Ukraine War Rages On

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The Russia-Ukraine war, now in its eighth week, has seen Europe and the U.S. united in their condemnation of the war, with economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts continuing to try to put an end to the war.

But is it enough?

As more harrowing pictures emerge from Ukraine many are asking if the sanctions are working. Are war crimes being committed?  Is this genocide? Is enough being done by Europe and the U.S. for Ukraine? How does this play out internationally with other countries? When will it end?

In Ireland, Ben Tonra, Professor and Head of University College Dublin’s (UCD) School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe) resigned as vice-principal for internationalization and global engagement over his college’s initial statement where it expressed “concern” about the “situation” in Ukraine, rather than issuing an outright condemnation of the war.

Tonra believes UCD were half-hearted in their statement because they did not want to damage their relations with China, as UCD has a Chinese-backed Confucius Institute since 2006, and if they were to condemn Russia’s aggression, they may have to do the same with China at some later stage.

“There’s a serious amount of money, prestige and institutional commitment already made to the government of China and to Chinese higher education. And so, anything that might endanger that, or might color that or might bring that into danger would be something that UCD management would be very anxious to avoid,” he said.

When asked about his thoughts on whether the U.S. was doing enough for Ukraine, Tonra, whose expertise has been sought throughout Europe, was very adamant that the U.S. was doing everything it possibly could, and that Europe was very grateful to President Biden.

“There’s a huge sense of gratitude and satisfaction that the U.S. is where it is. Without Joe Biden, God knows where we’d be right now,” he said.

While President Vladimir Putin of Russia warned early in the war that any countries attempting to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has continued his call for help and military aid.

“The U.S. is doing almost everything practically possible, in respect of supporting Ukraine,” says Tonra. “Live intelligence data, arms exports, political and moral support, and diplomatic support.  Short of putting U.S. troops in the air or on the ground, I can’t honestly imagine much more the U.S. could be doing at this point in time,” he said.

After Russian attacks in Bucha two weeks ago, Zelenskyy described it as genocide, something many world leaders have been hesitant to do.

“These are war crimes and will be recognized by the world as genocide. It’s very difficult to talk when you see what they’ve done here,” Zelenskyy said.

Tonra is hesitant to use the term genocide right now, due to its historical significance, but understands why Ukrainians do.

“I’m very, very slow to use that word, because it has in my head, it has a very particular historical resonance.  There’s a reason genocide isn’t the same as war crimes. I would not use that word as of this moment. But I do understand why Ukrainians use it,” says Tonra.

“At the same time, in talking about genocide, in terms of what Russians have said about Ukraine, the absence of a Ukrainian nation, the non-existence of a Ukrainian nation, their desire to de-natzify, to cleanse, to get rid of, certainly that is language which is redolent of genocidal tendencies,” says Tonra.

Biden used the term genocide last week for the first time after initially being very hesitant to use it, like many other world leaders.

“I called it genocide,” Biden told reporters, “because it’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian. The evidence is mounting.”

“Certainly, in terms of war crimes, we’re certainly seeing some evidence of that. And that is something that the United Nations, the International Court of Criminal Law, and others are going to have to prove, prosecute and pursue,” says Tonra.

Many people of Ukraine claim that this is not a recent war that only began on Feb. 24. This war has been ongoing since 2014, but the world did not react then. World leaders did not react, nor did they join in condemnation of the war as they have now, perhaps choosing to ignore what Russia was doing before the escalation of this war of 2022.

“This is the second invasion of Ukraine; the first invasion was 2014.  Russia illegally occupied and annexed Crimea,” says Tonra.

“They subvented and continued supporting irregular forces in eastern Ukraine, in Donetsk and Luhansk.  There’s clearly been Russian engagement and involvement in that from the get-go. So, this war absolutely started in 2014. There’s no question whatsoever about that,” he says.

In addition to 2014, this is not a new strategy on Russia’s part, as they have shown the world that they have done this before.

“It’s a Russian tactic we have seen in Georgia, it’s a Russian tactic we’ve see in Moldova, it’s a Russian tactic that we have seen in the Caucasus. This is a long-standing Russian strategy,” says Tonra.

Perhaps, then, there can be a reasoning, if not perverse, for Russia being shocked at the world’s reaction when Russia has been doing this for some time now and yet nobody said anything or reacted so strongly until now.

“And it is to Europe’s and the United States’ enduring shame that so many red lines were crossed so repeatedly in Chechnya, in Syria and in Ukraine previously, and we didn’t see a response; we didn’t see a credible response. So, we are reaping what we sowed in terms of our failed earlier responses,” says Tonra.

Tonra does not, however, diminish the sustained efforts and risks the U.S. and European countries have now taken against Russia.

“It is real. It is substantive. It has serious costs. So, they don’t do this lightly,” he says.

While some have ventured into Putin’s reasons for pursuing this “military mission” as Putin calls it, Tonra does not lay claim to being either a psychologist or someone with a crystal ball to predict what will happen next in this war.

Putin has an unwavering sense that he must “unite what he refers to as ‘Russkiy Mir,’ the Russian world.  He has a very particular vision as to what that Russian world looks like, which is very traditionalist, very conservative, arguably sort of veering into the fascist sort of notion of an eternal flame of nationhood,” says Tonra.

With an aging Putin, many have argued that he wants to carve his name into the Russian history books, acutely aware of what legacy he leaves behind.

Putin “does clearly see this as part of his historical mission, to correct the mistakes that were made at the end of the Cold War,” says Tonra.

Tonra sees this as a European problem, and yet Europe is very grateful that Biden is in power.

“Europe has been exceptionally lucky to find someone like Joe Biden in the White House. And I think a lot of the European conversation now is, just what would it have been like and how badly we would have been exposed without Biden in the White House,” he says.

He concedes, however, that Europe cannot rely on nor predict who will be in the White House in the next election, and what their foreign policy will be. So Europe must become more self-reliant.

“That’s why conversations in Europe are centering on the notion of a more robust common defense, a more robust European foreign policy, Europe working much harder at defining its own security defense, and paying for its own security defense, and not in the future having to rely on who the current occupant of the White House is,” he says.

Experts, including Tonra, have said that Putin will seek to declare some sort of victory for the so-called Russian deadline of May 9 and Victory Day in the Russian Confederation.

“I think clearly what the Russian ambition is, is to redirect the conflict to the east to secure Luhansk and Donetsk republics, so called republics as independent entities with Russian military support. I think that’s a very difficult conflict; it could be a very costly conflict on both sides, particularly the civilian side,” says Tonra.

New reports indicate Russia is attacking the eastern side of Ukraine, as many predicted.

“Now we can state that the Russian forces have started the battle for the Donbas that they have been getting ready for a long time,” said Zelenskyy.