Tom Rose on the war in Ukraine

Tom Rose on the war in Ukraine

Krakovets, Lyviv Oblast, Ukraine — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now targets military bases and supply lines just miles from one of the busiest Polish border crossings, the letter Z has morphed from a proud symbol of Russian arms into the mark of Russian terror. What did the nearly 2 million women and children passing through overwhelmed humanitarian corridors like this one ever do to have their homes, hospitals, farms, businesses, factories, let alone their very lives, destroyed by brute Russian aggression? 

Ukraine’s guilt is manifold. She is guilty of not surrendering; guilty of ferociously fighting like lions against impossible odds; guilty of standing up to the tyrant of a mighty and criminally aggressive neighbor to celebrate her national identity and independence. But worst of all,  Ukrainians are guilty of not succumbing to the ever growing terror from the east nor the neglect from the dazed and irresolute leadership of the western alliance.

Tom Rose.

Ukraine officially now puts the number of its fighting war dead at more than 1500, but like in all wars, the heaviest price is paid by those who can not fight back. Those who can’t find refuge, not even in the hospitals and apartment blocks targeted by Russian heavy guns. Their numbers are unknown.

Ukraine’s armed forces are now joined by a tragically growing but weaponless army of inconsolable mothers and orphaned children. Recently vibrant urban landscapes rendered lifeless by Russian armor. Tanks parked where cars once were. Apartment buildings without walls, homes without roofs, and churches without spires. The longer it takes Russia to occupy Ukraine the more it’s turning this country into bigger heaps of uninhabitable rubble. The more valiant Ukrainian defenders stifle Putin’s plans, the more he turns to vengeance in a war he has by no means yet lost. 

What must go through the minds of Russian soldiers as they get their orders to destroy civilian neighborhoods? Do they think they right the wrongs against a Russia “more sinned against that sinning?” Can they possibly think of themselves as real victims of
Ukrainian aggression? What it is they see themselves fighting for, as they traduce the fields, villages, and cities of this now g-d forsaken land? Do they think whatever that is truly worth dying for?

These questions need not be asked of Ukraine’s defenders. They
well know what they are fighting for and fighting against. They are fighting for their homes, their families, and their very lives. Like the citizens of Russian occupied Maritipol, who, by the thousands surround Russian tanks outside city hall, from which their mayor was brazenly kidnapped by Russian troops in broad daylight, chanting “bring back our men.”  

Apartments damaged by shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Apartments damaged by shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Putin may deny the right of Ukraine to exist, but with every shell he lobs into parks once filled with pram pushing mothers, every artillery shell or vacuum bomb that rains down on maternity hospitals, Putin makes their case for them. Like so many times in the long,
lamentable history of this too often defaced land, Ukraine’s national identity is being forged yet again on the anvil of a brutal and unforgiving war. 

The opera company of Odessa serenading citizen volunteers working round the clock filling sandbags to defend this historic, beautiful and vital port city from an expected Russian naval assault proves yet again that history need not be destiny; that the so-called “fate of man” is but the fiction of those who seek to deny others the freedom to prove themselves masters of their own destinies.

Ukrainians are not Ukrainians, says the man who unleashed his massive terror army to destroy them. They are Russians whose yearning to be reunited with the Motherland is prevented by a gang of Nazis, lead a 5’4” Jewish comedian-turned president elected with 74% of the vote. But then who are these non-existent Ukrainians fighting so ferociously that their self appointed liberators must now call upon their blood soaked Syrian mercenaries to assist them? If the war is, as Putin says, about the very existence of Ukraine, then Putin has already lost.

A displaced family from Kyiv, right, sit in a basement, used as a bomb shelter in Lviv.
A displaced family from Kyiv, right, sit in a basement, used as a bomb shelter in Lviv.

To those Blame America Firsters who proclaim that it was NATO that somehow provoked this war, how is it that none of those thousands who pour through this border crossing every hour seem to believe so? As former Vice President Mike Pence recently asked, were it not for NATO, how far west would Russian tanks be today? Would the Baltics states still be free?” 

Orwell once opined that the first task of responsible citizens is to restate the obvious. Here are but a few of those forgotten but obvious facts: NATO is a purely defensive and open alliance that Russia has been repeatedly invited to join. Russia signed the 1991 German Reunification Act that folded the former East Germany into NATO. In 1994, addition to signing the Budapest Memorandum in which Russia, together with the US and Britain, guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it also joined the “Partnership for Peace”  established to create a pathway for Russia to join NATO. 

Destroyed Russian tanks are seen on a main road after battles near Brovary, north of Kyiv.
Destroyed Russian tanks are seen on a main road after battles near Brovary, north of Kyiv.

In 1997 Russia signed the “Founding Act” On Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security with NATO. In 2002, Russia co-founded the NATO-Russia Council which gave Russia permanent observer status at NATO headquarters in Brussels. And finally, there was not a single NATO forward deployed unit stationed in Poland or the Baltics until after Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and armed annexation of Crimea in 2014. NATO no more provoked Putin’s invasion of Ukraine than the cock provokes the dawn. 

Not to mention the absurd notion that Russia, a country so large it stretches across 11 times zones and encompasses 10% of the earth’s entire landmass, somehow needs “strategic depth.” What possible threat of invasion does Russia face, and from whom?
Estonia? As Mark Levin points out, it isn’t Putin that needs “strategic depth.” It’s the vulnerable and tiny states that border her. To those who naively speculate what might come next, they need look no further than Grozny, Aleppo and Homs, but with one key
difference. In Syria, while Russian chemical barrel bombs were dropped from Russian planes, on the ground it was Syrians slaughtering other Syrians. Not so in Ukraine. Not only are bombs being dropped from Russian planes, but on the ground here, it is Russians slaughtering Ukrainians. 

A Ukrainian serviceman takes a photograph of a damaged church after shelling in a residential district in Mariupol.
A Ukrainian serviceman takes a photograph of a damaged church after shelling in a residential district in Mariupol.

Russians and Ukrainians are not enemies, or at least they didn’t used to be. While they went their separate ways after the fall of the USSR, they did so as friends, neighbors and families. In many ways, Ukrainians and Russians are to each other what Americans and Canadians are to us. Kindred peoples, who share nearly identical lifestyles, languages and cultures but who live in, and love their distinctly different nations. Putin’s legacy will be turning long fraternal peoples into blood enemies, possibly for generations. There are moments in time when individual choices are essential. This is one of them. The kinds of freedom and security we take for granted, (or worse, hold in contempt) don’t spontaneously emerge, nor can they independently sustain themselves. There is no
historical process that pre-ordains them.

Every day that Ukrainians resist gives us another week, or month or year of the kind of life our forebears sacrificed for us. Every day they fight grants us another day to reflect on their struggle in a way that helps us recommit to protecting the blessings of peace and freedom that we enjoy. 

Putin’s dark vision rejects the very idea that people have the capacity to create things anew; that what happened in the past must determine what must happen now and in the future. Ukraine shows this to be patently false. Ukrainians lived under the same tyranny as did the Russians when part of the Soviet Union and before that the empire of the Tzars, far worse in fact. Yet Ukraine chose differently and now fights valiantly to defend that choice.

It is to Ukrainians that we owe more than mere gratitude for reminding us of these hard and bitter truths. We owe them our support.

Tom Rose was senior advisor and chief strategist to Vice President Pence during Trump Administration,  and prior to that was publisher and CEO of the Jerusalem Post.  He traveled last week to Ukraine.

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