My maternal grandparents were Ukrainian immigrants to the United States. In the early 1900s, they fled from villages to the east and west of Kyiv to escape the horror of the pogroms against its Jewish citizens.
Over the past month, I’ve watched Russia’s unconscionable shelling of Ukrainian non-strategic infrastructure and fleeing civilian refugees – devastating neighborhoods, retail, hospitals, civilian bomb shelters, nursing homes, maternity facilities, schools, and even a building marked as sheltering children.
While I did not previously identify as a Ukrainian American, I do now.
As the horrors unfolded, I strain to understand why NATO, with its 30 member nations – including the United States – has not done more? President Biden has called Putin “a thug,” “a butcher,” and “a war criminal.” His crimes are in plain sight. As early as two weeks into the Russian invasion, the International Court of Justice found cause to initiate a war crimes investigation.
Even with the United Nations’ overwhelming condemnation of Russia, NATO has denied Ukraine’s pleas for a no-fly zone, certain offensive weapons, and combat jets.
Under Article 5 of its founding document, NATO is expected to defend an attacked member. Since 1949, Article 5 has helped keep the peace in Europe. President Biden has affirmed it as a “sacred” obligation to defend Russian neighbors Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Turkey – all NATO members – by sending troops and supplies to reinforce these Eastern European states. But NATO will not step up to defend non-aligned Ukraine despite that Russia has repeatedly thwarted Ukraine’s NATO application. NATO offers only defensive weapons.
Conventional wisdom, it seems, is that providing Ukraine with offensive military assistance or a humanitarian airlift would increase the likelihood of WWIII and Russia’s use of chemical, biological, and/or nuclear weapons. But this position allows Putin to set the rules of engagement and only emboldens Russia and other autocratic nuclear nations that may wish to subjugate non-nuclear nations – such as China’s desire to subsume Taiwan. Such waffling only incentivizes the Russian Bear to take a bite out of other non-NATO neighbors. It cannot stand.
This “no” policy is even more perplexing given Ukraine’s massive strategic importance. Ukraine has the fourth-largest reserves of natural resources worldwide. It is a country rich in lithium and nickel required – and currently in short supply – for electric car batteries. As Russia well knows, the Chinese company Chingxin Lithium covets the rights to Ukraine’s vast lithium reserves. Ukraine also has large deposits of other strategic minerals and Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas, critical to maintaining the Russian petrostate. It is also known as the breadbasket of Europe and supplies a significant portion of the continent’s grain.
Ukraine also contains 15 nuclear reactors, including one that is Europe’s largest provider of electric energy. Putin lusts for the many trillions of dollars of Ukrainian resources to enrich himself, lubricate the alliance with China, and to carry out his vision for a Eurasian empire.
Fortunately, Ukraine’s patriotic resolve has Putin on his heels. A Russian armada departed from its Pacific naval base is apparently steaming toward the Black Sea to Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and principal port. Once there, Russian warships would be able to assault that port city, Kyiv, and elsewhere.
Russia allegedly is “retreating” with its new focus on the Donbas region and the corridor to Crimea. Reporting indicated otherwise, but even if true, Putin’s scaled-back territorial goals must remain non-negotiable for President Zelensky.
History has taught us the price of appeasement. Europeans stood down to the pre-WWII Nazi conquest of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other nations. With those resources under his belt, Hitler initiated WWII. Ukraine fought valiantly for 70 days before Nazi subjugation.
Like Hitler, Putin has neither been constrained by diplomacy nor sanctions. He seized Crimea; incinerated Grozny and installed his surrogates in Chechnya; poisoned, killed, and imprisoned his adversaries; and criminalized war reporting and anti-war demonstrators.
A New York Times headline, “Unable to Seize Kharkiv, Russia Destroys It” sums up the conundrum. Like the city of Kharkiv, Mariupol is experiencing a devastating assault by land, air, and sea. How many Kharkivs and Mariupols will be obliterated in this war of attrition before the Russian Goliath outlasts the Ukrainian David?
World leaders need to be concerned. The longer this war lasts, the worse it becomes for the world’s economies. The price of food, minerals, energy, and other commodities is on the rise. No matter the intentions, if Russia ultimately prevails, parties in power will be painted as the appeasers and their leaders will be tarred in a similar fashion.
NATO or individual members must offensively arm Ukraine and undertake a Berlin-style humanitarian airlift. Ukraine must never have to barter Crimea, Mariupol, Donbas, or one inch of its territory in exchange for “peace.” Frozen Russian sovereign funds should be earmarked to rebuild the shattered Ukrainian nation. In return, Putin could receive Ukraine’s commitment that it will not join NATO.
Inside Russia, such an outcome would not likely be perceived as a win. No matter how colorfully Putin touts his war, his nation’s history demonstrates that a Russian loss does not go down well. A new leader will inevitably arise.
Now, I am a Ukrainian American.
Malcolm Lazin is an attorney, entrepreneur and civil rights activist. His maternal grandparents are from Ukraine.