Guest columnist Lyle Denit: Why we must not let Ukraine fail

Smoke rises after a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

Smoke rises after a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. AP PHOTO/EFREM LUKATSKY


Published: 01-03-2024 4:27 PM

There is much talk these days, including in letters to the Gazette, about whether it is time for the United States to push Ukraine towards a cease-fire with Russia. Their counteroffensive did not go as planned, the front lines are not moving much, and it seems a good time to push for a stop to the fighting. Who wouldn’t want it to end?

So why do the Ukrainian people seem so dedicated to continuing their fight against Russian attacks? Are they stubbornly attached to the idea of total victory, David against Goliath, blind to the writing on the wall?

I am no expert on Ukraine, but I have been watching them through the news since they declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. They have been gradually building a society less like what they left and more like what most of us would want to live in, one where corruption and oligarchs do not rule, where people choose their leaders freely and those leaders respond to the electorate, where they can debate openly, create cutting-edge businesses and art, and attract people from around the world to participate. They wanted their country to be part of a vibrant Europe.

In 2004 and 2014, they staged massive protests to push back on attempts by their leaders to pull them back closer to the Russian center of influence. The Ukrainian people haven’t been alone in this desire. Why did the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, and others rush to join NATO after the USSR collapsed?

They weren’t forced. They knew that Russia would regroup and come back for them, as in Ukraine, and that NATO security would be their only real protection. Even Sweden and Finland have recently given up their long-held neutrality, realizing that their best protection against an aggressive Russia is to join NATO.

Some say Ukraine should just be neutral. They pretty much tried that when they gave up their nuclear weapons and signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, when Russia, the U.S., and the UK agreed to recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to not use force against it. Yet in 2014 Russia started seizing its land and killing its people. To stop that fighting the Ukrainians signed a cease-fire in the Minsk Protocols of 2014, yet Russia continued to attack.

Now after many horrendous mistakes, Russia is building up its vast armaments industries to continue bombing Ukrainian cities and equipping soldiers to occupy its land. Russia has made clear it wants control of all of Ukraine and has shown that it will heap death and destruction on those it professes to love yet who flee its embrace.

If the U.S. withdraws its military aid now, Ukraine will fight on as long as it can, but the Russian missiles will keep coming. If they stop fighting now, without NATO membership, experience shows them that Russia will just keep coming, better prepared than before. Then, at some point there would be a kind of “peace,” but bitter and dark.

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The Ukrainians are trying to build a society from the ground up, with their citizens discovering their strength. They want to be with us and Europe. No one is shooting at us, so we can easily preach peace. But they have been fighting Russia for almost 10 years.

This is not a war of choice for them. It is survival. If they are left to fail, it will also cost us in the short and long run as Russia flexes its new power to influence trade through aggression, and other countries learn from them. We should hold up our stake in Ukraine’s fight now.

Lyle Denit lives in Amherst.