Rivers on: Democracy’s Last Stand - many lessons to be learned from this conflict.

By Ray Rivers

December 31st, 2022


“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.” (Ukrainian president Zelenskyy’s speech to a joint session of US Congress – Dec 22, 2022)

For the first time since Russian tanks had rolled into his country on February 24th, Ukraine’s president made the dangerous journey overseas. He came to Washington to thank the American people for their military and economic support as his nation’s soldiers struggle to push back the brutal Russian aggression. Of course there were many other nations who have provided military and economic support besides the US.

But the US still considers itself the leader of the free (democratic) world. Its most recent support for Ukraine totalling around $40 billion has raised eyebrows among the opposition Republicans in Congress. Yet the US spent twice that amount to supposedly bring democracy to Afghanistan, including paying the salaries of its soldiers. And we all know what happened to that failed effort.

Ukraine President Zelenskyy speaking to a joint session of congress presented a flag bearing the signatures of men and women fighting on the front line days before. The flag was received by US Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

President Zelenskyy was too polite, in his remarks, to also remind America’s political leaders about the US commitment in the Budapest Memorandum. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine disposed of its nuclear weapons, the world’s third largest arsenal. But they only did this on the condition of security guarantees by the US, the UK and Russia that Ukrainian territorial integrity would be preserved.

But when Putin invaded and occupied Crimea and parts of Donbas the other two signatories to the deal refused to even acknowledge, let alone own up to their commitment. To add insult to injury US president Obama and his NATO allies even refused to send any defensive weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. Obama should have sent back his Nobel peace prize and accepted the Neville Chamberlain appeasement award instead.

Canada wasn’t a signatory to the memorandum, but, with the largest diaspora of Ukrainians outside of Europe, both Harper and Trudeau said all the right things to the home audience. But they refused to send over any serious defensive weapons until the eve of the Feb 24th invasion. Shipments of Canadian sniper rifles were likely still in their shipping crates while the Russian tanks were marching up to Kyiv. And it’s not like a sniper rifle could stop a tank anyway.

Mr. Putin has ruptured the international order agreed by the nations of the world in the aftermath of WWII. Once again there is an armed conflict in the heart of Europe, which has already involved NATO, Belarus, Iran and North Korea and is threatening to bring in other players like China, which would force Nato to up its hand. And that is the danger if this becomes a longer conflict – it could make it another world war.

The Russian Federation has trampled on the United Nations charter by its aggression – invading a sovereign nation without cause. And they have committed some 50,000 war crimes, according to Ukrainian justice authorities, during their occupation to date. Mr. Putin has said he wants to erase everything Ukrainian, which makes this genocide. Already many countries have officially labelled the Putin regime as a sponsor of terrorism.

Putin witnessing the launch of a nuclear submarine via a web cast

Though Putin has tried nuclear blackmail, he clearly understands that using nuclear weapons in an offensive action against a non-nuclear state would entail serious consequences. It has been suggested, for example, that NATO land forces might be compelled to join the conflict in such a case. Exploding nuclear weapons, even the smaller tactical ones, would likely disperse radioactivity over large parts of Russia proper. And what would be the logic of radiating Ukrainian land Putin covets to own as part of Russia?

There are many lessons to be learned from this conflict. And though western leaders are confidently saying Russia has already lost, it is still going to be a long journey to the end of hostilities. There are children and non-combatants dying every day as Russian missiles continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities and towns. And then there is the trail of tortured and massacred citizens left behind, as the world witnessed in the captured town of Bucha, just north of Kyiv.

The truth is that this Russian invasion was avoidable. The easiest thing would have been for NATO to have accepted Ukraine into that organization prior to Feb 24th and protected it with the mutual defence Article Five. That is what Zelenskyy had been demanding prior to Russia’s invasion; something he probably should have reminded the US Congress and president during his Dec 22nd address.

On a personal note, I should say that my grandparents were all had born in the western part of Ukraine which was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time and I have relatives still living there. I’ve been to Ukraine a couple times, the last time when my wife and I taught English and our Canadian culture to students of all ages.

A few months ago I was asked to participate in a Zoom class in English with some students in the northern city of Chernihiv. The teachers there informed me that of the more than thirty schools which had been operating prior to the invasion only two were left still standing. My heart goes out for the children and their parents.

What will the new year hold for them? Do we dare say Happy New Year?

Ray Rivers, a Gazette Contributing Editor,  writes from time to time applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  He has a band that gets together regularly, he is now a professional actor amd an author will one book to his credit and a second that is “in the works. Tweet @rayzrivers

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7 comments to Rivers on: Democracy’s Last Stand – many lessons to be learned from this conflict.

  • Jeanne

    Thank you Ray for another great analysis.

  • V. Muller

    Thanks Ray for the comprehensive overview of the conflict in Ukraine. Some of my ancestors came from an area of Ukraine and Poland, so it seems a bit personal as well. While I dont see an end to this conflict soon, my heart goes out to the brave people of this country. Hopefully the aid from other allies will help make a difference. I pray for peace for this war torn country and its people.

  • Perryb

    While it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of democracy, it is just as possible to be optimistic. (See dueling opinion pieces in the weekend Globe and Mail.) The underlying theme is that, as always, protecting democracy is a job for individual citizens, including the occasional need to “throw the rascals out”. Depending on elected politicians to defend democracy is a sure fire losing strategy. So is depending on brain-dead non voters to suddenly take citizenship seriously, although the growing ranks of First Nations and immigrants may start to swing things in the right direction.

  • Larry

    Ray I pray for Ukraine every day …

  • Carol Victor

    We can all do our part to help improve the lives of those who have fled the country….my friend Sandy is generously sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee and my small part in this is tutoring her in English. She already has a job and is working shifts in a factory much below her skill level. Despised the trauma of leaving her mother and a brother behind, she is happy to be here and grateful to Canadians for the help she has received.
    When I think of this past year and the “convoy’s”ensuing demands for freedom, I think of what it must be like to walk in the shoes of a Ukrainian for a single day.

  • John Coakley

    You hit the nail on the head, Ray. I wish the Ukrainian resistance all success.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Thank you Ray, for another great article.