Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2023, 16:50 by Denis Chabrol
by Rene van Nes, European Union Ambassador to Guyana
On 24 February 2022, exactly one year ago, we all woke up to a new world. On that day, in violation of all international laws and agreements, Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation launched a “special military operation”, in fact a full-scale aggression against Ukraine, a peaceful country, that neither had attacked nor threatened Russia.
After World War II, the world agreed on a mechanism to deal with conflicts between countries and the use of force. The only international body that can justify the use of force against a country is the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member. The 15 members of the Security Council can decide that the use of force by a country in self-defence is acceptable or decide to send a mission to restore peace.
Russia has since been condemned by 143 countries in the UN General Assembly for its illegal annexations, while only five countries have supported it. In the critical period preceding the Russian invasion, European leaders made every effort to convince Vladimir Putin not to commit the irreparable. Instead, Russia started a war of unimaginable proportions.
On 24 February 2022 at five o’clock in the morning, Russia sent columns of tanks and hundreds of planes and missiles to attack Ukrainian civilian and military targets, causing massive casualties from the very first days of the conflict. Russia has flouted international law and committed war crimes that are now documented. Russia is openly threatening to use its nuclear weapons, which would affect every living creature on the planet.
Since the Russian aggression, an estimated 200,000 civilians have been killed, including thousands of children. Dozens of Ukrainian cities have been reduced to rubble, leaving millions of Ukrainians homeless. Hospitals, schools, theatres, day care centres and churches have not been spared by the missiles sent by Russia.
Putin’s Russia has sent more than six million people into exile! Six million people who had to leave everything they had built, saved for, and cherished to flee from the devastation and Russian brutality. The vast majority of these families have now found refuge in Ukraine’s neighbours: in Poland, Slovakia, the Baltic States and throughout the European Union.
A war on European soil seemed unimaginable; the fact it is happening moves every European citizen, each in their own way. The older members of our families feel as if they are reliving the last conflict in Europe. The fear of the neighbour has returned, whereas it had disappeared after 1989 when the Berlin wall and the iron curtain came down. The younger generation see their dreams shattered and fear that the values they treasure so much – the rule of law, democracy, free speech and equality may no longer be guaranteed for them.
As for me, I spent the last 10 years of my career on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The EU is a peace project since its inception and has always promoted peace in the world. Not easy indeed, as I witnessed during my work in countries like Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and many others. As a peace builder at heart, it pains me to see this aggression and violation of all human rights. There are and will be no victories here. This war will only know losers: in Ukraine, in Russia, in Europe and in the rest of the world.
What are the consequences for Guyana?
The consequences of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine are very real, of course in the first place for the people of Ukraine. Some Guyanese may wonder about the consequences for their country of this seemingly distant conflict, which is taking place ‘between Europeans’. Well, this conflict has direct consequences for you too.
Firstly, because the world has changed since 24 February 2022. It has become much more unstable. Russia has turned food and energy into a weapon, thereby willingly and knowingly cutting people off essential items. The destabilisation of the international order and the food and energy markets is felt throughout the region.
For example, many countries used to source their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and are now turning to Canada and the United States for their imports. These markets are therefore in great demand with price increases as a result.
Access to international financing has become more difficult. Investment decisions by large multinationals may be delayed, given the uncertainties in the world.
The already fragile global economy, still reeling from supply chain disruptions because of the pandemic, has been set back even further, with the weakest and most vulnerable countries affected the most. The Caribbean, like so many other parts of the world, has felt the economic shockwaves of the invasion of Ukraine: food insecurity, inflation, disruption of supply chains in key markets (food, energy, fertilizers), for which only Russia is responsible.
Faced with the threat of food insecurity and poverty as purposely created by Russia, the European Union has strengthened its partnership with countries of the South in the fields of health, education, and agriculture. The EU has made Euro 600 million available for food security.
Europe has also changed. The members of the European Union have strengthened their internal solidarity in the face of the Russian aggression and are united in their support for Ukraine. Ukraine has been granted candidate status for eventual EU membership, as has Moldova, another country in the region.
The EU cannot stand idly by in this conflict and finds itself forced to providing arms to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russian aggression, as required by the UN Charter (Article 51).
The EU did not reduce its ambitions to fight the effects of climate change, on the contrary it is more committed than ever to become the first climate neutral continent in the world by 2050 and to reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas as soon as possible.
We express our admiration for the Ukrainian people who have been fighting valiantly for a year now to defend the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, which lay at the heart of the European Union and of Guyana. We also have respect for those few individual Russian citizens who have courageously and publicly expressed their rejection of the war and we are grateful to the Guyanese government for supporting resolutions condemning Russia for its illegal annexations and a murderous war that should have no place in today’s world. Guyana may soon be well placed – as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council – to play an even more important role in promoting a rule based multilateral world order with the UN at its centre. Guyana must be commended as well for the way it is handling its own territorial dispute with its neighbour and that is by putting its trust in the international mechanisms to deal with conflicts of such nature.
The EU will continue to stand by the Ukrainian people in their fight, for as long as it takes, to preserve their right to independence, territorial integrity and for their basic human right to live in peace and security.
We will continue to support Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and energy support and we will support the reconstruction of Ukraine.
We count on the support of Guyana to stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and those countries defending human rights and condemning this senseless Russian aggression.