Ukraine: a year later
Ambassador Curtis Ward
(22 February 2023) — Exactly a year ago, I wrote in The Ward Post that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was, “a clear violation of international law.” I also wrote, “We are long familiar with Putin’s arrogance and his egregious behavior against domestic political opponents. He has now internationalized his egregiousness. The international community will hold him accountable.”
I also wrote, indeed predicted at the time of the Russian invasion, “Advancing further into Ukraine territory will undoubtedly result in considerable death and destruction rising to the level of crimes against humanity and within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
I was right then, and I am absolutely certain of the correctness of my current conclusions. All elements of ‘crimes against humanity’ have been committed by the Russian invasion forces against the people and country of Ukraine.
Overwhelming evidence of war crimes
A year, hence, the international community has collected overwhelming and indisputable evidence of Russian troops having committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Russia’s aggression and egregious acts continue. The individual military personnel on the ground to the top echelons of Russian generals and political leaders, Putin included, bear responsibility for these egregious crimes against the people of Ukraine. They will be held accountable.
The investigations already undertaken by the International Criminal Court, the European Union, the United States, and human rights groups already have collected a body of evidence sufficient to prosecute and convict those responsible. As I said a year ago, Putin will be held accountable. Those who aided and abetted him, and those who were the instruments of the crimes will be held accountable. Justice will be done.
Without strict accountability, the international community would have failed to enforce the rule of law and our global institutions would be severely weakened. I dare say, they would be so deeply compromised they would be weakened beyond repair.
The world would be in chaos. I am not predicting Armageddon. We are not there yet. But we would be at a point in history where despots would run roughshod over international order and the world would become far more dangerous than it has been since World War II. The protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms would be nothing but a theoretical exercise. The marginalized would be further marginalized and democracy would be deemed a failure.
Before Russia’s invasion, the people of Ukraine had taken to the streets to demand democracy and rule of law and rejected corruption and lack of accountability. They ended Russia’s puppet regime in Kyiv. They replaced an autocratic and corrupt leader with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a leader who has shown his commitment to a system of governance where the rule of law and democracy prevail. Undaunted, he defied Donald Trump’s bullying and corrupt entreaties, and he not only survived, but he also became stronger. He emerged as a great defender of democracy in Europe and the world. He became an anti-corruption crusader in his country. Had he succumbed to Trump’s “quid pro quo” demands, his country would now be under Putin’s control. Trump would have delivered Ukraine to the wolves in the Kremlin.
Strength of Biden’s global leadership
U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Ukraine and his strong, bold leadership of NATO and the free world is at the center of global geopolitical history. NATO is stronger than it has ever been. Globally, democracy is reaffirmed and strengthened.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, warned by the Biden administration to stay in his corner during Biden’s stroll through the streets of Kyiv and the halls of Ukraine’s government, or has his face crushed to the canvass, meekly complied. Biden showed by his bold historic visit to the war zone that Russia is an inferior power to the United States and that Biden is a world leader in a class way above Putin and his authoritarian government.
Putin’s dream of triumphantly parading his troops in Ukraine’s capital has become his living nightmare. Putin’s dream of a Russian victory in Ukraine as a precursor to expanding the defunct Russian empire into Eastern and Western Europe is now his even worse nightmare.
China, take note! Any military move on Taiwan will be met with equal resolve by the United States and the international community of free nations. American leadership, the likes of which Biden has provided on Ukraine, would consolidate already strong opposition and distrust in Asia. Japan and South Korea would be drawn even closer to America and China’s global economic reach could be severely curtailed. Leaders with any degree of national pride and independence in their foreign policies are not afraid of geopolitical bullies. They abhor them.
Choosing democracy over authoritarianism and autocracy
The resistance of the people of Ukraine to Russian control, their resilience and strength in the most challenging circumstances, is a demonstration that people are prepared to die for their democratic freedoms and reject authoritarianism and autocracy. Ukraine’s example demonstrates the wishes of most peoples around the world.
In countries where fundamental freedoms are denied, history has shown us that only through brutal enforcement of these authoritarian and autocratic regimes and systems can they prevail. There is no country anywhere in the world where the vast majority of people are satisfied with anything less than the guarantee of the full freedoms – the right to life and liberty, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, freedom of the press, guarantees of human rights, with the free exercise of political and civic rights to choose their leaders. There is an overwhelming desire for rule of law within a democratic form of government. Though the oppression of these rights is so egregious in some countries, and the control so concretely exercised, at some point in history these countries will implode.
Zelenskyy made the right choice. He led and his people followed. The free world came to his aid. They stood him up as a defender of democracy. Leaders of vulnerable countries, including the small countries of the Caribbean, take note. When you stand for democracy and the rule of law; when you stand for good governance; when you reject corruption, the people will march in steps with you. The free world, the international community will stand you up as a beacon.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post