This is very difficult for me to write. Like many Canadians – and indeed, like many around the world, I’ve watched in horror as Russian President Vladimir Putin commanded Russia’s armed forces to invade Ukraine. I’ve seen the response – from Canada, and from the world. Certainly, the nations and peoples of our planet have come together in a completely unprecedented way to condemn Putin’s abominable aggression towards his neighbour.
And yet, I feel it deep inside of me that the response, as extraordinary as it has been, is not living up to the moment of this crisis.
Look, although I’ve always been interested in history and war, the fact is I hate war with an unrivaled passion. Carl von Clauswitz might have famously called war, “merely the continuation of politics with other means,” but for me, war is an obscenity. It ought to be considered an archaic remnant of a violent past that our species long ago left behind. But like Clauswitz, I’m also a realist, and I know war and politics today continue to go hand in hand, as war, politics and morality often have little to do with one another, to our collective shame.
Putin has manufactured a crisis, and under the guise of lies, he’s launched a military invasion of a neighbouring nation. It is plain and clear to the rest of the world that this attack is both illegal and immoral. Nation after nation has condemned Putin. Corporations, churches, charities, all levels of government, sports organizations – all are doing their part to isolate Putin. And common people across the globe have taken to the streets to send a message to the Russian people that Putin’s act of naked aggression against Ukraine is unacceptable. Even in Russia itself, where protesting the government means putting one’s health and well-being at risk, we have seen masses of people in public squares demanding an end to war.
And yet, it is not enough. Yes, at some point global economic sanctions might start to have a measurable impact and force Putin to call off the invasion. But how long does the world wait? Until Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa are smoldering ruins?
We are showing our support for Ukraine, an embattled democratic nation that is fighting tenaciously for its life. We do this not because we believe Ukraine to be unflawed and worthy of our unconditional support. We show our support because we know that despite whatever imperfections Ukraine’s government may harbor, Ukraine and its people are victims of a bully’s aggression.
We teach our children to stand up to bullies. That doesn’t mean we teach them to pick fights. Or to fight bullies on behalf of those being bullied. When an individual stands up to a bully on the schoolgrounds, there is always a chance that the bully will lash out in violence. Our children instinctively know that a bully can only be shamed when they stand together even as the threat of violence hangs over their heads.
Yes, it’s easy and inappropriate to compare Putin to a schoolyard bully, given that Putin has nuclear missiles. Yet the comparison resonates on other levels. Without question, we know that it is moral and just to pick a side in this conflict – because just as bullying is an unacceptable practice in the schoolyard, so to is the violation of the international order that we are watching unfold on our devices in real time.
Putin’s invasion is wrong, and we all know it. So, are we going to stand up for Ukraine or just continue to watch it being knocked around by Putin, time and again, until at last it is no longer able to stand on its feet? What kind of friend to Ukraine would that make us? What kind of person stands by and shouts from the sidelines when they see such an injustice?
There are those that say we risk nuclear annihilation should NATO’s military and Putin’s cross swords. I agree that there would be significant risk, and that the outcome of nuclear war is simply unthinkable. It is Putin – and not Ukraine or NATO – who set these events in motion, believing that might makes right – or at least that might can prevail as long as Putin threatens intervenors with nuclear destruction. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time accepting that Putin or any other nuclear armed power can extort the world to sit back and watch as their militaries lay waste to whichever people or nation they’ve added to their personal enemies list.
I’m glad that Canada has been playing an important role in rallying the international community to take action against Putin. I hate war, and I long for peace. And yet I fear that peace will only come when NATO stands up for Ukraine with more than words and sanctions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked NATO to create a no-fly zone over his nation. NATO has said it will not do so, because that would be interpreted as an act of war by Putin.
I understand the consequences of implementing a no fly zone very well. The risks are grave. But the outcome of allowing a nuclear-armed bully to succeed in subjugating its neighbour simply because it can is unfathomable. It is just, right and moral to stand up to Putin. It’s time NATO and other nations did so, collectively. Not to start a war, but rather to finish one.