No Peace Without Truth: An Honest Response to Russian Aggression in Ukraine

By Ariana Gic, Hanna Hopkom and Roman Sohn, for BRE Special Issue on Ukraine

In his statement at President Trump’s impeachment investigation, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor said: ”If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic, and at peace. In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people, and threatening its neighbours and the rest of the world.”

Despite recognition of Ukraine’s geopolitical importance, western states have failed to adequately support Kyiv in its defence against Russia’s unprovoked and undeclared war. The core of this failure is the resistance to formally recognize that Russia is waging interstate war on Ukraine. Without recognizing Russia as the aggressor, the West cannot avail itself of the tools under international law that could ensure that its aggression is repressed for a just peace in Ukraine.

Russia is responsible for an almost six years long multi-vectored war effort against the entirety of Ukraine which includes its covert and overt military aggression in Crimea and Donbas, as well as a host of other aggressive operations, through economic pressure, terrorist and cyber attacks, hate propaganda and disinformation, political subversion and assassinations, interference in electoral processes, etc., in areas outside the zone of military conflict. Moscow’s single objective is to destroy Ukraine’s political independence and territorial integrity.

To conceal its role, and avoid moral, political, and legal responsibility, Moscow mounted a massive disinformation effort. Western leaders have largely enabled Russia’s “plausible deniability” strategy by indulging the lie of Moscow “backing” a “pro-Russian rebellion” in eastern Ukraine.

In 2015, Kyiv officially called on the United Nations, other international organisations, and national parliaments to recognize Russia as the aggressor state. No state rose to the occasion, instead continuing with policies ranging from “avoiding confrontation” to “partnership” with Moscow. The international community failed to take decisive and effective measures to repress Russian aggression, emboldening Putin further.

Since Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president, Moscow has renewed its efforts to force Kyiv to capitulate by agreeing to the Kremlin’s interpretation of the Minsk ceasefire accords.

Western governments are well aware of Moscow’s strategy to create a regional belt of countries with restricted sovereignty where Russia holds decisive influence and control. Berlin, Paris, and Washington know that local elections in occupied Donbas without Russia completely ceding its war will only legitimize Moscow’s occupation administrations. Giving Russian agents voice and legal power in Ukraine’s domestic matters will sabotage Kyiv’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. “Solving” the problem of aggressive Russia at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty promises only political havoc in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s rise to regional leader after its 2005 Orange Revolution demonstrated that independent, democratic, and Western-oriented Ukraine, can become the center of gravity for the post-soviet space, capable of transforming the region and restraining Russia’s aggressive ambitions.

Moscow’s influence in Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova should make clear to the West that playing into Putin’s strategy in Ukraine will not eliminate, but only enhance Putin’s power, and shift the burden of dealing with Russian aggression entirely onto Ukraine.

The lack of recognition of Russia’s direct responsibility for the war in Ukraine sets a dangerous precedent, undermining international law and endangering all sovereign nations. Lies do not beget peace and stability, but war and an unpredictable world.

Empowering Russia by allowing it to act above international law paves the way for future international security crisises. Russia’s militarization of the Arctic, expansion in the Middle East, meddling in the Baltic and Balkan states, and a more assertive presence in Africa and South America are ticking time bombs if Russia is allowed to remain on its revanchist path. By upholding international law in Ukraine, Putin’s destructive geopolitical design can be prevented from unfolding.

The world must stand up to Russian aggression with truth and moral integrity. An effective international response to Moscow’s aggression can be devised only after Western governments finally have the courage and integrity to speak truthfully about Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Truth is the key that unlocks the door to a just peace in Ukraine. Recognition of Russia’s direct responsibility is indispensable in empowering the international community with the necessary political and legal toolset to repress Moscow’s aggression. Truth is the key to greater international stability and peace.

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Ariana Gic is an independent political and legal analyst and columnist in Canada. She has been published in Euobserver, Atlantic Council, New Eastern Europe, Emerging Europe, Vox Ukraine, StopFake, and Ukrainska Pravda

Hanna Hopko is a former member of Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and the former-head of its committee on foreign affairs. She is a member of the executive committee of the National Council of Reforms and the Anti-Corruption Action Centre

Roman Sohn is a legal expert, columnist, and civil society activist in Ukraine. His writing has appeared in EUobserver, Atlantic Council, Emerging Europe, and Ukrainska Pravda.