The words of the German theologian Martin Niemöller from his 1946 verse regarding the Holocaust hold a powerful message that is still relevant today. Paraphrasing his verse to address the current situation in Europe and the war in Ukraine, “First they came for Ukraine, and we did not do enough to help —because we were not Ukrainian. Then they came for the Baltic States, and we did not do enough to help —because we were not Balts. Then they came for Poland—and we did not do enough to help —because we were not Poles. Then they came for us—and there was no one left to help defend us.” It is important to contemplate what a defeat of Ukraine, with all the help it is getting from Western countries and NATO, will signal to Russia and other authoritarian regimes worldwide and therefore why it must be avoided at all costs.
The war in Ukraine has reached a critical point, and the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. The United States, the U.K., NATO countries, and other allies must step up their support for Ukraine to help push the Russians out of the Donbas and Crimea. It is do or die.
We are supporting Ukraine not only out of solidarity with a fellow European nation but also because it is in the interest of all our countries to uphold the international rules-based order and respect for the sovereignty and independence of nations in Europe and elsewhere. Allowing Russia to continue violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine undermines the international rules-based order that has maintained relative stability in Europe since the end of the second world war. What is more, we cannot stand idly by while we watch the brutal reality of a genocide taking place in Ukraine every day presented to us on our television screens. Genocide is a game changer because it challenges us to reflect on our own humanity in the face of Russian bestiality. We must rise to the occasion in this critical moment when we can still act against this savagery or resign ourselves to stark failure.
The implications of a Russian victory in Ukraine extend beyond the region, with other authoritarian regimes, such as China, North Korea, and Iran, potentially feeling empowered to pursue their own aggressive agendas. Furthermore, North America is not immune to the threat of Russian expansion. A Russian victory in Ukraine could embolden them to make similar moves towards Alaska and Canada, which are close to Russia in the far north.
The human cost of this war cannot be ignored. Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are being killed daily. The most recent was an eight-month-old baby pulled from the rubble of an air strike by the Russians on a residential building. We must not forget that behind the headlines and political rhetoric, there are real people, families, and communities caught in the crossfire. They are laying down their lives in defense of their nation. They are fighting for their right to live in their own homes, with freedom and with dignity. They are paying the price with their blood. The least we can do is support them with our weapons, ammunition, and money.
Those who look for ways to negotiate a peace agreement while Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil like French President Macron, television commentator Fareed Zakaria and development activist Jeffrey Sachs are the Neville Chamberlains of our time claiming appeasement will bring peace. While they feign concern for the well-being of Ukrainians and advocate for early peace negotiations, they are like the appeasers that Winston Churchill argued want to feed the crocodile with others first hoping to delay their fate of being eaten last. Russia has repeatedly violated security agreements and it always will. Since yesterday’s pious peace guarantees by Russia and others have not protected Ukraine from the Russian invasion today, there is no reason to believe new ones will protect Ukraine tomorrow. They won’t.
The only way to end the conflict in Ukraine is with the complete removal of all Russian forces from all parts of Ukraine. What is the point of giving Russia parts of Ukraine that they have already occupied previously? To negotiate peace that allows Russia to keep the Donbas or Crimea is to admit that it did not matter that Russia invaded an independent nation conducting a genocide to try to eradicate it. That we cannot do. The international community must continue to apply pressure on Russia through sanctions and full support for Ukraine until Russia complies with international law, withdraws from Ukraine, and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty.
This is a critical moment in world history. The stakes are high now, but the consequences of inaction now will be even more higher later. Any country in the world that believes in peace and freedom cannot afford to be complacent. It is essential for all of them to show their commitment to the international rules-based order and the defense of Ukraine’s freedom. The fate of Ukraine today is our fate tomorrow.
Andy J. Semotiuk is the President of the Centre for Eastern European Democracy. He is a member of the New York and California bars in the United States and Ontario and B.C. bars in Canada. He practices U.S. and Canadian immigration law with Pace Law Firm in Toronto.