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Stop yielding to Putin’s nuclear blackmail

Feb 15, 2023 | Opinion, Editorials, World, Featured, Politics, News

Video monitors show member nation vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of a resolution condemning Russia’s illegal referendum in Ukraine, on Oct. 12, 2022 at U.N. headquarters. Ukraine’s supporters have circulated a proposed resolution for adoption by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor. The proposed resolution, obtained Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, by The Associated Press, is broader and less detailed than Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Marco Levytsky,
Editorial Writer

Ukraine’s supporters have prepared a draft resolution for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly which would underscore the need for a peace that would ensure Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.”

The draft, which was obtained on February 10 by The Associated Press, is entitled “Principles underlying a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”

General Assembly spokesperson Paulina Kubiak told AP that a reactivated emergency session of the General Assembly on Ukraine will start on the afternoon of Feb. 22. Dozens of speeches are expected to continue through most of Feb. 23 and the vote is expected late that day.

It is broader and less detailed than the 10-point peace plan that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced at the November summit of the Group of 20 major economies. This was a deliberate decision by Ukraine and its backers to try to gain maximum support when it is put to a vote, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.

It will be interesting to see which countries support it and which ones abstain. While UN resolutions are not legally binding and any concrete action is impossible due to Russia’s veto on the Security Council it will nevertheless constitute a statement of principle for those countries that support it.
And, as a statement of principle, it will serve to bind Ukraine’s allies to a just peace, thus undercutting those voices that call for an “off ramp” for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, or a negotiated settlement that would involve territorial concessions on the part of Ukraine.

And there are such voices – some which would just abandon Ukraine altogether. Eleven House Republicans, the most loyal supporters of former President Donald Trump, have introduced a resolution calling for an immediate halt of military and financial U.S. aid to Ukraine. Although the group represents a minority opinion within Congress, and even within the Republicans themselves, they could still jeopardize future aid packages by threatening to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the US should continue to support Ukraine, even if that means prolonging the conflict. However, that support is weakest among Republicans, 41% of whom stated they support ending the conflict “quickly,” even if that means territorial gains for Russia.

But if the world’s democracies embrace the principle of Ukraine’s territorial integrity then they must realize that the only way a just peace can be secured is through a Ukrainian military victory that will drive Russia’s armed forces back to the 1991 borders of Ukraine. And the only way such a full-scale victory can be accomplished is with a concerted effort to supply Ukraine with all the weapons it needs to drive out the invaders. And this is where the problem arises.

As we have commented before, to date Ukraine’s allies have adopted a piecemeal, or incremental approach to supplying weapons to Ukraine. This only serves to prolong the war causing immeasurably more deaths, more destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, and more atrocities committed by Russian troops.

What is preventing Western Allies from going full steam ahead in arming Ukraine is their fear of Putin and his nuclear threats. As Jon B. Wolfsthal, a senior adviser to the nuclear disarmament group Global Zero, put it in a February 10 Washington Post article: “Giving Ukraine less than it needs to repel Russian invaders and liberate their territory ignores both self-interest and historical obligations. But providing Ukraine with everything it might want could lead to a disastrous broader war that could go nuclear. The middle ground, a long and incremental war, is a horrible prospect for the people of Ukraine, but it might be the only option that provides a plausible pathway for success: one where Russia meaningfully loses but does not escalate.”

Such fears are debunked by Yale Professor Timothy Snyder, widely considered one of the top experts on Ukrainian and Russian history, in a February 8 articles entitled “Nuclear war! Why it isn’t happening”.

Snyder argues that Putin’s sabre-rattling amounts to nothing short of nuclear blackmail and the soundest nuclear policy is to help Ukraine win a conventional war. He lists four reasons for this:

• First, it would be a disaster for everyone if Russian nuclear blackmail succeeded. If any nuclear state can coerce others by references to its nuclear stockpile, then foreign policy of any kind becomes impossible, non-nuclear states will always have to yield, and nuclear states will run the world.

• Second, Russian policy pushes in the direction of nuclear proliferation. Ukraine actually gave up its nuclear weapons. Then Russia invaded, in 2014 and again in 2022. The lesson for non-nuclear states is that they will need nuclear weapons to deter Russian invasion, or invasion by any nuclear power.

• Third, the European scenario for nuclear confrontation should be made as unlikely as possible. That scenario is a large war between Russia and NATO, in which there would be nuclear powers on both sides. Thanks to Ukrainian resistance, such a war is far less likely than it has been. The forces Russia might have used in an attack on a NATO member are being destroyed in Ukraine.

• Fourth, the Asian scenario for nuclear confrontation should be made as unlikely as possible. In the last couple of decades, the possibility of a Sino-American confrontation over Taiwan has dominated discussions in Washington. But, by resisting Russia, Ukrainians have forced Beijing to recognize that offensive operations are risky and can end badly. Beijing has by no means lost interest in Taiwan, but it is safe to say that any drastic move has been delayed, at least for a few years.

“If we want to reduce the risk of global nuclear war, then we should arm Ukrainians. Doing so reduces the appeal of nuclear blackmail, the risk of nuclear proliferation, and the likelihood of the scenarios,” says Snyder.

So, the best advice for Ukraine’s supporters is to stop yielding to Putin’s nuclear blackmail. Give Ukraine all the weapons it needs to ensure a decisive victory before tens of thousands more lives are lost unnecessarily.

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