Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has doubled down on his war on Ukraine. In a mad flurry of erratic moves, he has ordered the draft of a reported 1.2 million fresh troops, repeatedly threatened to launch nuclear strikes and annexed 15 percent of Ukrainian territory. He apparently also blew up Russia’s own gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, unleashing what the UN says is likely to be the largest ever release of climate-warming methane.
How has the world responded? With barely a hiccup.
Despite vowing “swift and severe costs,” the U.S. response is limited to personal sanctions on some Russian officials and shell companies that had been used to evade earlier sanctions. A few other countries and the European Union (EU) announced similarly mild measures.
The astonishingly lackadaisical response has raised eyebrows. Bloomberg said the measures “will have little practical effect” on Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the EU’s promised sanctions, in particular, “do not correspond to the scale of Putin’s escalation and the threat he poses to Europe and the whole world. We encourage the EU to hit Putin harder in order to stop him.”
Ukraine has been making the same kinds of pleas since the start of the war. While Western weapons, sanctions and financial aid have played a critical role in Ukraine’s defense, and are much appreciated by Ukrainians, the international response has been half-hearted and come in dribs and drabs.
Toothless economic sanctions
Seven months into Putin’s genocidal war, the West is nowhere near imposing the kind of full-on economic blockades deployed to strangle North Korea and Iran. EU countries have bought $100 billion of Russian energy since the start of the war, according to a site that tracks the purchases. These funds pay for the Kremlin’s campaign of mass murder and extermination of Ukrainians.
Only 114 of 2,937 multinational companies (less than 4 percent) have completely exited Russia, according to the Kyiv School of Economics. The rest pay taxes to the Russian government and the salaries of 690,000 employees in Russia.
Apart from gold, no sanctions have been imposed on Russia’s lucrative metal exports. In fact, EU imports of Russian nickel climbed 22 percent in March-June 2022 versus the same period in 2021. U.S. imports shot up by 70 percent.
The Atlantic Council in early March outlined seven layers of sanctions that could be imposed on Russia. Most of those are still not in place. Imagine if seven months after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was still buying Japanese goods and letting its companies do business in Japan. Or if seven months after 9/11, the U.S. was buying merchandise from Osama bin Laden. It’s unthinkable. Yet here we are with Russia.
Heavy weapons badly needed
As for military help, it took months for the U.S. and other nations to agree to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s pleas for heavy weapons for the vastly outgunned Ukrainian military, which had a pre-war budget smaller than that of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Finally, over the summer, some Western countries started to send Ukraine small numbers of longer-range artillery and multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS).
But Ukraine’s requests for heavier weapons are still largely brushed off. The U.S. refuses to send longer-range ATACMS munitions that would let Ukraine target logistics and airbases from which Russia launches its wanton attacks on Ukrainian cities (bases from which it could also launch nuclear-armed warplanes). The West also still refuses to contribute modern tanks, fighter planes and air defense that Ukraine has repeatedly said it needs to stop Putin’s genocidal war.
And while the U.S. has maintained a steady and welcome flow of lighter weapons, help from other nations has slowed significantly. The largest European countries made no new aid pledges in July or early August, according to the latest report from a group that tracks the aid.
Ukraine’s need for modern weapons is exponentially more urgent now that Putin has called up over a million new troops and is ramping up his nuclear threats as his forces reel from embarrassing battlefield setbacks.
Modern air defense is critical for Ukraine to have a chance to defend itself from nuclear missiles or rockets. Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief, Vadym Skibitsky, told The Guardian on Tuesday that there is a “very high” chance that Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
“They will likely target places along the frontlines with lots of [army] personnel and equipment, key command centers and critical infrastructure,” Skibitsky said. “In order to stop them we need not just more anti-aircraft systems, but anti-rocket systems.”
Instead of giving Ukraine tools to stop a Russian nuclear attack, Western leaders have vowed unstated consequences for Russia after the fact. But it’s doubtful that Putin is especially worried about the repercussions given the West’s timid, self-deterred response over the past seven months. The West is thus offering amazingly little deterrence to stop Putin from proceeding with the unthinkable and launching Ukraine and the world into a nuclear abyss.
Obligation to tackle genocide
Putin has made it clear he has one goal: obliterate Ukraine. “Ukraine is not a real country,” he has said. U.S. President Joe Biden has called Russia’s war a genocide, as has Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders and legislatures of many other countries.
Leading genocide experts and legal scholars agree. Thirty-six of them issued a report in May saying Russia’s war is a genocide according to the criteria of the UN’s Genocide Convention. It is actually the second genocide that Moscow has initiated in Ukraine in less than a century. The first, in 1932-33, killed four to 10 million Ukrainians and was, like Putin’s, launched “to kill the slightest thought of any Ukrainian independence,” as a Soviet secret police report put it at the time.
The scholarly report in May didn’t stop there. It noted that the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) obliges nations to act to prevent genocide once they become aware of it. Its entire purpose is to identify a genocide in progress not as some academic exercise, but so the world can stop it.
“States have a legal obligation to prevent genocide beyond their borders once they become aware of the serious risk of genocide – a threshold that this report clearly establishes has been met, of which States cannot now deny knowledge,” the scholars wrote.
Needless to say, the international community has failed miserably to fulfill its duties under the Genocide Convention. At the very least, it could help Ukraine out of self-interest, especially now that Russia’s war is provoking disaster for the entire world.
Russia’s apparent gas pipeline attack has caused an environmental catastrophe in Denmark’s and Sweden’s exclusive economic zones and will release the equivalent of 32 percent of Denmark’s annual climate emissions.
Russia’s war will cost the world economy $2.8 trillion, according to the OECD, and has threatened starvation for tens of millions. Russian nuclear attacks would potentially spread long-lasting radiation over large swaths of Europe and Asia.
NATO is under direct threat and outright attack on multiple fronts. Why is this self-defense alliance doing so little to defend itself? The wealthiest countries of the world seem to be counting on Ukraine – Europe’s poorest country by per-capita GDP – to do all their fighting for them.
So be it. Ukraine’s heroic people are okay with doing their own fighting – oh and by the way, saving the world while they’re at it. The least the rest of the world can do is help. Stop acting as if the war affects only Ukraine. Even better, honor your Genocide Convention obligations.
Either way, now more than ever, Ukrainians need the support they’ve asked for.
Alex Roslin is an award-winning Ukrainian-Canadian investigative journalist and author who is writing a book about the war in Ukraine, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts. Follow him on Twitter at @ArmedMaidan.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter