Op-ed in Ming Pao by U.S. Consul General Hanscom Smith
March 18, 2022
(The Chinese version of this article was published by Ming Pao on March 18, 2022, and this article is not for commercial use.)
This is a dangerous moment for freedom-loving people around the world. By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy. But the people of Ukraine are resilient. They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world. The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their country. By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people. Similarly, the Lukashenka regime is sacrificing the future of Belarusians by supporting Putin’s war of choice. We are already seeing many outward-looking Russians and Belarusians “voting with their feet” and seeking to leave their country and the increasingly grim prospects at home resulting from the authoritarian actions of their presidents. When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated war left the world more unified and Russia and Belarus exponentially weaker and isolated.
Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War
This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time. He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border, including over 30,000 in Belarus which the Lukashenka regime falsely claimed were for military exercises. He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along. He rejected every good-faith effort by many nations to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.
Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do. We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas. We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine. We saw troops remain in Belarus after the end of joint military exercises. We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression. Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there. We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.
And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law. Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine. Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.
We have been transparent with the world. We shared out concerns with Beijing and others in a position to help prevent a senseless and unprovoked war. We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up. Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war and Lukashenka supported him. And now their people will bear the consequences of the decision to invest in war rather than in them. Instead of putting his oil windfall into education and commercial technology, Putin spent it on weapons; instead of putting his government’s resources into diplomacy and open trade, Putin’s officials used aggressive rhetoric against other nations. Putin chose war and poverty over peace and prosperity; and the Russian people are paying the price.
United in Our Response
This will not end well for Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Together, the United States and responsible nations around the world are taking action to hold Russia and Belarus accountable. As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Canada, and others have imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank. In response to the Kremlin’s aggression, the world is responding with sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s and Belarus’ economies, financial systems, and access to cutting-edge technology. After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged. Along with the United Kingdom, European Union, and Japan, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects and supporters of this war, including Putin himself.
By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of partners representing more than half the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime and those in Belarus who support the attack on Ukraine. In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars. We will collectively stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military and will take decisive actions against any company that seeks to help Russia or Belarus do an end run around our sanctions and export controls. These actions will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy. And we are prepared to do more.
In addition to economic penalties, President Biden authorized an additional $350 million of security assistance to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to more than $1 billion. We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies. Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense in response to this naked aggression. There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world: NATO is more united than ever.
The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and -consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies. We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.
International Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever
Putin’s goal of dividing the world has failed. In the face one of the most significant challenges to global security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and responsible nations around the globe have joined together in solidarity. This was evident when on 2 March, the UN General Assembly adopted — by an overwhelming majority of 141 against 5 — a resolution rejecting Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and demanding that Russia abide by international law.
The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine. Putin has unleashed great suffering on them. But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards. The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.
Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically. The Russian and Belarusian people, who have contributed much to the world in culture and science, deserve better from their governments than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.
Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression. In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake: Freedom will prevail.