DPA via Europa Press

How Ukranians fight Russia and build a European country

Ihor Petrenko

8 mins - 12 de Agosto de 2022, 07:30

For over five months, Ukrainians have been heroically and bravely defending their country from the Russian attack. Despite the world’s initial skepticism, they successfully mobilized their efforts, united, and persisted against the most difficult challenge of Ukraine’s modern history. Undoubtedly, the entire civilized world is helping Ukraine in its defense against Russia. However, the aid would have proven powerless if it was not for the resilience of Ukrainians and their desire to liberate their land from the Russian invaders. The new, young, and – as it turned out – professional European elite led by President Zelensky became an essential foundation for Ukraine’s fight. Who is this new Ukrainian elite and how did its rise to power affect Ukraine in the war against Russia?

2019 was a fateful year for Ukraine. It was the year of the so-called electoral revolution, which ignited radical changes in the Ukrainian political elites. With an overwhelming 73% of support, Volodymyr Zelensky – an ultimate novice in politics and public administration – became president. Zelensky then rebooted the Parliament, with his political force, Servant of the People, winning a single party majority. As a result, old politicians were simply left out of the key political processes. For two years, the ex-political establishment expected Zelensky and his team to fail, anticipating the collapse of Hryvnia and the economy, the failure to ensure a smooth heating season, the surrender to Putin, etc. None of the grim forecasts came true.

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It was the new generation of politicians that faced the biggest challenges in the history of Ukraine’s independence – from the coronavirus pandemic to the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war. Despite the negative predictions, Zelensky’s team demonstrated professionalism in handling these challenges. As both the allies and foes predicted the fall of Ukraine 4-5 days after the start of the full-scale invasion, the Ukrainians have been forcefully fighting against the “second army of the world” for five months. Moreover, Ukrainians also manage to build a European country and pass reforms, all while listening to the cannonade of the enemy’s artillery and missile attacks.

How does the new elite differ from the old one, and why does Ukraine in 2022 have a strikingly different model in protecting its territory than it did in 2014? Perhaps, the key feature of the old Ukrainian elite was the ability to adapt to the needs and wishes of larger and more important geopolitical players. For most of them, it made no difference whether the said player was Moscow or Washington, with everything being determined by conjuncture. A politician could have had vehemently pro-Russian views, switching to the pro-EU and Nato course as soon as the next political cycle. The situation slowly started to change in 2014, with the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war. However, this change didn’t come from politicians and their strategic vision; it stemmed from the people and their strive for European life, free of Russian oppression.

What guided Ukrainian politicians before 2019, you might ask? Picture this: in 2014, Russia began its special operation to occupy Crimea. It succeeded without firing a single shot. As the Russian troops occupied the Crimean peninsula, the Armed Forces of Ukraine made no move to stop the invaders. Why? Then-acting President Oleksandr Turchynov did not give an order to defend our land from the Russians. Clearly, Putin perceived these actions – or the lack of thereof – as weakness and therefore decided to unleash a war in the Donbas.

By 2015, Ukraine had the opportunity to liberate the Donbas or at least the city of Luhansk. Instead, the Armed Forces received an order from the new President Petro Poroshenko to retreat – an order that led to well-known tragedies in Ilovaisk and Debaltsevo. Why? While there is still no clear answer, Petro Poroshenko, together with the godfather of Putin’s child Viktor Medvedchuk, is now suspected of treason and organizing coal supply schemes from the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR in the interests of Russia. Moreover, during Poroshenko's tenure as president, Medvedchuk gained control over three TV channels in Ukraine, effortlessly created a pro-Russian party, and acquired many oil and gas businesses. All of the above happened against the background of dramatic events in the Donbas... Coincidence?

While this is just one of the many examples showcasing why Ukrainians wanted to fundamentally change the political establishment, I am sure it’s enough to understand what prompted Ukrainians to go to the polling stations in 2019 and vote for someone completely unrelated to previous politics.
When Zelensky came to power, he declared his intention to stop the war in the Donbas politically and diplomatically, but not at the expense of Ukrainian national interests. He would not let Russia use the Donbas as a lever of influence on Ukraine’s geopolitical vector. During the Revolution of Dignity, Ukrainians were abundantly clear in defining their vision for the country: we aspire to become members of the EU and Nato. Zelensky also started an active fight against pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, primarily against Viktor Medvedchuk who used to enjoy the protection of Poroshenko. Medvedchuk’s TV channels were closed, and the man himself became a subject of several investigations for treason and other serious crimes.

At the same time, Zelensky was ready to determine the modalities of Ukraine’s coexistence with Russia, which, regardless of circumstances, remains our unfortunate neighbor. Ukraine was also ready to negotiate certain concessions and compromises. Russia, however, was not satisfied with this option. The Kremlin’s task has always been to capture all of the Ukrainian territories and create the Soviet Union 2.0, which continues to be Putin’s sick fantasy.

Realizing that Zelensky would not surrender, Moscow decided to launch a full-scale invasion using the entire arsenal of weapons at its disposal. But unlike Turchynov, who gave up Crimea, and Poroshenko, who stopped the offensive on Luhansk, Zelensky gave the order to defend Ukraine and kill the occupiers. When offered evacuation by Western partners, Zelensky responded with what has quickly become a catchphrase: "I need weapons, not a ride." An akin contrast with the previous elites inspired Ukrainians to be even more fierce in their fight.

Zelensky's leadership not only united Ukrainians but also inspired the entire world to help Ukraine, a country and people that uphold fundamental European values like freedom, equality, identity, and the right to a safe life. While previous Ukrainian authorities had a tendency to straddle both worlds, today Ukraine has a starkly different approach: all Russian business is closed in the country, the pro-Russian fifth column no longer exists, diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation are severed, and any collaboration with the aggressor is severely punished. In addition, there is the McFaul-Yermak international expert group, which actively and effectively develops proposals for sanctions policy against Russia for our partners, who see the resilience of Ukrainians in the fight against Russia. As a result, there is an unprecedented level of sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation. True, the current pressure is still not enough, but we believe that the joint efforts of Ukraine and the world will make the economic life of Russia, a terrorist state, unbearable. This is an important prerequisite for ceasing the Russian aggression against Ukraine and other potential targets, such as the Baltic states and Poland. After all, Russia openly states that there will be other targets after Ukraine.

If we do not stop Russia now, its direct conflict with Nato will be inevitable, with all the corresponding consequences, since Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty clearly states that an attack on one country of the Alliance is considered an attack on all of the allies. Unfortunately, not everyone in Western Europe understands it.

Ukraine can stop Russia, we just need more sanctions support and the supply of the latest, precise long-range weapons. Ukraine can become a shield for the EU, dismantling the Kremlin of any thoughts about aggression against both EU and NATO members. At the same time, the world should understand that Ukraine is not a gray area. We are a European nation that finds the strength to carry out reforms and accelerate its way to EU membership amid the war. We already are reliable partners, but we want to become an even more reliable support system for the security of not just Eastern Europe but also Europe as a whole.

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