What we have seen throughout the last few days is a blatant war of aggression on European soil, the most significant since the Second World War. The Russian war on Ukraine has been coming for over a decade, it has been an objective of Putin’s top military and political leadership for longer. In July of 2021 I wrote “It is clear that free trade at all costs is not a winning strategy in a world bearing witness to a staggering shift away from liberal-democracy to autocratic illiberal rule”. We have now witnessed that truth, much to the horror of nations like Germany who sincerely believed further economic integration with Russia would temper Putin’s madness. The result of this naivety has been the funding of Putin’s vile war machine.
We have now also had a fallacy within our own nation exposed, that our neutrality is somehow honourable and fundamentally just. When Adolf Hitler committed suicide in April of 1945, President Eamon De Valera expressed his condolences to the German ambassador. It was and remains one of the blackest stains on our history. By that stage the world had learned of the horrors which had unfolded in places like Treblinka, Auschwitz and Belzec. I would like to think we have grown up as a nation since then. Would we dare deliver condolences to the Russian embassy upon the death of their dictator after what has materialised?
Clearly, we are not neutral in this inhumane, brutal and criminal war. Every level of our political leadership has correctly expressed sincere callous disgust at the actions of Europe’s tyrant and implemented meaningful humanitarian support for Ukraine. Our citizens are outraged. We are seeing war crimes playing out before our very eyes as Russian troops disguise themselves in Ukrainian apparel, bomb heavily residential areas and as early reports indicate, bomb and attack hospitals. In response we have dropped all visa requirements for the people of Ukraine. We have also resolutely supported the severest possible EU sanctions, because ultimately we share the same underlying values of dignity, liberty, democracy and self-determination as Ukraine.
As Sweden and Finland in particular indicate their exploration of the possibility of joining NATO, Vladimir Putin has openly threatened military action in response to our fellow member states. It has been obvious for a long time now that Putin does not play by the rules, that he does not respect sovereign nations, that he does not fear the wrath of individual nations. He only fears Western unity in security. There needs to be a meaningful debate in Ireland as to what that means, for the world order has changed utterly in the space of weeks. How can we contribute to that unity?
Right now, on our own continent, a mere 3-hour flight from Dublin, democratic Kyiv is facing an onslaught of Russian barbarity. The brave people of Ukraine have taken up arms, people from all walks of life with little to no military experience. Old men have registered to assist in the defence of their own national existence, mothers have armed themselves and crafted Molotov cocktails to beat back the Russian forces, Ukrainian soldiers, many not older than 18 are spilling blood in defence of their freedoms. In doing this they are also defending us. They are sending a message to Putin that democracies will not just lay down as his bombs and bullets terrorise civilian populations.
Their own brave leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky has refused to abandon Kyiv. He understands he will likely be murdered by the Russians, yet he is leading the defence of his nation alongside his own people without reservation. Because in Ukraine, a country which has outlasted the Nazi and Soviet evils, they understand what it means to be free. Zelensky is a hero of Ukraine, but he is also a hero of the free world.
Perhaps it is time to channel the heroism of President Zelensky and his people in our own Oireachtas. Are we to remain uninvolved in European security as we face a growing existential threat of authoritarianism? Putin will not stop with Ukraine. As history shows; the dictators of the 20th century never turned around and went home after they pursued a strategy of expansionism. That is the harrowing truth which we in Europe now all face, far less visibly than the brave Ukrainian people being terrorised at this very moment.
An iron curtain has once again descended on Europe. But this time it is solely on Russian borders. For the world has chosen to lock Putin’s rotten regime out of the international community. NATO has responded to reinforce Europe’s eastern defences. He is alone, isolated and facing economic destruction. Even the authoritarian forces have refused to openly support Putin’s war. The Western response has been swift and united, defying Putin’s wish of Western disarray. It is something for all pluralists and democrats to be proud of. But Ireland must do more.