This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.
By Chris Alexander, June 2, 2023
Russia’s neo-colonial war of conquest in Ukraine constitutes an extreme form of genocide – a deliberate, large-scale, mercilessly violent attempt to destroy Ukraine’s statehood, erase Ukrainian identity and kill Ukrainian people. And it began because we did not stop Moscow earlier.
The Russians obliterated the city of Grozny in Chechnya in the early 2000s, killing thousands of civilians; no Russian leaders were even sanctioned. They invaded part of Georgia in 2008, almost without consequence. The sanctions implemented after Moscow’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 were weak to the point of absurdity. Genocide in Syria, made possible by Russia, was followed by Moscow’s deadly mischief across Africa – all, once again, with no effective response.
And so the bullies escalated their violence.
In a recent speech, President Vladimir Putin linked his genocidal war in Ukraine to the survival of Russian statehood: In his twisted mindset, Ukraine is not just “lebensraum” – controlling Ukraine is constitutive for the Kremlin’s aggressively imperial dogma, as conquest was for Hitler, Stalin and Milosevic. And hemmed in by propaganda, brainwashed by lies and terrified of today’s machinery of government repression, most Russians have already surrendered to Mr. Putin’s hateful, nihilistic ideology.
Why has Moscow’s violence against Ukraine not been stopped? First, Western governments appear to have believed Ukraine would lose in early 2022. As a result, the first months of the war were dominated by transfers of anti-tank weapons and small arms – an arsenal fit for an insurgency, not the liberation of a large country.
Against these expectations, however, Ukraine has delivered amazing courage and a string of battlefield wins. Over the past year, it has retaken about 10 per cent of its territory from Russian invaders.
The second reason is that Ukraine has been treated so far as a second-class ally. If a NATO member such as Estonia or Bulgaria were to be invaded by Russia, allies would respond with air power, naval power and long-range fires (artillery, rockets, missiles and other weapons) into Russia, to destroy the military infrastructure sustaining such an invasion. Yet these military capabilities are still denied to Ukraine, costing more lives and extending the period required to retake the remaining parts of Ukraine still under Russian occupation.
Why? Because the U.S. and NATO have still not fully exorcised the failed policies of the past: George H.W. Bush’s “Chicken Kyiv” speech in 1991, the dead-letter security guarantees of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Angela Merkel’s veto of Ukrainian accession to NATO after it was promised at Bucharest in 2008. All these failures to integrate Ukraine into an effective system of deterrence against Russian aggression have been catnip for the delusional Mr. Putin and his cronies.
We are also still not doing nearly enough to embargo Russia, as authorized by the UN Charter in response to acts of aggression, or to remove this unhinged dictatorship from the Security Council.
But there is a simple remedy. It is called self-defence.
Chapter VII of the UN Charter recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” In other words, any country that is facing invasion has the right to take any and all military actions required to repel this aggression. Any member states wishing to help them have the same inherent right under international law. This includes the right to strike targets inside Russia that are now supporting Moscow’s invasion, as the German government and British Foreign Secretary have recently acknowledged in the wake of drone attacks in Moscow. (Russia has blamed Ukraine; Ukraine has rejected the accusations.)
Any questioning of the right of Ukraine and its allies to attack military assets relevant to Moscow’s invasion on Russian territory is effectively an acceptance of Russian genocide. The right of self-defence is self-evident.
To achieve full victory, Ukraine must receive the F-16s, F-18s, French Mirage fighters, British Typhoons and other attack aircraft that it was initially denied. Naval action must restore freedom of navigation in the Black Sea. And ATACMS, Taurus, Storm Shadow and other long-range fire systems capable of hitting targets deep inside Russia should be deployed, in quantity, to destroy Russian logistics, command and control, munitions stockpiles and troop concentrations.
Our only feeble excuse for not backing Ukraine with everything we’ve got is the irrational fear of escalation, amplified worldwide by Moscow’s propaganda war machine – and the bad habits developed at Versailles in 1919, Yalta in 1945 and in countless fora since 1991, by which Moscow has been able to avoid accountability for its pattern of genocide, invasion and war crimes.
Only Ukraine’s full victory can start to turn this tide of violence and impunity.
Chris Alexander is a former deputy head of mission of the Canadian embassy in Moscow and Canadian cabinet minister. He is currently a distinguished fellow of the Canadian International Council and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.