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We Must Save the Ukrainians at All Costs
An Immediate Strategic Imperative
Image of an Ukrainian National Guardsman, taken in 2022 during the Russian-Ukrainian War. 6 April 2022. Source: National Guard of Ukraine
According to a realistic estimate, 100,000 people have already been murdered by Putin’s forces in Ukraine, probably about 90,000 civilians and 10,000 soldiers. In Mariupol alone, 50,000 of them have died, either killed by Russian shells or due to lack of water, food and care. Almost every day we receive reports of new massacres and new mass graves are discovered from which tortured bodies are exhumed. Let us reflect on what this means for them—and for us.
In three months, several Srebrenica have been carried out by the Russian criminal power. It will take time to establish the total toll, but for the time being the crimes continue at a high intensity.
The weight of our fault
That we did not save Mariupol, and prevented Irpin, Bucha, Borodyanka, will remain forever our guilt. Yes, our guilt. Certainly, I am sometimes told, it is first of all the fault of our leaders. But what have we done ourselves? There is a moment when the responsibility of a few becomes, in history, the responsibility of an entire people. So yes, the first responsibility for the crimes is of course that of the Russian leaders who must be judged and sentenced to life imprisonment. It is also the responsibility of the Russian people who, with the exception of a few rare and courageous dissidents, did not move and, at least, looked the other way. Tomorrow, it will have to face this responsibility as well, it must be repeated, as the Germans did after the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis. But we will also have to live with part of this fault, that of our indifference, that of our propensity for entertainment, that also—and I measure my share of it—of our incapacity to convince with sufficient force.
More than a hundred young Ukrainian soldiers die every day on the front lines, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has acknowledged—or even the double—, and Ukraine is cruelly short of heavy weapons and ammunition, the result of Western procrastination for several months. These young men and women are above all human beings. But they are also, as Olga Tokariuk reminded us, often exceptional beings that we allow to be exterminated by the forces of absolute evil. We must look at their faces posted on social networks by their friends and relatives, read their stories, discover their lives, forever mowed down at 20, 25, 30.
They could have built the future not only of Ukraine but also of Europe, to which they belonged. That is why Putin wants to exterminate them, because what he does not tolerate are beauty, dignity, generosity, courage, all the values and principles that build a human civilization. These are the highest values of which he is the enemy.
Now, as we know, none of this was new. Nothing of his destructive work could be ignored. None of its mass crimes were unknown. So perhaps we could sincerely ask ourselves before February 24 whether he would further expand his attack on Ukraine and what form it would take. These questions were legitimate and no one could have, at least a month before, any certainty. But the past was there, with its massive crimes and the mass graves it had filled. Even before February 24, the case was, so to speak, heard. We knew who he was and what his regime was. If he decided to massively attack Ukraine again, we also knew, even if we could not foresee the details, what he would be capable of. His crimes were not new. They should not have surprised us. We could and should have prevented them. This is our guilt.
Understanding the nature of war
Yes, as many of us have said, the current fight is a struggle of good against evil. Let's stop thinking here that it is Manicheism; it is just reality. Putin’s project is all, deliberately, radically, on the side of evil—of the same nature as the evil that our parents and grandparents put down in 1945. Let us never relativize. Let us not, as the armchair self-proclaimed geopolitical scientists do, become pseudo-realists of all stripes, in reality aligned with the enemy, voluntarily or not, and let us refuse to make of the Russian war against Ukraine a “classic conflict” and somehow trivial. It is this underestimation of Putin’s regime that has led to the disaster we know. It is this staggering lack of intelligence and understanding that was the origin of the guilty blindness of our leaders for more than twenty years. It is this refusal to think in axiological terms and, as we have often said here, to consider the crime and, even to allow ourselves to be guided intellectually, by emotion, which is at the origin of hundreds of thousands of deaths directly due to this regime or its affiliates, particularly in Syria.
Let us first have the intelligence to understand the nature of the war, if we have not understood in time the nature of the Russian regime.
As early as February 24, 2022, the date of the start of the new Russian offensive against Ukraine, I had asked in articles and broadcasts that we not only arm Ukraine decisively, but also that we ensure the air protection of the Ukrainian soil, that is to say of the Ukrainian population, and that we retaliate against Russian attacks coming from the Ukrainian soil. Article 51 of the UN Charter gave us the possibility to do so. I was in the minority, as I was when, several years ago, I called for a firm, that is, military, response to this regime in Georgia, in Ukraine itself already in 2014, in Syria perhaps even more so. Let’s remember that as early as 2015 Putin’s Russia launched a war of extermination there, the one we see in action again now against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
I do not think that this demand for direct action on our part, despite the repeated refusals of Western leaders, has become obsolete. Perhaps it would also be wise to do so before we are directly forced to do so.
Let us think of the lives we could have, indeed should have, saved.
Let us think especially today of the one we can and must save.
Let us think of those children, hundreds who have been counted, but perhaps a thousand, who will never be adults, of those women and men who will not reach middle age, of those orphans left alone, of all those whom the war will have left atrociously mutilated. Let us also think of the one million deported, of whom about 200,000 were children. Let us think of the Ukrainians, because they are not only our allies. They are us.
No, these are not the “misfortunes of war”; they are the result of war crimes and crimes against humanity, partly a crime of genocide, partly a crime of aggression.
These crimes of today foreshadow those that will be perpetrated tomorrow.
The scale of Russian crimes is indescribable and therefore we are not done with the discovery of new crimes—it could take months or even years after the war stops.
So no, the arguments about the so-called “escalation” that should have been prevented or the alleged “provocation” that should have been avoided, I would like to sweep away once and for all. Yes, there were risks associated with early intervention, and no one could consider them lightly. However, leaders worthy of the name know how to take them if they have the intelligence of the future that the non-response announces. For today, inaction has further amplified them. Putin, even if his army has suffered considerable setbacks and losses, is more dangerous than ever. He reigns over a country that is far from collapsing, even if it will experience an irremediable decline in the next twenty years. In the meantime, he still has the capacity to kill on a massive scale. He has collected almost a hundred billion euros in oil and gas revenues since the beginning of the war and can still largely finance his war through this, through our inconsistency and cowardice. Tomorrow, if we do not act, these risks will potentially be even more terrible.
Getting out of strategic ambiguity
I have already made the parallel: in Ukraine, we are far from having renounced all the strategic blunders we have committed over the last eleven years in Syria. No doubt, we are not doing nothing. We have responded with sanctions, which are largely insufficient, and with arms deliveries, which also remain insufficient. We are certainly experiencing difficulties in producing them, delivering them, adapting them and training Ukrainian soldiers to handle them. But beyond the technical and logistical constraints, we are still far short of what we could—and therefore should—do. We have not fully grasped either the crime or the consequences of a collapse of Ukraine. We are still in the middle of the road.
We have remained strategically immature, narrow-minded and short-sighted. We continue to rightly proclaim the principles of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, but we struggle to say that our goal is to push the Russian army back beyond all of Ukraine and return to the pre-2014 situation. We remain in what I once called cognitive dissonance: the principles do not perfectly coincide with the reality we want to establish.
Perhaps we are indeed beginning to realize this as night covers the ruins we have agreed to leave behind and as humanity becomes more and more ghostly.
I don’t know if our world will really survive it. I am not convinced that we have really survived the crimes we have allowed to be committed in Syria. I am afraid that the thirty years we have to live with have been, in the end, characterized by an indifference to crime and its meaning that is equally proportional to our proclamations.
On June 13, 2022, the French president spoke of a “war economy” in relation to the way in which we should respond to Russian aggression and the need to arm Ukrainian forces. These words must of course be translated into action. More and more voices are also calling for the Western economies to get their act together to provide all the sophisticated heavy weapons that Ukraine needs to defend itself—and of course this is particularly urgent and specific to the United States, whose economic power is the only one that can really make a difference. This is an urgent necessity—an urgency that I reminded you of more than a month ago. Every hour that passes means dozens more deaths.
Let’s also be perfectly clear: we have to stop playing games. We must provide Ukraine with all the weapons its fighters—our fighters—need, without any restrictions.
But until we learn to decide, young Ukrainians are dying—and we are letting them die.
Will we have the will to save them?