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Support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression

Vanuatu Daily Post, 24 février 2024


Every year on the 21st of February, Vanuatu commemorates Walter Lini, father of the independence and the country’s first Prime Minister. This opportunity to reflect on the price of freedom and the value of independence coincides with another commemoration as, two years ago on the 24th of February, a sovereign and independent nation, Ukraine, was attacked. Completely unprovoked, Russia invaded its neighbor and has since raged a horrendous war of aggression, targeting specifically civilians, in daily strikes on populated areas. This illegal and illegitimate war is sowing terror every day and destroying tens of thousands of lives and families.

It may seem a long way from Vanuatu, but in reality, it is not. The consequences of the war are being felt beyond the front line. All over the world, inflation and energy costs are being impacted on an unprecedented scale. For the last two years, Russia has also been destroying grain silos and limiting food exports via the Black Sea : by attacking Ukraine, Moscow is waging a war on global food security, depriving the most vulnerable countries of essential resources. To various degrees, we are all collateral victims of this war of aggression.

As President Emmanuel Macron recently stated, “Ukrainians today are fighting not only for their freedom but for European security, for the solidity of liberal democracies and the defense of international law”.

That is why France’s determination is as strong as it was on day one, and our commitment to Ukraine’s side will not waver. France and Ukraine signed a bilateral security agreement in Paris, on the 16th of February. The French President will also hold a meeting on Monday with several heads of state and government or their ministerial representatives, to examine the means available to strengthen cooperation between partners in support of Ukraine.

It is fashionable to be defeatist and announce that Putin has won. In fact, the opposite is true. The Kremlin has suffered a series of strategic defeats. It thought it would take the whole of Ukraine in a matter of days or weeks ; after two years of bitter fighting, Russia now occupies just 18% of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine forces have recaptured more than half of what Russia took in 2022. And to achieve minor territorial gains, Russia lost so much. It sacrificed hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Many others chose to leave the country.

Russia also lost the place and credibility on the international stage it worked so hard to build in the previous decades. It is isolated, no longer invited to several diplomatic formats or events. On the other hand, its cruel and illegal war has accomplished exactly what Moscow feared : it has pushed Ukraine into the arms of the “West”. Ukraine will be joining the European Union and, France hopes, NATO as well. It has pushed Sweden and Finland to join NATO. It has awakened many countries from their somnolence : we are witnessing a real European strategic awakening.

Therefore, as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Séjourné said : “Let’s not give in to the temptation of fatigue or indifference. Russia, which has failed on the ground, intends to win by discouraging us, by persuading us that it has the upper hand and that nothing can thwart its imperialist enterprise. It’s all a lie : Russia is not winning in Ukraine.”

Russia is not winning but it is rearming and reorganizing, stepping up its military effort in Ukraine. It must not be allowed to do so. Letting Russia defeat Ukraine would have incalculable consequences. First, it would make the use of force appear more acceptable, thus endangering the security of all. In all regions of the world, countries would be tempted to resort to violence in order to attain their goals and settle their territorial issues. Second, Russia would not be content with Ukraine because what Putin really wants is to destroy the European security order. Therefore, as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs explained, “What awaits us if Russia advances in Ukraine is a permanent threat, daily destabilization and the possibility of war spreading”.

Russian aggression is already not limited to Ukraine : the Kremlin has been sponsoring targeted assassinations abroad, including in Europe, for several years ; it has been interfering in elections, disinforming and polarizing liberal democracies to weaken them ; it is manipulating migrants in the hope of creating a crisis on the Finnish border, and it is orchestrating demonstrations in Moldova to undermine the government. Russia has also been turning against its own population, mass-imprisoning and even killing its opponents in prison. In that respect, Alexei Navalny’s death testifies not to the power but to the weakness of the Kremlin, to its panic fear of the opposition, of the mere existence of a political alternative.

Walter Lini once said that “Peace is powerful”. But Russia is currently not even trying to reach a peace settlement. Putin claims that he is open to negotiation while maintaining that Ukraine has to accept the new “territorial realities” imposed on it by the Russian armed forces. Such a demand equals recognizing annexation as a legal way of extending one’s territory. Peace in Ukraine only means one thing : stopping Russia’s war of aggression. And it is not only about regional security : it is the condition of our global prosperity.

The war has an impact on us all, it affects our common well-being. To bring peace back to Europe, the support of all our partners is necessary. We strongly believe that all democracies must support one another in the face of aggression. Vanuatu also has a role to play and can influence its diplomatic allies in stopping Russia’s war of aggression as soon as possible.

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