Failure to Support: The Repercussions of (In)Action on Ukraine
The Russian war in Ukraine did not really begin in February 2022: rather, it began in 2014, with the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula and has continued for almost ten years throughout Ukrainian territory. In that time, Russia has been recognized as a “state sponsor of terrorism” while asserting that Ukraine was part of Russia and refusing to recognize Ukraine as an independent country. Because of that, Ukraine has been struggling to maintain its independence rightfully gained from the occupational regime of the former USSR. Moreover, the former Soviet government instigated the “red terror” in Ukraine in 1932-1933, also called Holodomor, or Terror Famine, in which millions of Ukrainians were killed by artificial famine. It took place only because of orders from Joseph Stalin remove grain from Ukraine, which at the time and to this day has been a granary not just for itself or for the Soviet Union, but for much of the world.
On the Crimea context, Stalin in 1944 recognized Crimean Tatars as traitors and deported them from Crimea to Uzbekistan. In 1954, ten years after deportation, Crimea was joined to Ukraine. In different sources, it is possible to read that Soviet leadership had “presented” the peninsula to Ukraine. However, it was rather due to economic reasons, as Crimea received freshwater to develop gardening, vegetable growing, and viticulture. Therefore, this was done to answer was an economic question and ensure food security, not to offer a gift. 40 years later, throughout the 1990s, Crimean Tatars began returning to the peninsula, yet they received only persecution, harassment, and humiliation from authorities, comprised largely of former Soviet elites, despite the fact that since 1991, Crimea had been joined with the mainland in the independent state of Ukraine.
In this period, Ukraine, with its rich soil and hardworking peoples, has been an “exchangeable coin” for global policy. This precarity has been exacerbated by strategic mistakes in foreign policy and international response. For example, during the last year of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian state was informed by certain international politicians, who previously had forced Ukraine to sign the Memorandum on Security Assurances or the Budapest Memorandum, that the result of the war was somehow inevitable and that Ukraine would be quickly overwhelmed. Yet, Ukrainians have fought and resisted, providing the civilized world a model against imperial aggression in the 21st century.
The question is: why has support to Ukraine, in this struggle against expansion, been limited among certain actors in the “civilized” world? Partly, it is free-flowing Russian money and cheap Russian natural gas. For others, there is genuine fear of Russia and concern for its military capabilities. Yet for others still, it is the fact that Ukraine simply has not been a full-fledged or equal player in its 30 years of independence from the USSR. Admittedly, this is due in part to the fact that the state has had and still has problems inside the country and on the international stage. Among those internal problems are significant corruption at all the levels of government management (despite the war effort and the need for resourcefulness), a lack of conviction among some in the government as well as at the level of ordinary people, the lingering presence of agents of Russia inside of certain state institutions, and the Russian church of Moscow’s patriarchate in the heart of Ukraine. Among those external problems, at the international level, the country suffers from a lack of qualified Ukrainian professionals and experts in different spheres of activities of the state, who can both stand up for the interests of Ukraine at the international level as well as prove the worthiness of Ukraine within international organizations and multilateral institutions. These professionals primarily include diplomats, economists, and politicians.
Why is the lack of professionals so important for the state? Currently, it is a question of national security, because even previous heads of state have not had the best interests of Ukraine in mind during their rules. For example, former president Viktor Yanukovych, a member of the so-called “Donetsk mafia,” became president due in part to manipulations during elections. He also sustained direct curators from the Kremlin, who directed activity to his post. First, there was the continuation of a policy to deny Ukraine application for membership in the European Union. Second, when students and ordinary people took to the streets to protest, leading to the “Revolution of Dignity” or Euromaidan of 2013-2014, Yanukovych ordered the police to attack unarmed protesters, leading to many deaths. The world knows these murdered heroes as “Heaven’s Hundred Heroes.” Third, Yanukovych ultimately left Ukraine and fled to Russia with millions of dollars gained during his presidency. His foil, the counterexample of Vyacheslav Chornovil, had been killed in 1999 near the international airport of Kyiv in a reported car accident. With Chornovil as president, the story of the state may have turned out very different.
Strategic miscounts concerning the Ukrainian Army and the people in general include discounting their resilience and professionalism. More than a year after the invasion, the counteroffensive of summer 2023 continues apace. In the future, it is likely that international military experts will study and use the experience of the Ukrainian military. Already it has been acknowledged that the experience of Ukraine’s forces against Russia would supply NATO with invaluable military knowledge. Previously, British, Polish, American, and Norwegian military instructors for the Ukrainian Army declared that the soldiers in the military studied quickly and effectively how to manage Western samples of weapons. This has accelerated the uptake of munitions and weapons from friendly countries and will hasten the end of the war.
Beyond the repelling of enemy forces beyond internationally-agreed-upon borders, what then is the use of this war? At this point, it is to justify the membership of the state of Ukraine in institutions outside of its historical relationships: namely, the European Union and NATO. This is to move beyond the past of an imperial Russia and the former USSR. In battling an expansionist Russia, Ukraine is also demonstrating the resilience of the democratic world and the importance of maintaining a rules-based international order.
The Origins of the War
From the time of the Cossacks, imperial Russia has been unaccommodating of Ukrainian language, culture, religion, philosophy, and education. Most critically, the Ukrainian language was prohibited in Ukraine under Russian and later Soviet occupation. This has complicated the linguistic legacy of the USSR in Ukraine, and a significant Russian “sphere of influence” remains through this language relationship, particularly in the eastern oblasts. This obscuring of Ukrainian language and culture, made worse by the colonized academy in both Western universities and post-Soviet institutions, has kept from the world the beauty and originality of Ukrainian songs, prose, poetry, and artwork. In important ways, the Ukrainian response to the war is reversing this trend and enabling external scholars to study the culture, art, and traditions of Ukraine—as well as the language.
Moreover, for the more than 70 years of the Soviet occupation, the imperial core sought to rewrite Ukrainian history. This reeducation endeavored to convince Ukrainians that their forefathers did not have their own state, their own language, and a culture distinct from that of Moscow. The end goal of this policy was to force Ukrainians to believe that Ukrainians and Russians were and still are one population, a refrain echoed commonly by Vladimir Putin in his justifications for the invasion.
This is in contrast with a reality of deep history, indigenous religion, and separate culture, which may be dated from the 10th century and the period of the Kyivan Rus. Its capital Kyiv was one of the wealthiest, best-educated, and vividly cultural sites in Europe. Many current Ukrainians retain knowledge of this old and well-known history—including a royal family from Kyiv that supplied continuation for many royal families in current European countries. Today, an increasing number of European researchers and journalists from multiple countries have begun studying the impact and contribution of this royal family from the Kyivan Rus in the 10th century on their own royal dynasties.
This history has also been deliberately hidden from the international community. For example, the bones of the Swedish princess and the Queen of Kyivan Rus, Ingegerd Olofsdotter, have been interred in the massive marble sarcophagus in the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv since the 11th century. Modern scientific methods and an international team of researchers have confirmed its authenticity. Polish scientists have even recreated her Scandinavian face by imaging the bones in the marble sarcophagus. However, according to Russian sources, her skeleton is actually housed in Russia’s Novgorod, her name in this life was Anna, and she lived in the 15th or 16th century; this has been promoted by the Russian Orthodox church to identify this otherwise “unknown” skeleton of an “unknown” woman.
Contemporary European researchers are starting to correct this record. These include the French journalist Philippe Delorme, the Norwegian journalist Bård Amundsen, and the Swedish scientist Lars Lönnroth, among others. These individuals have written on the importance of the Royal Family of Jaroslav the Wise, the King of Kyivan Rus, and his wife, the aforementioned Ingegerd Olofsdotter, for the cultural and educational development of Europe in the Middle Ages. Daughters of the King Jaroslav and Queen Ingegerd became royalty among other European polities and the rightful heirs to the thrones of many contemporary European countries, a lineage undergoing increasing study and scholarship today.
Geopolitical Lessons from the War
An immediate learning of the war is the need for both better intelligence and more level-headed analysis of current warmaking capabilities among the world’s militaries, as expectations of Russia’s capacity to execute its tactical goals have proven grossly inflated. This has been demonstrated by the outdated nature of Russian weaponry and machinery, a consequence of depleted stocks and the high rate at which the military has suffered equipment losses. This reveals the myth of “the second army in the world,” exposed by Ukrainian forces. Additionally, there is the question of Russian recruitment and retention of soldiers. The armed forces increasingly draw upon ethnic minorities within Russia and incarcerated individuals from far outside of Moscow. A lack of morale and absence of clear moral force within the war has led to widespread sexual violence as a weapon of war. Some soldiers have even surrendered themselves as prisoners to Ukrainian forces in order to survive. They have begun to understand the lack of justification of this war, as well as a lack of support—abandoned on the front line without means of adequate warmaking.
An under-appreciated dynamic of Russia’s war effort has been the unjustified targeting of civilians and the wanton destruction of cultural sites, important both to Ukraine and to the world. In late June, a Russian bomb killed nearly a dozen civilians and injured over 60 more at a restaurant in Kramatorsk popular with both Ukrainians and foreign workers alike. This is not the first time that Russian artillery or bombs have targeted non-military locations, though this most recent incident has been among the more deadly. In July, Russian bombardment struck the Spaso-Preobrazhenskyi Cathedral, or Transfiguration Cathedral, severely damaging this UNESCO World Heritage site. Notably, the cathedral had been destroyed by Russia (then the Soviet Union) before and only rebuilt after Ukraine’s independence in 1991. It is interesting that the Russian Orthodox church, which largely appears to support Putin’s war, has said little about this kind of targeting of important religious facilities.
In the realm of international politics, support from certain post-Soviet states indicates a move away from that history and toward a European future. The countries of the Baltic region—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania—demonstrate this dynamic, notably through their support of Ukraine, especially rhetorically, both as European Union members and as newer additions to the NATO alliance. Additionally, Moldova and Georgia, like Ukraine former Soviet republics that have drifted toward Europe in the decades since the USSR’s dissolution, are realizing in their own way the folly of overreliance on the former imperial center. Lastly, there are the countries (“satellites”) of the former Soviet bloc, such as Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Romania, that have similarly found their way into the European Union and a new economic and political paradigm after Communism.
In the other direction, fellow authoritarian states have stepped up their support of the Russian warmaking machine. These non-democratic counties, for example Iran, have provided munitions and technical support, especially drone technologies for munitions deployment in Ukraine. An obvious question is why? To what end? In an ideological sense, this support damages freedom and democratic values in the open world, while geopolitically support for Russia weakens those countries where the values of democracy and freedom are of greatest priority for their societies and governments.
But this support for Russia extends outside of the authoritarian world, into the very heart of Europe. Hungary in particular has demonstrated an acute reluctance to even criticize Russian aggression and destruction in Ukraine. One possible reason is its own imperial past, when a part of Ukraine, particularly Zakarpattia Oblast, was under Hungarian occupation. Petty historical grievances continue to animate contemporary politics, and this dynamic should not be downplayed when considering Hungary’s equivocating stances in various multilateral fora and nascent authoritarian politics at home.
Within those fora, specifically at the International Criminal Court, it remains to be seen if Russian war crimes, well documented in the international press, will be brought before the court. Could there even be a military tribunal for Putin and his regime? In 2022, the historian Timothy Snyder published a provocative opinion piece in the New York Times: “We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist.” If there is any substance to these accusations, does that not warrant swift and total action from the international institutions dedicated to justice? It should be argued that Russia’s warmaking in the 21st century is reason enough to bring responsible authorities before the international justice system. Only then may there be the possibility of seeking reparations for the immense cost, in both lives and assets, that Ukraine has lost in pursuit of its defense.
A fair and just response from international legal and economic institutions would turn a new page in international affairs. Only by bringing to justice those response for this current war will other similarly-minded regimes be sufficiently deterred from acting on revanchist claims and launching new wars of conquering neighboring lands.
The Shortcomings of International Organizations
In the more than nine years of occupation and war in Ukraine, including Crimea, international organizations, many of which are explicitly tasked with supporting victims of war and aggression, have been lackluster in their strategic response.
The first example is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Often, the staff of OSCE was slow to acknowledge atrocities in Ukraine. Reputational considerations evidently did little to reassure European taxpayers that money was well spent on this organization. Specifically, OSCE was criticized because of this lack of vision and demonstrated unprofessionalism. While “the OSCE has faced criticism in the past for not being tough enough with Russia,” the organization has since been slow to recognize these shortcomings in their handling of Russian aggression within Ukraine.
The lack of responsiveness from international organizations reaches all the way to the upper echelons of the United Nations. Russia, despite their warmaking, held the Presidency for the UN Security Council (UNSC) in April 2023. How, despite such bloody aggression against Ukraine, could Russia be allowed to lead such a body? Is it possible to imagine one of the Axis powers maintaining an analogous role during the Second World War? If the overarching goal of the UNSC is the sustaining of peace and peaceful resolution of conflict, of what use is this organization when an active invader may be allowed to chair it?
Since the current war erupted in February 2022, other entities have struggled to provide adequate rhetorical and even material support. The first, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), neglected its duty in the protection of captured soldiers in 2022: dozens of Ukrainian captured militaries have been killed in the prison of Olenivka, where ICRC had offered reassurances and even guarantees of security for the Ukrainian government, as well as soldiers’ families. According to the Voice of America, after the massacre—“the tragedy”—in Olenivka, the UN initiated an investigation into why dozens of prisoners of war had been murdered.
A second example of insufficient support is Amnesty International. In 2022, the organization accused Ukrainian militaries of endangering civilians through their fighting tactics. In response, Amnesty received criticism from different sides, including from the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as multiple international partners. It is worth noting that Amnesty International had not been able to the find words to also criticize Russian atrocities, instead devoting their full attention to Ukrainian soldiers defending territory and resisting further incursion. In protest, the director of the Ukrainian office of this international organization soon left the organization, demonstrating reputational loss. Amnesty International did apologize for its one-sided report rebuking the Ukrainian military, though the head of the organization in Kyiv nevertheless called the report a “propaganda gift for Moscow.”
Even the sporting world has, at times, directly supported the Russian military through promotion of competing athletes. The International Judo Federation (IJF), during preparations for the championship in Qatar in 2023, accepted Russian and Belorussian judokas, or judo athletes, to participate in the championship. At the time, a majority of Russian athletes on the team were current members of the Russian armed services. Was this really just oversight on the part of IJF, or was it deliberate support of the Russian war? Other examples across the world of sport confirm that many federations have been more interested in cash flow and political expediency than due diligence to actively not support Russian troops.
Support from Governments: Positive Examples
At the same time, Ukraine has cultivated relationships with countries and institutions that support its people and its cause. Much has been written on support from the U.S. as well as from the European Union, yet others of these relationships extend further back in time—even to World War II and the Soviet occupation of territories after that war.
Among the sincerest of friends to Ukraine has been the UK. At the recent coronation of King Charles III, in May 2023, the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska was notably invited to the event, despite the difficulty for Ukraine at that time. During the coronation of the king, even the carpet at Westminster Abbey mirrored the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Both King Charles III and his son, Prince William, have vocally supported Ukraine and Ukrainian war refugees in the UK and beyond. The British royal family supports Ukraine in its fight through echoes of its own fight, as the late Queen Elizabeth II remained in London during World War II, during periods of intense bombings by the Nazis—a young Elizabeth even studied how to be a military mechanic and provide maintenance for trucks. Such an impact on the British nation, on its spirit of victory, permeates the royal family to this day and reminds current members of the need to support those fighting against tyranny.
Additionally, it is worth noting the role the UK has played on the international scene, to improve the image of the country in the cultural sphere. In 2022, in Liverpool, Eurovision accepted Ukraine, while Liverpool and the state, together with the Eurovision team, made an incredible performance of honoring Ukraine and its defenders, demonstrating unwavering support.
Poland similarly maintains vivid memories of German occupation and aggression. During the Second World War, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was destroyed by German aviation. Consequently, the country has been among the largest supporters of the Ukrainian war effort, both in terms of material supplies (as measured by GDP per capita) as well as rhetorical support in the fora of the European Union and NATO. As Ukraine seeks membership in both of those multilateral organizations, Poland has also supported refugees having fled violence in Ukraine. A third category, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, remember well the Soviet occupation—the same as Ukraine. After 1991, these three countries left the USSR without conflicts and subsequently joined the European Union and NATO—an example for Ukraine in own pursuit of modern alliances and cooperation. Each of the three understands very well the sacrifices Ukrainian citizens and soldiers have made—sacrifices their own people never had to make.
It is regrettable to see the wishful thinking on the part of sympathetic governments and self-proclaimed apolitical international organizations. These institutions have refused to grapple with the reality of the present war, as well as the decisions of years past that have facilitated Russia’s warmaking capacity. For example, the policy of former chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, to incorporate Russia into the European (and specifically German) economy through large purchases of its natural gas, now appears to be a mistake. It did not prevent Putin’s invasion in 2022, nor has it prevented Russia’s aggressive and militarized foreign policy elsewhere in the world, namely in Syria and in Africa.
As illustrated in this article, the activities of some international organizations have not only been slow in their response but ineffective in their politics. Up to the highest reaches of the multilateral system, the UN in particular, despite votes in the UN General Assembly and some attention from the UN Security Council, has been inadequate in its condemnation of the invasion. Is this an organization that is effective for the world, when one of its “permanent” members may carry on with impunity just because it has veto power? The lack of recourse against Russia, by virtue of its privileged position on this highest of global bodies dedicated to peace and cooperation, raises serious questions about whether or not it remains fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Fortunately for the people of Ukraine, the country has international partners and institutions who support the state in its difficult fight for sovereignty. On the other hand, if others continue to refuse to support Ukraine’s resistance, including the likes of Hungary and the Vatican, that means that Russia, and other authoritarian and expansionist states like it, will continue in the future to not respect the rules-based international order and act without concern for an international response worthy of condemnation.
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 Emily Channell-Justice, “Heroes Never Die,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, June, 2022, https://origins.osu.edu/read/heroes-never-die-ukraine?language_content_entity=en.
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 Philippe Delorme, Histoire des reines de France - Anne de Kiev: Une reine de France venue d’Ukraine (Paris: Pygmalion, 2015).
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 From early in the war: Euronews, “Russia increasingly relying on heavy Soviet-era missiles, Western defence officials claim,” June 12, 2022, https://www.euronews.com/2022/06/12/russia-increasingly-relying-on-heavy-soviet-era-missiles-western-defence-officials-claim; and more recently, CBSNews, “Russia pulls mothballed Cold War-era tanks out of deep storage as Ukraine war grinds on,” April 18, 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-ukraine-war-cold-war-era-soviet-tanks-t54-t55-out-of-storage/.
 Amy Mackinnon, “Russia Is Sending Its Ethnic Minorities to the Meat Grinder,” Foreign Policy, September 23, 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/09/23/russia-partial-military-mobilization-ethnicminorities/; and CNN, “Exclusive: Russian convicts say defense ministry is sending them from jail to fight as ‘cannon fodder’ in Ukraine,” February 15, 2023, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/02/14/europe/ russian-army-prisoners-conscripts-ukraine-intl/index.html.
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 Hanna Arhirova, “Russian missile kills 11 in a pizza parlor and Ukraine arrests man accused of directing the strike,” AP News, June 28, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-kramatorskmissle-attack-restaurant-afeae73466c0260a1ed3c355532f21c8.
 Iryna Nazarchuk, “Russian attack on Odesa kills one, damages cathedral,” Reuters, July 24, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russias-attack-odesa-kills-one-injures-18-ukraine-officials-2023-07-23/.
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 On Moldova: Politico EU, “Moldova ramps up EU membership push amid fears of Russia-backed coup,” May 21, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/moldova-ramps-up-eu-membership-push-amid-fears-of-russia-backed-coup/; and on Georgia: Tinatin Akhvlediani, “Georgia’s European dream is being carried by the highest spirit of democracy,” Centre for European Policy Studies, March 10, 2023, https://www.ceps.eu/georgias-european-dream-is-being-carried-by-the-highest-spirit-of-democracy/.
 Reuters, “Russia received hundreds of Iranian drones to attack Ukraine, US says,” June 10, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-has-received-hundreds-iranian-drones-attack-ukraine-white-house-2023-06-09/.
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 Amnesty International, “Ukraine: Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians,” August 4, 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/08/ukraine-ukrainian-fighting-tactics-endanger-civilians/.
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 Pavel Polityuk, “Amnesty regrets ‘distress’ caused by report rebuking Ukraine,” Reuters, August 7, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/amnesty-regrets-distress-caused-by-report-rebuking-ukraine-2022-08-07/.
 TJT, “Ukraine withdraws from judo worlds over Russian soldier presence,” The Japan Times, May 2, 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2023/05/02/more-sports/judo/ukraine-judo-worlds-boycott/.
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 Eurovision, “Why is the United Kingdom hosting Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine in 2023?” October 7, 2022, https://eurovision.tv/story/why-united-kingdom-hosting-eurovision-behalf-ukraine-2023.
 NATO Parliamentary Assembly, “Poland Plays Leading Role in Garnering Support for Ukraine’s Defence, Reconstruction and Accession to Euro-Atlantic Institutions,” March 23, 2023, https://www. nato-pa.int/news/poland-plays-leading-role-garnering-support-ukraines-defence-reconstruction-and-accession-euro.