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was asked to allow Germany to reunite, he was reassured by James Baker, the American Secretary of State at the time that if he allowed the reunification, NATO would not expand its membership eastward to include former Warsaw Pact member states. He cites as his source the minutes of the Baker-Gorbachev discussions that the National Defense Archives of George Washington University declassified on the 12th of December 2017. He says that such reassurances were also conveyed by the West German leadership and NATO did not expand in that direction until 1999 when NATO was enlarged by the membership of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary despite Russian opposition and much debate within NATO itself.

In 2000 Vladimir Putin was elected to the Russian presidency. One of the first things he did was to ask to join NATO. This was refused but in 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were accepted into NATO. Russia again protested but to no avail.

Meanwhile, in 2013 the pro-Russian President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych faced demonstrations and riots later popularly known as the Maidan Revolution. These only came to an end after an agreement was signed via the mediation of Russia and the EU. Ukrainians then went to the polls where they voted in a new president. In 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy was voted President of Ukraine.

In 2017 Montenegro and North Macedonia joined NATO. Again Russia protested and when in 2021 the United States proposed Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, Russia declared that the United States had betrayed it since 1991 and that it would not allow missiles to be deployed in countries bordering it; arguing that the United States would never allow countries such as Canada and Mexico to join a military alliance with Russia and deploy missiles along its borders which would contravene the Monroe Doctrine. This is what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Russia finally agreed to have Cuba dismantle its missiles. Pozner states that what many people are not aware of is that the reason Russia agreed to do so is because the United States secretly made an agreement with Russia that it would dismantle its ballistic missiles in Turkey which shares borders with Russia. The agreement remained a secret and the missiles in Turkey were dismantled.

United States officials have denied that the United States made a promise not to expand NATO membership with ex-Warsaw Pact countries. Mikhail Gorbachev is universally acknowledged as sincere and trustworthy. He is also a man who knows what really transpired at the time. What Gorbachev said when he was asked why he did not insist that the promises made to him – in particular by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker – that NATO would not expand into the East, be legally encoded, Gorbachev replied, “The topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. … Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement was made in that context… Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled.”

Gorbachev did criticize NATO enlargement and called it a violation of the spirit of the assurances given Moscow in 1990, but he also made clear there was no promise regarding broader enlargement.

However, setting aside the question of whether the United States and the European Union did or did not promise that they would not expand NATO membership to the east, and whether Russia has a right to defend itself against the possible placement of NATO missiles in Ukraine – surely there is another question just as important: what about the Ukrainian people’s right of self-determination as guaranteed by the United Nations Charter? Do they not have the right to freedom and democracy and to being the sort of nation that they want to be?

Russia has 6,5 million square miles of land much of it rich in resources. That is 10% of the world’s land mass, nevertheless, Russia’s economy is smaller than that of Italy. Its GDP per capita is equivalent to that of Panama or the Maldives despite the fact that its people have produced great scientific and cultural achievements. Under Putin, Russia has become a dictatorship and an oligarchy without an independently functioning parliament, press or judicial system. Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny was first poisoned, and then imprisoned. Then since 2014, a country began to exist next to Russia whose people share a common ethnic origin, which is a democracy and whose economy was thriving. There are those who question whether this might not be the real threat that Russia senses.

Steven Beller, a historian specializing in the Habsburg empire states, “My view is that the problem is Russian refusal to live as Russia rather than the Russian Empire. The world is in too bad a shape—climate change, environmental degradation, etc.—to worry about phantom threats to one’s national prestige. In any case the real threat to Putin is the specter of democracy working in neighboring states like Ukraine, not the threat of invasion by NATO.”

General David Petreaus is one of the most experienced counter insurgency specialists in the world and a former head of the CIA. He says that both the President and citizenry of Ukraine are putting up a very stiff resistance to the Russian forces. This together with a flawed design in the Russia invasion concept, a failure to integrate air and ground capabilities, shortages in logistics – all resulting in slower-than-expected troop movements has put them very much off their timeline. At present, the Russians are reported to have 190,000 troops amassed for Ukraine and they will eventually defeat the Ukrainian military forces. However, in order to be able to control the whole country with its citizenry resisting and a motivated insurgency force Russia would have to increase its troops substantially. Added to that, Putin’s actions have turned nearly the whole world against him. Petreaus believes that it could end up being worse for Russia than Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright agrees and argues that a Russian occupation of Ukraine would lead to an insurgency like that which the Soviets faced in Afghanistan. Their defeat in Afghanistan was a major factor in the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Josef Stalin once described the Ukrainians as the best fighters in the Soviet army.

Former Euro MP and presidential candidate for Portugal, Ana Gomes says that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the face of Germany and thereby also the European Union. Germany has now ordered the construction of two LNG terminals and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project with Russia, is cancelled. But it is in its defense policy that Germany has done a real about face. The country which has had a pacifist stance for decades has now allocated US $ 113 billion for its army and a commitment of 2% of German GDP for NATO’s military spending. For the first time, Germany will be sending arms to a country under attack: Ukraine. Before that it would only send equipment but not arms. Gomes who was Portuguese Ambassador to Indonesia during the extremely volatile situation at the end of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor  says, “This means that the European Union will be building its own armed forces. Right now, NATO is United States led but we will now keep our independence, while working together with NATO.”

Gomes also agrees that Russia’s actions have turned the world against it. At the United Nations the Kenyan envoy berated Russia in a sterling speech reflecting many Africans’ views on Ukraine, and on Tuesday there was such a massive walkout of UN delegates that it left the room nearly empty, as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Shyam Saran wrote in his op-ed in the Indian Express that Indian Prime Minister Modi telephoned President Putin urging the cessation of violence and that despite its abstention in the Security Council vote, India reiterated the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and that all member states need to honour these principles. Even Russian ally China, has said that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of every country must be safeguarded and “Ukraine is no exception.” Another consequence of the Russian attack on Ukraine has been to drive the European Union and Ukraine even closer together.

Indonesia is not as large a country as Russia but still if one places it on a map of Europe it stretches from London to the Caspian Sea. We have over 300 ethnic and tribal groups who speak over 600 languages and dialects.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many predicted that Indonesia would also break up but we did not. There were many reasons for this but one of the more important reasons is because Indonesia was not created by one group conquering the rest. Indonesia was created through dialogue. Its regions came together and created Indonesia because they wanted to. An exception to this was East Timor which Indonesian forces invaded in 1975 – and as history has shown we were not able to keep it. Nations integrate with other nations or join blocks and remain a part of them when this is what they want to do and that happens when they feel a sense of common values and that they are respected and treated fairly. This is something that the European Union and NATO have succeeded in very well.  

Metropolitan Onuphriy, who heads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, declared at the outbreak of the war “The Ukrainian and Russian peoples came out of the Dnieper Baptismal font, and the war between these peoples is a repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy. Such a war has no justification either from God or from people.”

What Metropolitan Onuphriy was referring to is a brotherly love. As on the 1st of March 2022,  President Zelenskyy addressed the EU parliament and said that Ukraine was giving up the best of her people to defend the values that the European Union stands for, every member rose to give him a standing ovation. The President of the EU Commision, Ursula Von der Leyen then responded with a speech in which she said, “No one can doubt that a people who stand up so bravely for our European values belongs in our European family.” 

It was during these moments that something of that brotherly love that Metropolitan Onuphriy spoke of was palpable in the room. As Russia continues its expansion into Ukraine a hatred is building up in the hearts of Ukrainians. Should Russia succeed in subjugating Ukraine it will only be a matter of time before that hate expresses itself and Ukraine tries to free itself again. It took Indonesia 400 years – but in the end it was free. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)