Russia’s aggression vs Ukraine’s invincibility
by Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at state event to celebrate the Year of Invincibility. (Photo from the Photo Gallery, Official website of the President of Ukraine, February 24, 2023)
Scholars of peace share: Difficult as it is to anticipate the future of this war, scholars of peace and conflict, military analysts, and political scientists have shared their opinions on how this war might end. While consideration of space does not allow for a more exhaustive discussion of their viewpoints, I will share abridged segments of their insights to give us a better handle of the potential eventuality of Putin’s War in Ukraine.
Professor Andrew Blum of the Institute for Peace at the University of San Diego in the US recently wrote:
“All wars eventually end. Almost half end in some type of agreement to stop the fighting; the others end in victory for one side, or, for a variety of reasons, the fighting simply peters out.” He has offered three key points to help explain his statement, namely: 1) what is Russia’s and Ukraine’s shared idea of the future outcome of the war; 2) how would they balance the costs of war against the costs of peace; and c) whether there exists a guarantee on how a peace accord achieved could be enforced.”
The latter would be the most difficult to contemplate since Russia has nuclear weapons and has a veto power at the U.N. Security Council. Thus, I see the need for the Free World to ensure Ukraine has the strength of a victor, not the weakness of the vanquished, when the two sides sit at the negotiating table. Democracy must negotiate from a position of strength, not appeasement.
Another viewpoint offered comes from Matthew Sussex, a Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. He wrote:
“Wars are world-shaping. Beyond their immediate human and physical tolls, wars: 1) alter the fates of societies and states; of clans, cultures, and leaders; 2) establish new lines of access to resources and influence, determining who has what – and who doesn’t; 3) set precedents for how future wars are justified and, 4) in the case of attempted conquest, can ultimately redraw the map of world politics.
“Russia’s war against Ukraine encompasses all these dangers. With Ukraine waging an existential battle for its very survival, and Russia seemingly happy to settle for destroying Ukraine if it fails to conquer it, neither side has any incentive to stop fighting. Absent the complete collapse of either the Ukrainian or Russian armed forces, the grim reality is that the war will likely drag on throughout 2023 – and potentially beyond it.”
Yet a third lens from Ukrainian American Lena Surzhko Harned, an Associate Teaching Professor of Political Science at Penn State. Democracy-Editor Naomi Schalit of The Conversation Newsletter, who felt Harned’s “studies on the political views and attitudes of different generations of people in Ukraine and Russia could offer an even greater understanding of the war,” invited the political scientist to do an essay on the subject. Here it is: an essay (abridged due to space limitations0 “that’s both analytical and goes straight to the heart:”
“I am a Ukrainian American political scientist…I have evaluated this war over the past year from my professional perspective. Yet this war is also deeply personal… one assured outcome to the war’s devastation is strengthened national unity and pride…Russian President Vladimir Putin had expected that Ukrainian leadership would run away… When Ukraine’s leaders stood their ground, Putin addressed Ukraine’s soldiers, urging them not to obey Ukraine’s government…
Ukrainians had other ideas. Ukrainians overwhelmed military recruitment centers, organized territorial defense units and prepared to defend their country and neighborhoods with Molotov cocktails and jars of pickles.
“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when asked by the U.S. if he wanted to evacuate from the capital city, Kyiv, to a more secure location, famously declared, “I want ammunition, not a ride.”…
“I’ve analyzed the legacy of the Soviet Union, a communist totalitarian state that included Russia and Ukraine, which existed from 1922 to 1991…I see a war between two very different world views: one stuck in the authoritarian past, one belonging to the future and democracy…Putin has attempted to create a new ideology that glorified the autocratic Soviet past – including the genocidal rule of dictator Josef Stalin …Putin’s ideology denies Ukrainian sovereignty.
“In Ukraine, the story is different. Over the past 30 years, Ukraine has embraced democracy. …
Ukraine’s new generations have a distinct Ukrainian identity, forged by years of independence and the revolutions of 2004 and 2014. In 2004’s Orange Revolution, Ukrainians refused to accept the results of a rigged election that would have delivered a pro-Kremlin candidate. In 2013-14, the Revolution of Dignity ousted the pro-Russian corrupt President Viktor Yanukovich – a fight against … Russian meddling in Ukrainian internal affairs. I see this drive for democracy and sovereignty reflected in my sister and her generation. Born after Ukraine regained its independence from the Soviet Union, she is unencumbered by the Soviet worldview of Ukraine as a Russian colony. She is a free Ukrainian….Public opinion points to Ukrainians’ overwhelming support for their armed forces and President Zelenskyy, as well as their faith in victory.
“In three days, my aunt, who came from Ukraine for the holidays, would be traveling back to Warsaw by air and from there to Kyiv by train…I often hear people ask why Ukrainians stay, why do they not get out. …. Some simply cannot. Others, like many of my family, colleagues and friends, are determined and defiant. ‘Ukraine is home,’ my sister told me. ‘We have to rebuild it’…As a political scientist, I harbor no illusions that this war will end soon…
“Like so many Ukrainians, we brace for the future – and trust in victory.”
Summary and takeaway
A year ago, today at the beginning of this war I wrote about it in Pilipino Express and Canadian Filipino Net. At its year-end anniversary, I see hope. Ukraine stood its ground, thanks to the resolve of the Free World that at once saw Putin’s War for what it is – autocracy versus democracy – and promptly gave multi-pronged assistance: military, humanitarian, economic, including severe sanctions against Putin’s Russia.
The year 2023 will be tough and crucial. My optimism and study of the events tell me peace will eventually emerge and prevail. Ukraine will recover from the ruins of war, will once more be a free and sovereign country, and will harvest the fruits of peace for the greater good of all.
Putin’s Russian aggression is no match to Ukraine’s and her people’s indomitable invincibility committed as it is to truth, humanity, and peace.
Dr. Rey Pagtakhan was one of the three Members of Parliament on the Canadian Parliamentary delegation that observed in Kiev the 1991-referendum-vote on Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union and was, subsequently, a preceptor (1992-1999) to successive Ukrainian parliamentary interns under the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program. He served as Canada’s Secretary of State for Asia Pacific and Minister of Veterans Affairs from January 2001 to December 2003. He had earlier written on the topic (Putin’s act of war in Ukraine: A crime against the Ukrainian people, a crime against world peace – March 1, 2022; The Genocide of Ukrainians Is Taking Place’ – March 16, 2022; Damaging evidence of more war crimes – April 16, 2022).