Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the world has watched in disbelief as a nuclear and military power invaded a sovereign nation. Debate rages over whether the invasion was an expansionist move to reunite former imperial territories or to curb security threats arising from the prospect of Ukraine joining Nato.
The security pact was started by western powers to counter the military threat posed by the former Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991.
Vladimir Putin said he invaded Ukraine to rid it of neo-Nazis and prevent a genocide of the Russian-speaking people of Ukraine, who, according to him, are under attack from the Ukrainian government. Furthermore, Putin actively supported referenda and armed struggles in Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk and even provided Russian passports for the people in these regions.
It is noteworthy that WW2 began with Adolf Hitler claiming a right to unite all German-speaking people by joining Germany, Austria and Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia. However, once the west allowed him to take Sudetenland, he conquered the whole of Czechoslovakia and later sparked WW2 when he invaded Poland.
The world is in uncharted waters because Russia is a military and nuclear power capable of launching missile strikes on global targets. But, like the period before WW2, no one has the stomach to commit to direct combat except Ukrainians defending their homeland. For now, the US and its Nato allies hope by imposing sanctions on Russia, Putin and Russian oligarchs may distress the economy and the actors and cause Russia to reconsider and come to the negotiating table. They are also supplying weapons to Ukrainians.
Russian ground and aerial attacks have allegedly targeted civilian areas. More than 600,000 people have left their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, raising fears of a refugee crisis in Europe. There have been unfortunate reports that Black and Asian people are profiled and blocked from leaving the country. One would expect prioritisation of women, children and the old rather than racial discrimination.
American and European media are painting the conflict as unique on account of the Europeanness of the victims. Words such as “this is not the middle east, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Africa, or any third world country” have been used to demonstrate the uniqueness of the situation. In addition, respected outlets have characterised the victims as “from a civilised European country” or that they “have blond hair and blue eyes”.
Apart from diminishing the value of non-European lives, these notions ignore the fact that the bloodiest wars and atrocities in the last century were predominantly European, including the attempt to wipe out Jews, the 1992 Bosnian genocide and the Yugoslav wars.
Moreover, in 2003, the US and its allies similarly invaded sovereign Iraq — the cradle of civilisation — purportedly to seize non-existent weapons of mass destruction, without a nod from the UN as required. One can draw a straight line from the invasion of Iraq, ensuing sectarian violence and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the rise of Isis. Similar interventions were seen in Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen, sparking further deaths and destruction, conflicts and displacement of peoples.
Putin must be aware that his actions offend international law, specifically regarding acts of aggression and war crimes. Even if Kyiv falls as Iraq did in 2003, the Ukrainian resistance may morph into guerrilla warfare, become protracted, and have big, unforeseen geopolitical ramifications. It is time to welcome and support all the refugees regardless of hair texture or eye colour.