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Why Africa must care about Ukraine’s struggle for freedom

Opinion & Analysis
President Volodymyr Zelensky

Russia’s war in Ukraine may seem far away to many Africans. But we have a clear stake in its resolution.

I recently had the privilege of hearing first-hand from a group of young Ukrainian leaders, led by MP Maria Mezentseva, about the state of their country and what they need to help solve the conflict which has been in place since Russia invaded.

They spoke with such humility and eloquence about how Russia’s invasion has upended life in Ukraine and how, to borrow the words of one of the presenters, the country’s best and brightest were now fighting — and many of them dying — to protect their country.

What was striking was their clear-sighted determination to fight — in their case by keeping the horror of the invasion top of mind around the world — and to find ways to bring an end to the conflict so that they can build their country.

These young people have lived with war and the shadow of war all their lives.

Their view of the global implications of the conflict is chilling. They are on the frontline of a contest between the free world and a dark and dangerous vision of autocracy.

I commend President Volodymyr Zelensky, the people and the military of Ukraine for their patriotism, their defiance and their unity in coming together to face this enormous threat which has been posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his people.

This conflict has been a tragedy from the start. The sudden invasion by Russia has been justified by Vladimir Putin, but the world sees through the reasons he has given.

It is obvious that this is just a land grab, following the pattern established in other countries in the region and, in 2014, in Crimea.

What is shocking is the way in which Russia is conducting this war. It is targeting civilians as much as it targets the military. People, infrastructure, hospitals and shopping centres are being brutally destroyed.

It is just unbelievable that in this day and age such brutality occurs anywhere in the world.

Ukraine must continue to fight until all its territory has been recovered — and I mean all its territory. Russian gains in the Donbas area and the taking over of Crimea must be reversed.

Those in the international community who have imposed sanctions must keep those sanctions in place for the long term so that Putin and the Russians learn a very painful lesson that this will never be tolerated again. It is important that those sanctions bite very deep.

This attack came out of the blue and Ukraine has given a very good account of itself. But the Ukrainian military, now and after the conflict is over, must be built up so that Russia will think twice about invading again.

Other nations in the region such as Sweden and Finland, have always known that the biggest threat they face is from Russia and they have been building and preparing themselves for that.

Ukraine should also be doing the same thing so that it will never happen again.

I hope that this war will end sooner rather than later and should that occur, the international community should, to the best of its ability, help Ukraine to rebuild and reconstruct.

This invasion has backfired very badly for Putin.

When he goes to bed every night, he must surely know that he has miscalculated, because he has not achieved the objectives he set out to achieve.

He thought he would just walk into Ukraine and take it over.

That hasn’t happened and it will never happen. Ukrainians are not fighting for the West; they are fighting for their survival and their country’s independence.

Putin has turned the free world against Russia. It was not long ago that Russia was considered a partner of Nato in keeping the peace; now it’s an enemy.

His miscalculation has united Nato, and Nato, instead of shrinking, is growing.

The US will soon have a new permanent base in Poland as Nato welcomes Sweden and Finland as new members.

Russia has been criticised in resolutions at the UN General Assembly, causing reputational damage.

This is not just an attack on Ukraine, it’s an attack on the whole world. There are now grain shortages.

Prices of staple goods are rising across the world, a trend that will affect the world’s poorest, many of whom are in Africa.

People in the developing world, in Africa and Asia, are now suffering as a result of what the Russians have done.

If Ukraine falls and Russia succeeds in annexing territory, what will come next?

There can be no doubt that Russia will grow its military, perhaps learning from its failings in Ukraine and then continue on its belligerent path, dragging more and more of Europe into catastrophic conflict.

That some African countries are disinclined to engage with this conflict is understandable.

A concern about Western double standards and the past support Russia gave to African liberation movements are contributing factors to this doubt, as is the fear of being drawn into a conflagration far away when we have so many problems to address at home.

Yet it is in our interests to take a clear and unambiguous position on this conflict as a necessary precursor to its resolution.

Russia’s invasion was wrong and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

It is an unjustified attack on democracy, sovereignty and international law, and an assault on human rights.

If this aggressive, colonising action is not stopped and reversed, it will have far-reaching implications. We will enter a dark age for global peace, for democracy, for human rights.

The effects on Africa will be particularly stark. The slow progress towards democracy will be halted as foreign military adventurers use their local proxies to aggressively seize power, rolling back decades of slow democratic gains.

For reasons of principle and self-interest, Africa must condemn Russia’s action and support Ukraine’s fight for freedom.

 

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