Ukrainian victory will then have positive reverberations inside Belarus.
What 2023 might bring to Belarus? Is the West afraid of the collapse of Russia? How to save the lives of peaceful Ukrainians who are suffering a humanitarian catastrophe?
The Charter97.org website spoke about this with David J. Kramer, the researcher at the Florida International University, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor during the Presidency of George W. Bush, ex-director of the Freedom House.
— Some say that the West should be parsimonious in helping Ukraine militarily in order to avoid the collapse of Russia. Is this fear of Ukrainian victory grounded?
— Not at all, I think this fear is ungrounded, although, let me be clear, I think that there are different ways of looking at this. I strongly support helping Ukraine win this war. There's a big difference between defending Ukraine and its territory and winning. Winning means driving Russian forces out of Ukrainian soil and making sure that they don't do this again. I think everyone should have an interest in seeing Ukraine win this war.
What happens after that with the Russian defeat — because Ukrainian victory means Russian defeat — is up to the Russians to decide. I don't think people want to see the collapse of Russia, necessarily — there are some people who would prefer that — but what we do want to see is making sure that Putin and Russian forces can never do this again, and if that means a dissolution of the country then so be it. I don't mean to be light or flippant about this: a country with as many nuclear weapons as Russia has is a place you need to take seriously and you don't want these weapons to fall into the wrong hands, but this all is the fault and responsibility of Putin.
What we should be interested in is helping Ukraine regain full control over all of its territory, including all of Donbas, Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea, so that Putin and all Russians understand that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and will incur a major price in the defeat of Russian forces.
— Is the world order as we knew it upended already, after a huge country with a nuclear arsenal started a major war in Europe? Will the Ukrainian victory restore the equilibrium?
— The Russian re-invasion (the Russians invaded the first time in 2014) has created the greatest security crisis on the European continent since the end of World War II — and that's a remarkable thing to say; it's nearly 80 years, since we have had such a major catastrophic event in Europe. This is not just a European crisis — this has been a global crisis where there was a concern about food security for many parts of the globe: in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, where you have seen an energy crisis, an increase in inflation. Countries and leaders like those in Beijing are watching very carefully: if Russia can get away with this invasion of Ukraine — maybe, they can get away with the invasion of Taiwan. So, how we handle the response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine has global implications.
I think this is the greatest crisis we have faced since World War II. I don't think, however, it means the end of the international order — the response of NATO, the EU, the United States, Canada, many other countries, including those in Asia, has been very positive: we have imposed prompt and unprecedented sanctions on the Putin regime, we have provided military assistance. It's always a little behind where it should be, but it's been rather vigorous and robust. We have beefed up the security presence in countries that neighbours Russia and Ukraine. Finland and Sweden will become members of NATO. So, we have responded, I think, quite well. I wouldn't give us an A, but I think we probably have a B plus.
The reason not to give an A is far too many Ukrainians have died in this war. And as long as every day goes by, more Ukrainians die. We are not doing enough. We have to keep helping Ukraine until the war ends and Russia is defeated and Ukraine is victorious. And then, I think, we can say that the international order has been preserved.
— How could the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, which Russia has created, be solved? How Ukrainian lives could be preserved?
— I co-authored a recent piece in the Washington Post with Bill Taylor, who was the former US ambassador to Ukraine, in which we argue that the United States, together with the allies needs to lead a massive humanitarian assistance campaign like the Berlin Airlift of 1948, so that Ukrainians don't freeze to death, don't die of starvation, don't die from lack of water, which seems to be the intent of the Russian bombing campaign which is not focused so much on the battlefront, but it is focused against Ukraine's infrastructure, electrical facilities.
It seems to me that the international community, led by the United States, but with others, needs to lead a massive humanitarian campaign to avoid having Ukrainians forced to submit. I don't think Ukrainians will — Ukrainians have shown tremendous courage, determination, persistence in this awful war that has cost far too many Ukrainian lives. But I think it is time for the United States and others to lead a massive campaign. And if it needs military escort — we should provide that, so that Russia understands that shooting down planes that provide humanitarian assistance or targeting trains, truck convoys or other things will be met with a stiff response from the international community. It's the only way that Putin gets the message: through the fist, through strength — and that's what we need to provide.
— Practically speaking, when, for example, a train with humanitarian cargo enters Ukrainian territory, should Russians be deliberately informed of its location so that they won't bomb the train?
— I don't mind being transparent about what we're doing — we are also transparent about the military assistance that we're providing Ukraine. It is, I think, appropriate and probably the right thing to do to let the Russians know that these trains — if it comes true, or planes, if we send planes — are humanitarian assistance, in order to keep innocent Ukrainians alive, and if Russia were to target any of these, we would respond militarily.
No one wants a direct conflict between the United States and Russia – we're talking about the two largest nuclear weapons states in the World. But at the same time, we should also not sit by and watch Ukrainians freeze or starve to death. We have, I think, an obligation — even though Ukraine is not a member of NATO — to prevent a genocide that Putin clearly is leading against the Ukrainian people. They are trying to kill as many Ukrainians as possible to force Ukraine into submission, and we need to make sure that that does not succeed.
— Is Ukraine already part of the West de facto, no matter what happens next? And is Ukraine on track to become a new regional leader?
— I think Ukraine has been a model for the entire world in showing how its people are willing to defend their country, their freedom, their families from a totally unprovoked, unjustified invasion from Russia. I think, now, given the tremendous performance by Ukrainian forces, not only in defending their land, but in pushing back Russian forces, that we would be lucky to have Ukraine become a member of NATO. Ukraine now is the only country — if it were to become a member — of NATO to have experience in fighting Russia – that experience is invaluable. The way they have performed has been heroic. NATO would only be enhanced in its own security, image and reputation if Ukraine became a member. I have supported Ukrainian membership in NATO for a long time, including back when I was in the State Department in 2008, when Ukraine, along with Georgia, applied for a membership action plan. I think Ukraine has earned every right to become a member of NATO.
Similarly, I think, Ukraine has earned its place in the European Union. I think, both organizations, NATO and the EU, should welcome Ukraine with open arms. Both of these processes will take time. It won't be immediate. I think, NATO actually could happen sooner than EU membership, but I think Ukraine has earned its place as a full member of the European community.
— What 2023 might bring to Belarus?
— Lukashenka remains wholly dependent on Putin for support. The way to end the Lukashenka regime is to support the Ukrainians. A Ukrainian victory over Russian invading forces would be a defeat for Russia and make it much more difficult, I think, for Putin to sustain the support for Lukashenka. So, if we want to see changes in Belarus, I think, right now the way to do that is to help Ukraine to win.
That will then have positive reverberations inside Belarus. Once Russian support for Lukashenka ends, I think, Lukashenka is finished. Lukashenka, let's remember, has been the worst violator of Belarus's sovereignty and independence. He is the one who has surrendered both to Russian forces in order to stay in power. I think, it's fair to say he has allowed Russia essentially to occupy Belarus. As long as that is the case, then we need to focus more efforts on helping Ukraine to win, because the Ukrainian victory, I think, will run down to Belarus' benefit: it will be not just a defeat for Putin, but it will be a defeat for Lukashenka as well.