Morality, politics, and the war in Ukraine

The Western world is doomed if it cannot respond to Putin’s crimes, writes lawyer, political scientist, and Oxford professor Jan Zielonka

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: Jan Zielonka
via: rp.pl

Putin attacked Ukraine without any scruples or legal basis. Why then are so many Western politicians listening to him and ready to make a compromise at the expense of the victim, Ukraine?

The answer is as old as time. When a policy of force takes hold, morality and law become a rhetorical decoration, and Russia can dictate its policy of force to us because it is a nuclear power.

The last few months have shown that the West is not ready to deliver arms to Ukraine because Russians consider this a “provocation,” giving Russia a basis to use nuclear warheads. Volodymyr Zelensky therefore has to battle like Russel Crowe’s character in the “Gladiator,” who, while chained to another man, must fight with only a knife against an opponent wielding a sword and a mace.

It takes a miracle to win this kind of fight.

“Then, maybe it is better to give up?” suggests a multitude of Western “specialists.”

Russia also speaks a language of force because it knows it has the power to cause a big part of the world to collapse economically or simply starve. It is true that a full embargo on Russian gas and oil imports will reduce the national income of European countries by only a few percentage points. However, unpaid debts caused by the financial crisis and costs of the recent pandemic need to be added on top of the costs of the embargo. Furthermore, the dependence of poor African or Asian countries on food deliveries from Russia and Ukraine is even greater than before.

We can debate who is to blame for this scale of dependence on Russia, but its costs cannot be disputed. Of course, Russia is also burdened by some of these costs, but Putin does not have to face democratic, free elections. This brings us to the third point. Russia successfully promotes its policy of force because most Western politicians think mainly about their personal future, not about the future of Ukraine.

Joe Biden came to power promising an extensive package of social support, not more spending on war. Mario Draghi leads a loose coalition of Italian political parties that have just started a campaign to win voters in Milan and Rome, not in Kyiv and Lviv. Even in Poland, where no one has any illusion about Putin, party interests take priority over the interests of Europe and morality.

Is Law and Justice (PiS) going to spend substantial amounts of money on their voters, or rather on Ukrainian “guests,” who will not be casting any votes into the ballot boxes? Does this mean that Ukraine will be left to the wolves because law and morality do not really matter?

Ukrainians may thwart the “realists,” making a heroic stand in the name of “illusory” values. The future crimes of Putin will not let anyone forget about morals and legal rules. The stance taken by the defenders of law and morality in the West will also have an impact. French or Italian voters must understand that Putin’s law of the jungle will have a higher cost than an oil embargo.

Peace cannot be maintained without justice. Accepting bestial methods of war only turns us into beasts. The world without law and morality is doomed, even without the use of nuclear weapons.

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