Currently there is a serious threat of a Russian strike on Ukraine.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a challenge not only for Ukraine but for the international community. The bigger the footprint in Ukraine, the more dangerous the situation for Europe and internationally.
A broad coalition of countries must send strong, united messages to deter Russian aggression. Actions speak louder than words. A critical player must be the United States of America. President Joe Biden has expressed his support for Ukraine.
Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders is growing. Russia continues to exert external pressure via hybrid activity to force Ukraine into accepting Russia’s demands in the Donbas War and in other areas.
Ukraine is holding its position and has indicated it will not cross the well-established red lines of negotiation.
In fact, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been continually reminded by civil society that those lines cannot be crossed. Territorial sovereignty and democratic principles are not up for sale or negotiation.
There are numerous theories regarding the reasons for Russia’s ongoing and increased military presence. Let’s explore some:
Russia’s primary negotiator Dimitri Kozak may have promised Mr. Putin something he cannot deliver in negotiations. His smug attitude has been: Don’t worry Mr. President, we will deal with Ukraine! It turns out that his prognostications are not happening.
Water to Crimea is a critical issue. Access via Ukraine is required. Russia promised Crimea the “world.” It has poured billions of dollars into Crimea, but is getting meager results. Hence, the attitude to Russia in Crimea is changing. There is dissatisfaction.
Ukraine’s firm position on not allowing elections until all Russian troops are off Ukraine’s soil continues to frustrate Mr. Putin. Security and border control issues need to be addressed before any election. Former President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk reinforced this position in negotiations earlier this year. Russia continues to demand such elections and is not getting its way, therefore its irritation.
One should not forget the internal disharmony in Russia over Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment and civil society’s demand for democracy. Deflection from this could also be playing a part.
So what now?
There are messages and actions that the international community needs to agree on to form a cohesive front to combat Russian aggression.
The following actions need to be taken:
• Further strengthen sanctions to put pressure on Russia until the territorial integrity of Ukraine within internationally recognized borders is restored.
• The security situation in eastern Ukraine and the militarization of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation requires coordinated action by the international community.
• NATO must offer Ukraine a Membership Action Plan. The blocking by some partners of the NATO-Ukraine Commission needs to desist.
• Support must be provided to Ukraine’s participation in various regional formats and initiatives, among them NATO QUINT (an informal decision making group consisting of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom) and the “Bucharest Nine,” as well as a reinvigoration of the dialogue at various levels within the “Lublin Triangle,” “Visegrad Four plus Ukraine,” “Weimar Triangle plus Ukraine,” Three Seas Initiative.
• Energy security is an integral part of Ukraine’s national security and defence policy. It needs to be supported internationally.
• The Nord Stream 2 project is an obvious threat for Ukraine and the entire European region. Construction of the pipeline can and must be stopped, the same way France cancelled the sale of two Mistral warships in 2015.
• The Normandy format and Crimean platform may be considered as platforms for further negotiations. President Zelenskyy is calling a high-level international forum to discuss the Crimean Platform in August.
• The Ukrainian World Congress ( UWC), through its member organizations, must continue to call on its members to encourage the governments in their respective countries to participate.
Ukraine’s resistance, NATO, Western support for Ukraine, President Biden’s comments about Mr. Putin, and myriad international exposes about Mr. Putin or Russia are other sticking points aggravating Mr. Putin at this time. So Mr. Putin has resorted to powerful intimidation tools (drawing up “invasion capable forces” right up to the Ukrainian border).
The UWC is in regular contact with high-level Ukrainian government officials to receive updates on the current situation and discuss strategies for engaging international governments to support Ukraine and condemn Russia’s constant use of the “fear factor” tactic.
The Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO) has written to Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, calling on Australia to add its voice of condemnation. Other UWC members have done likewise in their respective countries.
Our message to the international community is explicit: Don’t wait until it’s too late. Russian boots on Ukrainian soil in Donbas, the annexation of Crimea and the shooting down of MH17 are all examples of Mr. Putin’s modus operandi.
It is time to step up the punitive process – heightening of sanctions on Russia is important at this time. It is time for international sanctions to be placed on Mr. Putin himself.
Implementing a SWIFT payment ban on Russia would also be a significant step.
But this requires international commitment and a willingness to do a reset of international standards and principles. It is not about only condemning acts of aggression – actual or hybrid. It is about acting accordingly.
In times of uncertainty, danger and aggression, a robust, uncompromising international response is a must.
Stefan Romaniw, OAM, is the first vice-president of the Ukrainian World Congress and the co-chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations.