Why global unity is necessary on Ukraine

Demonstrators attend a protest rally outside the Russian Embassy in London, on 26 February, 2022 following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. FILE PHOTO | AFP

Summary

  • One would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the bravery of the Ukrainian people as Russia encircles the country’s cities with thermobaric weapons and cluster munitions. Or to feel for the plight of non-Ukrainians, including many Tanzanian students, who have been thrust into the path of danger as a result of Russian aggression.

President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shocked the world. The gut-wrenching scenes of destroyed apartment blocks and Russian forces shelling civilians fleeing to safety are harrowing; the threat to European and world peace grave.

One would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the bravery of the Ukrainian people as Russia encircles the country’s cities with thermobaric weapons and cluster munitions. Or to feel for the plight of non-Ukrainians, including many Tanzanian students, who have been thrust into the path of danger as a result of Russian aggression.

There can be no remaining doubts about the gravity of the situation. Russia’s attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and President Putin’s chilling decision to put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert have seen to that. Nor can any of us be in doubt about the global reach of the consequences. Oil and gas prices are soaring. Food prices will follow. Russia’s aggression against its neighbour affects us all.

So it is in all our interests for the conflict and suffering to end.

This will only happen if the invasion fails to deliver what President Putin wants. That is because it is an attack not just on Ukraine but on the very foundation of international relations and the United Nations Charter: the right of nations to decide their own future free from fear of unprovoked invasion. Moreover President Putin’s past behaviour tells us he will not stop at Ukraine. Appeasing him now by abandoning Ukraine in its hour of need will put other countries in Eastern Europe at grave risk – and plunge the world into even greater peril and turmoil.

Most of the world understands this. In the United Nations General Assembly last week, 141 countries voted for a resolution condemning the invasion and calling for Russia to withdraw. And 37 countries joined a UK-led effort to refer Russia to the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes in Ukraine – the largest referral in ICC history.

Meanwhile an unprecedented range of countries are taking economic measures to cut President Putin’s regime off from the money and resources it needs to keep his war machine going, while sending aid to Ukraine to provide vital medical supplies and assistance. And major businesses are voting with their feet: more than 120 of them, including Apple, Coca-Cola, Netflix, McDonalds, Visa and Mastercard have pulled out of Russia. Even Premier League football matches are these days beginning with a public show of support for Ukraine. Russians themselves are increasingly dismayed and taking to the streets to protest against the invasion.

This inspiring show of unity goes well beyond the governments of countries that are members of Nato. Indeed the UK’s Prime Minister has been clear that this is not a Nato conflict: Ukraine had no serious prospect of Nato membership in the near future. Prime Minister Johnson has been clear too that every attempt was made in the weeks and months before the invasion to engage President Putin diplomatically about Russia’s stated security concerns, and that the door to diplomacy will remain open - provided the legitimate government of Ukraine has full agency in any potential settlement.

What will not work in this situation are generic calls for a diplomatic resolution in the absence of broad international pressure on the aggressor. Given the facts on the ground, not least the overbearing force we can all see Russia using, it strains credulity to suggest that both parties should negotiate as though they are somehow both responsible for the invasion, one having to do so whilst its cities and citizens are still under attack.

As an outsider it is not my place to interpret the nuances of Tanzanian history, but I believe Nyerere would have understood this point all too well. When Idi Amin’s Ugandan forces invaded northwest Tanzania in 1978 (aided as it happens by Russian arms), Nyerere was dismayed – and not just by Amin. Other African leaders refused to condemn the invasion and pressed Nyerere to negotiate rather than fight back. “How,” Nyerere asked, “do you mediate between somebody who breaks into your house and the victim of the assault”.

Nyerere’s answer was that you don’t, at least not while the invader is still on your land shelling your people. You resist. Which of course Nyerere did, pushing the invading forces back with bravery and determination (the UK helped by curbing Amin’s access to oil).

Nyerere was surely right to feel aggrieved by the approach of his fellow leaders in 1978. In any unprovoked invasion scenario, calling for diplomacy and dialogue without also demanding that the invading power halt the attack and withdraw is a recipe for appeasement rather than lasting peace and justice. Echoing the logic of Nyerere’s response to Amin, it is critical President Putin hears a unified global voice telling him to recall his troops and weaponry and cease this expansionist madness