Roodnitsky: It’s Time to Actually Start Caring about Ukraine
If Ukraine doesn’t prevail in the war, Putin would succeed in setting a dangerous and imperialist precedent for other countries to follow.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and yet, many Americans still don’t understand the recent historical events that have culminated in the eruption of the ongoing war. Moreover, numerous people have yet to fully digest that — depending on the war’s outcome — there is a grave potential that strong states across the world might feel comfortable regressing to imperialistic behavior. If Vladimir Putin emerges victorious, or if there is a ceasefire agreement in which any part of Ukraine’s territory is conceded to Russia, a precedent of allowing countries in the modern era to wage wars of conquest will be set. The world would be catapulted right back to the early 20th century, when powerful nations’ annexation of smaller countries was still prevalent and accepted. This is a terrifying future.
To understand why Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 of last year, one must go back and examine the turmoil between the two countries in 2014. Eight years before the current conflict, Putin invaded and annexed the beautiful Crimea region of Ukraine, a peninsula on the Black Sea. The Obama administration’s response to this controversial annexation was far too soft, failing to supply Ukraine with crucial weapons that could have deterred Russia’s hostile actions in time to avoid today’s full-blown war. When reflecting on the lack of an arms supply operation to help Ukraine end the conflict, Celeste Wallander — former President Barack Obama’s senior Russia advisor at the time — said in early 2022 that in retrospect it would have “been appropriate and necessary to provide Ukraine [the weapons] it needed to defend its territory.” One month after her reflection, the full-scale invasion began.
However, the root of Ukraine’s need for American assistance in 2014 and ongoing need today dates back a little further, to the late 1990s. When the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it actually had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, trailing only the United States and Russia. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, international security concerns arose regarding Ukraine’s possession of these weapons. Former President Bill Clinton and other world leaders signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1996, wherein Ukraine agreed to give up its entire stockpile of nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees. In sum, the document stated that should Ukraine ever experience any aggression — territorial or otherwise — its sovereignty would be protected by the other signatories through the requirement that they seek the aid of the United Nations Security Council. The memorandum also explicitly indicates that the countries who signed would never deploy weapons against Ukraine (with the exception of self-defense should Ukraine ever initiate aggression, which it hasn’t). The list of countries that signed this agreement includes Russia. Putin has clearly violated the treaty, but the United States also failed to hold up the spirit of its end of the bargain back in 2014.
Should Putin succeed in redrawing Ukraine’s borders, a highly alarming Pandora’s box will open for world leaders: Russia would set a precedent where imperialism is tolerated in the modern world. Other powerful countries with leaders who have revanchist tendencies will see that Russia was able to reclaim Ukrainian territory for itself, a nation that was supposed to be protected by the United States via treaty nonetheless. It’s understandable that many countries are minimizing involvement in the conflict to avoid a full-blown World War III. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the Russia-Ukraine conflict reach an armistice as soon as possible, both for the sake of Ukrainians who have been facing horrible war crimes and genocide, and also to prevent a grim future in which imperialism is once again condoned.
Right now it is most important to continue spreading awareness, donating to credible organizations if possible and actually conversing with Ukrainians or those with close ties to the conflict. Democracy and freedom are at stake for more people than just Ukrainians. It’s at stake for all of us, because there is an acute risk that war spreads beyond just Ukraine. At Dartmouth, students can get involved with the Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine, which is run by Ukrainian students, people with very close ties to the turmoil and students passionate about justice for Ukraine. Attending these meetings and events is a great way to support, participate and learn more about the conflict. The group welcomes all, even if just to learn about Ukrainian culture, try traditional Ukrainian foods or uplift the spirits of those with family still in Ukraine.
In addition to the aforementioned actions, we should also take it upon ourselves to recognize and condemn any deprecating speech we encounter regarding advocacy. For instance, The Dartmouth Review recently questioned in its Winter Carnival edition why Ukrainian students continue to protest on campus: “What exactly do these protesters hope to accomplish? To annoy commuters and possibly distract them? To make Americans feel bad for a moment about a situation halfway across the world and even more out of their control? To feel good about themselves?” These students and their families have been facing brutal war firsthand; they want nothing but awareness and compassion for their country. According to the student protesters, nobody from The Dartmouth Review actually took the time to ask them what they were advocating for. It’s evident that too many of us are still choosing ignorance over simple awareness, let alone action. It’s time to push past war fatigue, rally for Ukraine and continue to do what we can to be responsible global citizens.