It is impossible to achieve freedom for your people while denying the right of others to achieve theirs.
Alexei Navalny, one of the leaders of Russia’s opposition, gave an interview to The Washington Post in which he came out in opposition to arming Ukrainian forces, pointing out the need to substantially expand the list of sanction to include individuals.
As someone who recently testified before the US Senate precisely for providing Ukraine with defensive weapons, I must respond to Alexei’s statement with what I believe are a number of essential points.
Certainly, calls for increased sanctions deserve full support and talk of expanding the sanctions list to 1000 families is inspiring. However, for those who realistically evaluate the current situation within the Western establishment, it is obvious that such a level of sanctions is impossible now and in the foreseeable future. This requires a level of political will that neither the USA or Europe is even close to showing, not to mention the colossal legal obstacles.
Given the real threat of continuous Russian military aggression, emphasizing deterrence of Putin and his inner circle by strengthening sanctions is clearly insufficient. At the same time, supplying weapons to Ukraine is a concrete measure that can lead to tangible results in a relatively short period of time. If the Ukrainian army will be equipped with modern weapons, the price for Putin’s aggression will increase sharply, which is by far the most important deterrent to full-scale invasion.
According to Navalny any arms shipments to Ukraine are meaningless since they will not have a significant impact on the course of the war with Russia. But a military defeat is not just a defeat on the battlefield. The Soviet army certainly was not crushed in Afghanistan, but an endless stream of “Cargo 200” soldiers’ coffins ended up being too heavy a burden even for a Soviet propaganda machine in an environment of near total state control over all sources of information.
Many somehow forget when discussing the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian army that at the time of signing of the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, Ukraine possessed the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, with more than 1200 warheads (which, by the way, is greater than the nuclear arsenals of Great Britain, France and China combined).
Disarmament of this former Soviet Republic in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity by Russia, the USA and Great Britain was one of the most important steps in the formation of the new world order that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In this context, the annexation of Crimea and the de-facto Russian military aggression in the southeast of Ukraine extends far beyond the problems of just Russia-Ukraine relations. This poses a challenge to the entire modern system of international security. Refusal to grant Ukraine–deprived of its nuclear potential–even anti-tank weapons, sends a clear signal to all countries with existing or potential conflicts that the only guarantee of sovereignty is to possess nuclear weapons.
Today, we find ourselves in a situation where having a well-equipped Ukrainian army prepared to rebuff the Russian invasion is the only chance to stop further aggression and thereby save thousands, if not tens of thousands of lives, of both Ukrainian and Russian citizens. Against the backdrop of the reasonable likelihood of another Russian offensive with either voluntary or regular Russian troops, Navalny’s call not to supply weapons to Ukraine plays into the hands of Putin and his enablers.
Ukrainians won their freedom in a heroic struggle against Yanukovych’s puppet regime. They did not let their country turn into a periphery of a Kremlin dictatorship. Against this backdrop, it is utterly amazing that the Russian opposition, having missed its own historic opportunities, would now deny Ukrainians the right to protect their homeland from enslavement by the fascist regime in Russia.
We have often witnessed Putin’s attitude towards Ukraine as a “non-sovereign entity” and his recent statement that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people.” This fits well into the usual rhetoric of the Russian dictator.
Alas, Navalny’s statements about Ukraine force us to admit that his position has traces of similar imperial thinking, leaving Ukraine in the role of the second-class state, whose future must be seen as a continuation of Russian politics.
It is no accident that in his famous “gastronomical passage” about Crimea, he did not emphasize the need to restore grossly violated international law. Instead, he based his position on Russian public opinion polls.
Such a position is as immoral as it is politically futile: it is impossible to achieve freedom for your people while denying the right of others to achieve theirs.
Editorial note: When Mr. Navalny was asked on whether he would try to return Crimea to Ukraine in the event he became Russia’s president, Mr. Navalny asked rhetorically, “What, is Crimea a ham sandwich or something that you can just toss back and forth?”