European security architecture in the Kremlin’s crosshairs
Europe's security begins with Ukraine's security. The West should support Ukraine and powerfully respond to Russia’s attempts to shake up European unity through blackmail, misinformation, and cyber-attacks.
In 1991, after many decades of Moscow's rule, Ukraine regained its independence. Back then, Ukrainians were happy and naive. We thought we would never be attacked if we proclaimed neutrality and our non-aligned status. We believed that the guarantor-states under the Budapest Memorandum would protect us if we renounced nuclear weapons under international guarantees. We were convinced that our neighbors would have no reason to approach us with a gun in hand if we built an open, tolerant society based on the rule of law, human rights, and other European values. We sincerely hoped that Russia, together with us and with the help of the West, would embark on the path of democratic reforms, establish itself as a democracy, develop a market economy, and instead of a "prison of nations," It would become a center of cultural attraction for the entire post-Soviet space. Unfortunately, this did not happen. While imitating cooperation with its Western partners, in reality, Russia was slowly but surely drowning in the swamp of nostalgia for past imperial grandeur and further nourished the desire to restore it.
We felt in our hearts that "Winter is coming,” but we did not want to believe it. Just as Czechoslovakia could not believe that it would be betrayed to Nazi Germany, just as the Poles could not believe that their ally Stalin would stab them in the back in 1939, just as the Hungarians could not believe that the Soviet tanks that liberated Budapest in 1944 would ruthlessly suppress the Budapest Uprising of 1956. Ukrainians could not and did not want to believe that the Russian people, with whom they have so many family and personal ties, would start a war to re-establish “brotherly bonds" and forcibly return Ukraine to the imperial yoke. Our leaders were irresponsible, our institutions were weak, and our people were naive. We did not prepare, and "Winter" came. In 2004, Russia struck at Ukraine's political system interfering in the presidential election, but the Orange Revolution thwarted these efforts. In 2005-2006 and 2008-2009, Russia used natural gas as a weapon, which it used to blackmail Ukraine and the whole of Europe. Finally, in 2014, when dictator Viktor Yanukovych was forced to resign under pressure from the protesters during the Revolution of Dignity, Russia occupied and tried to annex the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and started a real war in Donbas.
The Russian-Ukrainian war has been going on for almost eight years. This is a real war in the heart of Europe. It already lasts longer than World War II. It has both a military and an economic component, accompanied by disinformation and cyberattacks. More than 14,000 Ukrainians know all about the Russian-Ukrainian war, but they cannot tell about it because they died from Russian bullets and shells. Their relatives and friends know all about the war and continue to mourn their loss. Thousands of wounded and injured soldiers, whom you can meet on the streets of Ukrainian cities, know about the war between Russia and Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians living in the occupied Crimea, a militarized and lawless ghetto for dissidents, know about it. Echoes of this war are heard in the corridors of Russian prisons, where Ukrainian political prisoners are held on fabricated criminal cases. They are heard in torture chambers in the occupied territories, such as in the “Isolation” concentration camp in Donetsk. All of this is also known in the halls of the Elysée Palace and the Office of the Federal Chancellor, whose occupants are involved in the negotiation process in the Normandy format. Russian-Ukrainian war is also known in the Netherlands. It is known to the investigators investigating the downing of MH 17 and the victims’ families. War is well known to the doctors at Dutch hospitals where wounded Ukrainian service members are undergoing rehabilitation and Dutch journalists who are doing their job professionally covering events around Ukraine. There is only one place on Earth where they “do not know” about the war - Moscow. They “don't know” about it because they don't admit it. Such are their tactics.
There is nothing personal in Russia's war against Ukraine. Recall the prominent American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski, who said: " Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire." Having chosen the imperial paradigm of its development, Russia cannot implement it without Ukraine. Without the history of Kyivan Rus', Russian history shrinks like a "shale skin" down to several hundred years, without Kyiv as a spiritual cradle, Moscow cannot be considered a religious center of Orthodoxy, without Ukrainian artists Russia's contribution to the European and world cultural heritage becomes incomparably poorer. How can Russia compete in space and aircraft construction without design bureaus and factories in Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, or Dnipro? How does it prevent a demographic catastrophe and economic default without an infusion of human and labor resources from Ukraine? And this unbiased logic of geopolitical processes makes it even scarier. Does it mean that the Ukrainian people should give up their independence only because it does not meet the geopolitical interests of Moscow? Does it mean that Ukrainians must abandon such fundamental European values as freedom, human dignity, tolerance, and non-discrimination because they do not correspond to the Russian mentality? Should we refuse to return to our common European home - to integrate into the EU and NATO - to please the ego of the Kremlin elders, marred by the defeat in the Cold War? Ukrainians will never agree to this, which is why we have been fighting for our independence for the last eight years, contrary to all forecasts and calculations.
In 2022, "Winter" is closer than ever. Regular Russian troops are being systematically drawn to our borders. 54 battalion tactical groups, a total of 106,000 soldiers, 1,500 tanks, 3,600 armored combat vehicles, more than 2,000 artillery units, and additional 21,000 service members of the naval and air components were deployed in the immediate vicinity. At the same time, we understand that, if so desired, Russia can deploy many more in just a few days. But neither we nor our Western allies understand the purpose of these movements, as Russia has so far refused to transparently explain its military activities following its international commitments. Essentially, the state which claims to be a "peacemaker" and a "mediator in the conflict between Kyiv and Donetsk and Luhansk” not only arms and finances illegal armed groups of the DPR and LPR but now also openly poses a military threat on the Ukrainian border. We do not know for sure, but we can assume that what is going on is either geopolitical blackmail of the West to re-establish spheres of influence in Europe or preparations for the armed occupation of Ukraine. In both cases, the European security architecture is in the crosshairs of Russian soldiers capable of carrying out any aggressive order of the Kremlin and not of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which are simply defending their own country.
But this time, we are ready. Although Ukrainians unequivocally prefer diplomacy, we are resilient and prepared to respond militarily. But is Europe today prepared to help the only nation fighting for their European identity? A nation paying with blood for its European values and ideals? Is the European Union ready to position itself as a geopolitical power, independent player, and respond with dignity to the Russian ultimatum? We understand that your soldiers will not fight in the Ukrainian trenches. However, you can still do a lot: send a clear political signal about the inadmissibility of further aggression, impose a package of painful sanctions on the Russian economy, strengthen Ukraine by providing us with weapons and military equipment. If we make every step of a Russian soldier on Ukrainian soil incredibly costly and the economic consequences unbearable, then there is every chance that Russia will not dare to embark on a full-scale military gamble in Europe. We are waiting for your decision, we are waiting for help. The Netherlands, as the EU's 5th economy, a significant and respected member of the EU and NATO, must have its say. I very much hope that thanks to your support, thousands of defenders of Ukraine will be able to "say to the God of Death: "Not today!".