Before dawn on Thursday, Feb. 24, the fragile peace that had governed Europe for nearly 25 years broke suddenly with bombs and airstrikes. The Russian government had declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine (code for the violent invasion of a neutral state), which was a one-sided affair not seen in Europe this century. The last few days have been terrifying: stories have emerged of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their fractured homeland, the bombings of civilian apartment buildings, and children dying in piles of rubble. Kyiv, a city that just last month resembled any other metropolis in the world, is now home to tank battles and aerial dogfights. Chornobyl, Okhtyrka, and Kharkiv are bleeding. Rightfully, the world has condemned this war. Even strong Russian allies like Kazakhstan and Serbia are recoiling in horror. The world looks on in a mix of terror and incredulity at the supposed “denazification” of a democratic state led by a Jewish president, and just condemns and condemns.
This is still not enough. The U.S. has placed novel export restrictions on Russia, including on semiconductors, severely limiting the Russian military’s ability to attack Ukraine. In the past few days, the U.S. and EU have worked together to freeze Russian state assets, restrict the ability of Russian banks to conduct transactions, and ban Russian airlines from much of European airspace. Still, this is not enough. The invasion of Ukraine isn’t just geopolitical conflict: it’s an attack on democracy and humanity. Thousands of people will die, and millions will be forced to flee their homes to advance the expansionist dreams of a despot obsessed with reclaiming a non-existent past. That has never been acceptable, and we cannot let it be acceptable. We need to do more than condemn and look on.
Swarthmore College and Swarthmore students have a role to play in this. The school should and must divest itself of all Russian assets in the endowment fund. But governments must play the main role and students at campus should protest until the Board agrees to do so. The U.S. and European governments need to quickly assemble international aid for Ukrainian refugees, making sure that people have the support and ability to flee war zones. This especially includes marginalized communities, such as Black and Roma Ukrainians, who have been turned away at the Romanian and Polish borders. We need to isolate Putin, separating him from diplomatic allies and supporting internal opposition movements both in Russia and his puppet state of Belarus. We need to hit the Russian state elite where it hurts most: their wallets. Confiscate Russian oligarchs’ properties in Cyprus, Miami, and London, ban all Russian government officials from the Schengen Area, and enforce a secondary boycott against those who aid the Russian military. More importantly, force the Russian government to confront the cost of its bloodthirst: ban Russian imports of gas and oil to the European Union. The suffering will be great in Europe but letting Putin run unchecked is not an option: he and his crony government are solely responsible for this humanitarian disaster, not the Russian people, not the government of Ukraine, and not NATO.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, the Russian Federation threatened consequences against the neutral states of Sweden and Finland if they choose to join NATO. Later that day Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. We cannot allow a despot — unconstrained by the international order — to run around with a nuclear arsenal and face light consequences. From repressing the people of Russia who have suffered from nearly 25 years of his corrupt regime to seeking to spread his rule to Ukraine, we cannot let Putin win and we cannot remain complicit. We must act against him. Even if the Ukrainian army has had a series of stunning victories in slowing down Russian forces, there is still the frighteningly high chance that a free Ukraine will fall. The Russian military has nearly three and a half times the population, nine times the GDP as Ukraine, and nuclear weapons.
But we cannot let Ukraine fall. Hitler did not stop at the Anschluss, the Sudetenland, or Czechoslovakia. Putin did not stop at Crimea, did not stop at Ukraine, and likely will not stop with Moldova, with Belarus, or with Estonia. And make no mistake: this was a Sudetenland moment. Hitler was not appeased, and Putin won’t be either. The inevitable end of Putin’s ideology is a total war against democracy. We have to remember our ideals of democracy, freedom, and self-determination — ideals we failed to live up to in Syria, in Yemen, in Afghanistan, and beyond. We must act now for those who will die now, for the future of Ukraine, and the future of democracy. These coming days will be dark and difficult but there might yet be light if and only if we fight for it — and we must fight for it. I pray for Ukraine and for us all, and may God protect Ukraine — Боже великий, єдиний, Нам Україну храни.
Swarthmore won’t even stop selling apartheid hummus, why would they bother to divest from all Russian assets 🙁