By Jarosław Szczepankiewicz
Polish Ambassador to the Philippines
“I don’t see why I should bow my head when I could hold it high, or place it in the hands of my enemies when I can defeat them.” (José Rizal)
In the Russian propaganda, a war in Ukraine was started to prevent a war from happening. In December 2021, Russian build-up at the Ukrainian border was set up. Russia moved more field hospitals and military assets to the Ukrainian border. In February 2022 it was obvious that Russia is preparing a pretext or false flag operation for Ukraine invasion on 24th February 2022. To justify the invasion, Putin falsely claimed that Ukraine was a neo-Nazi state and made references to Article 51 of the UN Charter, referencing self-defense.
Putin promised Russians “a small winning war” to settle a puppet government in Kiev. He terribly failed. Now, Putin says to Russians there is ‘no hurry’ to complete military campaign in Ukraine. He dragged them into the bloody prolonged war. The leaked letter from the Russian Ministry of Finance shows the expenditure made by the Russian Government in paying for benefits of 48,759 families of deceased Russian soldiers. Russia may have already lost up to 48,759 servicemen in its invasion of Ukraine. Current estimations are that Russia has already lost around 65 000 soldiers. More dead will follow.
Russia has ‘failed to achieve its original objectives’ so far and has been surprised by ‘the scale and ferocity of Ukrainian resistance’. When Russia could not defeat Ukraine in the battlefield, they resorted to deliberately attacking civilian targets. The root cause of the “special operation” failure is that Russians cannot understand what matters to Ukrainians, what moves them, what damages their well-being, and so on. They are not able to empathizing with them blinded by false sentiment victimization, which justifies Russian right to revanchism. Russia has revived the worst demons of the 20th century – colonialism, imperialism, nationalism. The Kremlin uses these ones as weapons of propaganda aimed at Russian society.
Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president, stated: “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a “special operation “, not a war, because the objectives of the Russian troops are limited to attacking military facilities.” The invasion has likely resulted in tens of thousands of deaths on both sides and caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War with around 7.5 million Ukrainians fleeing the country and a third of the population displaced. The crimes Russia has committed on close to 300 inhabitants of Bucha and other towns must be called acts of genocide and be dealt with as such. Russia’s missile attacks on 20 Ukrainian cities on 9th October 2022 is a sign of its helplessness and came in revenge for its failures on the battlefield, yet another example of the barbarism of Russian forces. Everyone responsible – directly or indirectly- must be severely punished by an international tribunal. Putin is personally bearing full responsibility for the committing brutal killings of innocent civilians. The invasion has also caused global food shortages. For it, Putin is responsible too.
“Mobilisation & Referendums”
Now, after failure of “a small winning war”, it is time for Plan B of Putin – to preserve the remnants of territorial conquests by annexation and mobilization. Putin’s mobilization announcement around 300,000 men to Russia’s forces is an admission that his invasion is failing. The Russians are fleeing mobilization. Russia says it will not request the return of individuals who fled the country in recent days over draft. Smart move, it is impossible to give orders to someone who escaped from a bloody carnage on the battlefield. Hastily mobilized units lacks of professional training and supply due to years of supply theft by contract soldiers and commanders.
Russia announcing annexation of four regions of Ukraine (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia) is like a lunatic playing a virtual game with himself. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution by a large majority on 12th October calling on countries not to recognise the four regions of Ukraine which Russia has claimed in “illegal so-called referenda” and “attempted illegal annexation”. They are clearly invalid under international law. The moral weight of the international community is on the side of Ukraine and international law. Russia is systematically losing control of the Ukraine’s territory. Putin became the first invader in the history to announce annexation now when his troops were retreating from those territories.
“Peace at all cost”
Russian disinformation has been a Trojan horse race since the beginning of its aggression against Ukraine. Disinformation remains one of the tools in Russia’s arsenal, aimed not only at justifying its aggression against Ukraine, but also at disturbing information space, hijacking minds and our common values and principles. The Philippines is not free from it. Pro-Russian columnists in the Philippines always keeps a blind eye that Russia signed the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and the Charter of Paris and… violated them all. Russian aggression is a treat to maintain peace in Southeast Asia. Recognition of Russian demands against Ukraine as the basis of the talks (and this is the nature of the current “peace concepts”) would in fact show powerlessness in the face of brutal violence and recognize the possibility of violating international law with impunity, which is dangerous for smaller countries, like the Philippines. I believe that Filipinos, as Ukrainians, do not know concept “peace at all cost”.
Putin has only few options to get tactical and strategical momentum on the battlefield: mobilization (partially failed), illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory (rejected by international community), opening a front from Belorussia (ineffective), indiscriminate attacks against civilians (advanced air defence systems to be send to Ukraine) and nuclear threats. Each of these options will meet with an adequate response: more military assistance, more aid, more sanctions. Russia has entered into a spiral of violence against its own interest.
Let us push as hard as possible the aggressor to stop this aggression and to withdraw, to refrain from that kind of aggressive stance. That is why we need to support Ukraine because today it is Ukraine, and tomorrow it can be any other country in the world. A political solution must be found only in line with international law and the United Nations Charter.
On 5th December in 1994 Russia, the UK and the US signed the Budapest Memorandum on providing security assurances to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in exchange for these three countries giving up their nuclear weapons. It happened, but Russia is tempted to blackmail with this agreement as well. From one side, Russia’s Foreign Minister says his country is not considering the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On the other hand, Russia’s former president Medvedev says any weapons, including nuclear, could be used to defend annexed territories. The West warned Russia of the grave consequences of using a nuclear weapon In Ukraine, even if Ukraine is not member of NATO and Alliance’s Article 5 would be not triggered. The US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: ”Any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, (…) the US and our allies will respond decisively, and we have been clear and specific about that will entail”.
“’Fire in the House”
The lyrics of Sing’s 1985 song “Russians” is more relevant than ever due to the war in Ukraine: “Believe me when I say to you. I hope the Russians love their children too”. They love them indeed. Many Russians are protesting against this outrageous aggression and brutal tyranny, despite the threat of arrest and imprisonment. The insubordinate ones face high fines and long prison sentences for criticising the government, deprecating the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine, or sharing views online, which is construed as an act of sabotage. The resistance to mobilization efforts within Russia is mounting. Russia is running out of ammunition, soldiers and friends.
Many Russians are not to blame for the war or the atrocities in Ukraine. Living under a draconian authoritarian regime, they are manipulated by a powerful propaganda machine and they face harsh punishment if they protest. Russian daily life has already shifted from authoritarianism to totalitarianism. In October 7, 2022, UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Russia urging the Russian authorities to respect fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech, opinion, expression, conscience, religion.
Despite Russia’s saying there are currently “no prospects” for talks with Ukraine, there is going to have to be some kind of beginning of negotiations, as Ukrainian President Vlodimir Zelenski has said, will be the ultimate end. We, all of us, love our children. Russians stop the war!