“Today, we woke up to a changed world,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said today. “Russia has launched a brutal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, a country of more than 40 million people who have sought nothing but peace and freedom.”
Freeland speaks as a proud and engaged Ukrainian-Canadian, one who travels to and from the region frequently, who has studied its history and people. They are very much her people.Another voice described today as “the darkest day in European history since Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.” Really? Well, yes, really. A multi-pronged per-meditated physical attack on Ukraine by water and land, in clear violation of international law, brazen in its intent and violent in its execution has already claimed lives, destroyed infrastructure and property, terrified its people and raised alarm throughout Europe and globally, all this within the maelstrom of pandemic experience and climate change connected extreme weather realities.
I find myself wondering what Putin is up to here. Is he simply anxious about potential NATO capability buildup close to Russia’s Borders? Is he concerned about access to fossil fuel and mineral resources, especially given Ukraine’s geographical advantage in building including pipelines? Is he so committed to bringing Ukraine back under Russian jurisdiction, an historic ambition especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union that he is prepared to live the life of a spy-master-bully no matter what any nation or global alliance might say? Is it simply revenge against the west? It seems so.
Is Putin alone in such convictions, seemingly able to push buttons, to give orders, to muster unlimited funds, all to mobilize human and technological resources to a single end—the end of Ukrainian independence? It seems so. I wonder who might oppose him–the cluster of minions who stand by him at press conferences, no words of explanation, just a nodding endorsement of one man’s sociopathic ambitions. Certainly not the Russian people who lack any influential political voice; opposition parties are likewise silenced and sidelined. The comparison with Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, tested in Spain, inaugurated in Poland is apt and relevant. As with Hitler, in Putin we behold a madman.
There are dark days for Ukraine, for Europe, for the Russian people and for the world. The Baltic States: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are rightly anxious. How far will Putin’s ambitions run as he seeks to restore Russia’s influence and control. And what of other countries, of NATO (no longer uniquely North American in scope and influence). In a global interconnected political and economic network, Putin was today clear in threatening that any nation who opposes him will pay a heavy price.
From the comfort of Western Canada I could easily think that being geographically remote from this conflict, I am safe and secure. Such confidence however may be naïve; we are all vulnerable. As we have recently seen in Canada, you cannot negotiate or capitulate to a bully. Likewise with Putin. So bring on sanctions but make sure they are effectively directed. Diplomacy has failed, no surprise, for Putin simply strengthened his position through a protracted appeasement dance.
For myself, I have no solution to suggest. (I always try to fix things; my bad.) I can however join countless global citizens of good will. We grieve, in prayer for those who have already died and those who will surely die. We pray for the broken hearts of families, friends, communities, businesses, farmers, workers, politicians, armed forces, for all those who face disruption and loss. As the world is still humbled by extreme weather events and pandemic infection, to a greater or lesser degree we face the prospect of war, a type of war we all thought discarded, never to return. We were wrong.
In our grief, in my own despair I can but turn to music, to Samuel Barber’s iconic and haunting Adagio, for strings, (also available in choral and organ versions). Turn to this music, for calm, for hope, and of course, for peace.