Oftentimes when conflicts flare up, reporters offer a brief recollection into the history between each party. On Feb. 24, 2022, the world’s largest country attacked another European nation-state. In this case, there is no need to talk about the history or degree of linguistic and cultural relations between Russia and Ukraine. There is no need for any form of justification of unprovoked military action, especially by a Permanent UN Security Council member, against a peaceful state trying to build its democracy. It is a case in which the aggressor ordered assaults on a sovereign, independent country. According to the Washington Post, Russian president Vladimir Putin justified the invasion by suggesting that Ukrainian neo-Nazis, funded by the Western order, were attacking Russians and perpetrating genocide. And yet, as indicated by Atlantic Council, he also published an essay shortly before the invasion in an effort to tie Russians and Ukrainians as one people as a pretext for war. Regardless of what baseless, contradictory and revisionist justification Putin deploys on a given day, it is abundantly clear that he set off a chain reaction of destructive events, tragedy and a new chapter in European and world history.
Ukraine has never attempted to breach the sovereignty of any country in the entire world. Yet Putin, through mass propaganda and years of domestic societal manipulation, has managed to gain support for the idea that Russia borders a Nazified Ukraine that rightfully should be turned over to Russian political jurisdiction. This is utterly baseless and insulting for several reasons as pointed out by The Guardian. During World War II, Ukraine lost four million people to fascist invaders. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish. My Jewish family, living in Ukraine at the time, evacuated to the Ural Mountains in Russia, away from an occupation that would have killed them just for who they were.
How ironic. The country that has just enacted military censorship of all Russian media, per the International Press Institute, and has been displaying the symptoms of a cemented autocracy is labeling democratic Ukraine as a fascist entity. But also how tragic. This misguided revanchism is destroying livelihoods and killing people.
Ukraine has seen that Russia’s rapid 2014 annexation of Crimea was not a bargaining chip that left Putin satisfied; instead, it was an affirmation for him to keep moving forward in his megalomaniacal dream of restoring old Soviet borders. Think of the appeasement of Nazi Germany of the latter half of the 1930s. But today, war is different. In a world order that consistently condemns conquest or forced territorial seizure efforts, Putin represents an ultra-conservative, rogue, and antiquated version of autocracy that may eventually end in Russia, given the consequences of waging war against a democratic nation that has never violated another’s sovereignty.
Violence is taking place on a massive scale, especially in cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol. Not a single morning goes by when I open my phone and do not see a besieged Mariupol under bombs in the headlines. Not a day goes by when I read up on whether Kharkiv, where my entire family immigrated from, has seen new troop movements, if violence has escalated or deescalated, or if it has been captured. Amid an ongoing stream of heartbreaking news, the Ukrainian resistance is a source of massive inspiration. Converting art studios into camouflage netting production machines. Grandmothers in rural Ukraine spending their days making Molotov cocktails. Civilians of all walks of life protecting corridors for vulnerable Ukrainians to flee barrages of bombs and cruise missile strikes. President Zelensky, under unprecedented danger and pressure, refused the United States’ offer to flee and remained in Kyiv, saying, “I need ammunition, not a ride,” according to Inside Edition. Ukrainians understand the stakes, and they put Ukraine at the center of the entire world right now.
This is why Putin is doomed to failure ever since he invaded Ukraine. He has forced soldiers to seize control for a rather poorly determined end goal, while the Ukrainian people have galvanized and mobilized far beyond just their military. Even if Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation one day declare a victory over the Ukrainian republic, it should be taken with a grain of salt or not at all. Whether the country usurps Eastern regions, exercises a long-term military occupation of the country or installs a puppet government, the Russian establishment could hail the fall of Kyiv as a glorious changing of the tide for Russia in its quest for global influence and projection of strength. But that won’t be the case. A Putinist Russia cannot force an occupation of a country that overwhelmingly opposes him. Despite Russia’s superior military capabilities, technology, and numerical strength as detailed by CNN, the Ukrainian public will never accept an installed Russian rule.
There is a significant chance that Putin has effectively numbered the days of his administration by creating a new Vietnam, Afghanistan or Chechnya. In these countries and territories, war grew infamously bloody and protracted, exemplifying the level of suffering insurgencies can bring. Although Ukraine’s military is technically less advanced and areas of the country may be overpowered by Russia, the occupiers will still be heavily resisted. What will happen when Russian soldiers return in coffins? What will happen when Russians back home feel the increasing isolation of their country from the world stage? What will happen as Russia’s state of war magnifies its authoritarian identity and more civilians face unnecessary repercussions? What will happen if a substantial proportion of the Ukrainian minority in Russia grows more and more inflamed? What will happen if roadside bombs and street-to-street fighting in occupied Ukraine begin to mirror the bloodshed and brutality of a suffering Yugoslavia in the 1990s? It would not be unfathomable to believe that, despite Putin being stereotyped as cunning, he may have done irreparable damage to his legitimacy and even his regime. And he is bringing down Ukrainians and Russians alike with him.
According to the New York Times, Russia’s population is 144 million. Ukraine’s population is 44 million (though significantly less now due to an exodus of refugees). But Ukraine is under an existential statehood emergency, a reality that the Russian citizenry under Putin simply cannot understand. Ukrainians are fighting a purely defensive war, and The Sun reports even civilians across the country are fighting, tilting manpower proportions in Ukraine’s favor. Russia sees the war as merely a form of discipline, which is why they won’t get away with this. Ukraine will not surrender with a resolute leader like Volodymyr Zelensky and ordinary people who continue to demonstrate their love for their country and its growing democracy.
Putin’s dreams cannot come true with Russia now being cut off from The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), him being personally sanctioned by the United States, food sanctions guaranteed to take a devastating hit on the Russian economy, and Ukrainians fighting the war that has always been somewhere in the back of their minds. It is up to the United States and its allies to maintain their unity and not provide any leeway to a country that has the audacity, as a nuclear power, to violate the sovereignty of a much smaller nation that yearned for peace throughout its short post-Soviet history.
Putin made a grave mistake for his interests, but this does not preclude an inevitable reality: all sides lose in a war. Given that a protracted conflict, potentially in the form of an insurgency under occupation, will likely occur in Ukraine, violence will escalate. As The Conversation notes, Putin poisoned journalists, shot down airliners and strengthened his police state immensely as the world watches Russian protests against war be brutally silenced. He probably does not have reservations against mercilessly and potentially indiscriminately cracking down on Ukrainians who swear to the fight to the death.
As tragedy takes place and much of the free world resists Russian aggression with extremely strict sanctions in concert as reported by the New York Times, the usual expectation of Russian domination over Ukraine is showing cracks. Much of the American public fails to recognize the actions being taken to support Ukraine. Go to any news media post about the conflict, and there will be Americans commenting, “Why are they not doing anything?”
President Biden and his calculated administration, according to CNN, are pressuring Russian leaders and notables and squeezing the Russian economy like never before, but the skepticism remains high amid the fact that these sanctions’ consequences actually need time to materialize. It is also up to us as a college and world community to help in any way that we can, whether it is donating our money, donating our time or even just staying abreast of the latest updates. Good people are coming together throughout the world working with NGOs, government institutions, or even on the ground in Ukraine. Both within and outside of institutions addressing the terrible situation in Ukraine, people resist Putin, a 19th century oligarchic ruler in the 21st century. Due to Russia’s newly deepened isolation, could Putin be switched from being glorified to reviled in Russia in the next several months or years? Only time can tell, but one thing is clear: the global resistance is well sustained and must continue to be so.
Autocratic leaders are often narcissistic, dismissive of limitations and chauvinistic, but they can also be insecure, according to PubMed.gov. This kind of authoritarian tendency for Putin has unfortunately culminated in a hellish situation for Ukraine. It shows the raw power and evil of autocracy in which the orders of one man bring down the lives of other men, women and children. While the present-day commands the world’s simultaneous grief and resistance, this will become a historical moment that the world needs to learn from before risking repetitions of mass death and destruction. That is why Ukraine needs all of our help and attention.