The Cold War imprinted a permanent image of Soviet enmity on the minds of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, and rightly so.
The West was in constant tension with the USSR through the countless proxy wars, with real threats of armed conflict reaching nuclear levels. The American people had no reason to trust Soviet ideologies, discoveries or people. The feelings were mutual for the Russians who had no reason to trust the West after years of disagreements.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, signaling the end of a long rivalry after nearly 50 years. At this point, the United States began to explore ways to collaborate with Russia and its vast resources. The United States has spent the past 30 years trying to strengthen diplomatic relations with Russia – with caution.
American and Russian policy has allowed collaborations on scientific research, space exploration, the fight against global terrorism and even climate preservation. Despite reluctance to trust an old enemy, the two countries attempted to create a working relationship with one of the world’s other superpowers to make economic and global progress.
Born in the new millennium into Gen Z, I don’t disagree with Russian ideologies as much as previous generations. The post-Cold War era has seen Russia as an energy giant capable of using its powers and influence to do the right things.
But Russian leader Vladimir Putin has undone 30 years of progress in the last 30 days, and I don’t think Russia’s reputation is salvageable. The invasion of Ukraine was built on flawed Soviet-era ideologies, executed by lies and supported by unethical threats. The country that could have harnessed natural resources and growing connectivity with the international community to prosper, has now proven to everyone that it can never be trusted.
Putin launched aspecial military operationon February 24 to send Russian troops into Ukraine and take control of the country. Putin claimed it was to protect the people of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and save the Ukrainian people from the abuses and genocide of the Nazi regime in kyiv. Experts rightly pointed out that these lies are just a pretext for Putin’s real intentions – to recover Ukraine as part of Russia. Putin’s opinions in Soviet times are that Ukraine and Russia should be one people under one leader and a collective state that must be reunited.
Putin’s attempt to consolidate power is a violation of Ukraine’s autonomy. By sending military forces to civilian regions of Ukraine, carrying out strikes targeting residential areas and flouting ceasefire agreementsPutin undermines the Ukrainian government and people.
In our interconnected world, I don’t think it’s wise to bully sovereign nations and expect to get away with it. The Russian invasion echoes the illogical belief that Putin can take what doesn’t belong to him and be spared the consequences. I believe that the international community will be reluctant to collaborate with Russia in the future because it might fear a similar fate. The world could take years to forgive Putin and trust Russia again after the invasion.
The build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border began almost a year before the invasion. Russian troops appeared in Belarus – a Russian ally bordering Ukraine – as early as spring 2021, and last November there were at least 100,000 troops on the border. Belarus plays a crucial role as a strategic location for Russia to station troops. Close cooperation with Belarus has allowed Russia to potentially place nuclear weapons very close to the Ukrainian border, ready for deployment.
All this seemed to indicate an imminent invasion. Russia responded to the concerns by saying the troops and equipment were only there for training exercises – ultimately a lie. At the end of February, only a few days before the invasion, Russia said it would withdraw its troops – also ultimately turning out to be wrong. After about a week of fighting, Russia and Ukraine have reached a agreed ceasefire allow civilians to evacuate certain Ukrainian towns, guaranteed by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Russian troops, which continued to shell the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, broke it.
Russia has shown time and time again that it cannot be trusted. Putin’s lies constantly deceive the international community and hinder progress in resolving conflicts. These types of tactics are typically used by terrorist groups whose objective is primarily to intimidate or coerce civilian populations into influencing government policy through mass destruction. The international community is less likely to engage in diplomacy with Russia after this, as there is a good chance that Putin will not honor his part of any deal.
Putin has reached a point of no return where there is no foreseeable way to forgive Russia for the invasion. Attacks on civilian infrastructure such as residential buildings, schools and even hospitals would seem to constitute war crimes that Putin and his acolytes will have to pay.
Regardless of the outcome of the war, Russia’s image is tarnished within the international community. A successful invasion would establish Russia as an immoral tyrant, and a failure would show Russian military weakness.
More importantly, Russian national unity is threatened. The Russian people are not entirely in favor of Putin’s invasion, especially as they suffer the consequences of economic sanctions. Just about 58% of the population supports the invasion, a silent majority that is likely to decline as Russians’ quality of life deteriorates with the fall of the ruble. It is also important to recognize that many Russians are afraid to denounce Putin. A recently passed law could jail Russians for up to 15 years old for comments that discredit the military. The true level of Russian dissent is likely much higher than surveys suggest.
The Russian people will soon begin to feel the heat of the war their President has dragged them into against their will, hopefully enough for him to act and stop them. Although Putin suppressed ongoing protests, the power of the masses always finds a way to overthrow an authoritarian regime. I just hope it will be sooner rather than later.
Harsh Hiwase writes about ethics and stands in solidarity with Ukraine. Write to him at [email protected].