Tuesday, September 2, 2014

David and Goliath: Some painful truths

It's the little guys vs. the big guys, an underdog against a superpower, David vs. Goliath.  It took a while to get here, to descend to this level of drama, and it's not pretty.  The above CNN graph tells the story.  It makes me weep.

It's time to say "invasion."  In some ways, the West has prolonged Putin's war aganst Ukraine because it has refused to call a spade a spade.

Russia invaded and claimed Crimea; trampled on Lugansk and Donetsk; massed troops on the border; trained and armed pro-Russian separatists who shot down MH-17 with a BUK missile and prevented investigation of the crime scene; used the subterfuge of a humanitarian convoy, among others, to reinforce the rebels with troops and arms; and started a new front in southeastern Donetsk, with a massive infusion of heavily armed Russian soldiers, some 3,000-4,000, and over 300 tanks, overtly marching toward the Sea of Azov.  They have taken Novoazovsk, have Mariupol and Berdyansk in their sights. Next it could be Odessa on the Black Sea, a strategic port city and transportation hub. Step by step, Putin has escalated his intervention in Ukraine.

"Whatever the West wants to call it,"  Michael Weiss of Politico magazine asserted, "this is a real war."  A dirty undeclared war.

But if the US and EU nations had called these "incursions" what they really are, "invasions" of a sovereign land, beginning in Crimea, they would have had an imperative to do something.  And doing something is not what the EU or the US has wanted. They imposed economic sanctions reluctantly, and  might be forced to impose a third round in the face of the recent overt aggression.  I don't think they will deliver a lot of military support, and surely not enough to make a difference. The American people do not want another war. No one in their right mind wants a war.  I so want to believe the world should help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity in keeping with international treaties and the Rule of Law.  But a war with Russia?  A third world war?  Untold murder and killing and death?

Weiss noted that the Ukrainian people themselves are paying for this war with their blood, sweat and tears.  It's a story not widely known.  Rather than rising up to join the rebel terrorists, they are raising money, sending food and weapons, sending humanitarian aid.  My friends in Starobelsk are doing their part. They work every day to send whatever supplies they can gather, harvest, cook, collect, beg, and borrow to Ukrainian troops, young boys in harm's way, they tell me, without adequate protection.  They tried to deliver food and gallons of water to Lugansk, just 40 miles away, but were turned back by the terrorist rebels, and this while Russia's white-painted "humanitarian" convoy sat on the border.  

No matter how earnest these valient efforts, they can never be enough. The CNN chart graphically illustrates the impossibility.  The Ukrainian army is no match for the huge Russian military. A $78 billion military budget vs. a $1.6 billion budget.  God, not even close.

Much as I hate to admit it, I don't think the West could provide enough fire power to Ukraine to make a dent, and doing so would surely escalate the war beyond measure.

Ukraine would still have the equvalent of a slingshot against Russia's military, including the nuclear weapons that Putin, a mad man, has intimated he would not be afraid to use.

Poroshenko knows this.  He fears it.  He knows a full-scale war with Russia would mean tens of thousands of deaths, both soldiers and civilians; towns, farms and communities destroyed; families displaced; more refugees, more desperation.

The people of Mariupol protest the Russian invasion, preparing to resist. The sign says "Putin get out."
It's a frightful prospect. Death and destruction. It's a prospect that leads to a once-unthinkable solution: Should Ukraine give up Lugansk and Donetsk, the Sea of Azov region, maybe more land, along with Crimea, in order to save lives and to safe the rest of Ukraine?

It pains me to say this.  I served with the Peace Corps for two years in eastern Ukraine.  I love its land and culture and people.  I can't stand the thought of my friends suffering, struggling to survive, living under Russian restrictions and propaganda, having to give up their dreams.

I tremble as I write this.  Can we take some solace, a very tiny bit,  in the belief that Russia will pay for its aggression, and sooner rather than later?   I don't know. Putin is a war criminal, and he should be arrested immediately and tried for crimes against humanity and his breaking of international agreements and treaties. I don't know if this is possible, how it would work.   But the economic sanctions are adding up, hardship is on the horizon, the truth of the war in terms of Russian lives lost is coming home to roost among the Russian people.  Intimidating journalists who are trying to tell this truth won't work.

Golaith might win the battle, but it cannot win the war in the long run . Putin has put Russia on a slippery slope to economic ruin, political chaos, and international isolation.  He will pay for it. He will be a pariah among nations.  Refusing to hold the World Cup in Russia in 2018 will add to the isolation. In time, the people of Ukraine will rise up and reclaim their land, the land that they cheish.  They will revolt against the tyrants and chose to return to Ukraine's governance. It's the only hope to which I can cling in an otherwise tragic and painful scenario.

Is this a bad dream?    

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