Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, an event which took place – in collusion with Hitler – just 16 days after the German invasion of the western border that marked the outbreak of World War II. Executed on the basis of the Ribbentrop-Mołotow pact, the invasion of 700,000 members of Stalin’s Red Army represents one of the most tragic moments of Polish history. The Soviet advance, like the German advance, was characterised by war crimes and crimes against humanity, arguably also acts of genocide. Yet Poland was left to fight alone against totalitarian agressors on both fronts.
75 years on, war in Europe is a painful reality once again. Poles feel a particular solidarity toward their Ukrainian neighbours who have struggled to defend their territorial integrity after months of Russian-backed agression. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, stressed during his recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine that the situation in the country must be recognized as “a direct invasion by Russia”.
While we long for peace, there is much evidence to suggest that the most recent ceasefire implemented by Ukrainian forces was engineered by Putin to further advance his own strategic interests. Linda Kinstler suggests that bills passed yesterday in the Ukrainian parliament that grant three years of self-rule to rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk, represent “huge concessions” to Putin and pro-Russian separatists. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the bills in part as a symbolic olive branch, in part as recognition of the fait accompli: Ukraine does not and will not control these parts of Donbas as Russia will not allow it to do so. Whichever way we look at it, such “concessions” on the part of President Poroshenko are understandable in light of the West’s own concessions towards Moscow, including the decision last Friday by EU leaders to withhold full implementation of a long awaited EU-Ukraine Association Agreement until 2016.
So what should we expect will happen next?
Several weeks ago, Anne Applebaum warned us about attempts by Russia to carve out a new state under the name of Novorossiya (“New Russia”):
In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here — Novorossiya can grow larger over time.
Yesterday, Linda Kinstler noted the „New Russian” aspirations of the pro-Russian separatists who have maintained control of Donetsk and Luhansk, reporting that,
the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics announced they are merging their militias into a single force, the United Army of Novorossiya, which will liberate Ukraine from “Nazi scum.” These are the people who will be ruling the populations of Donegal and Luhansk for the next three years.
In other words, New Russia is there to stay: the only question is whether it will stay within its present borders or grow. Judging by current developments, the latter option seems more than plausible.
While Western states have been reluctant to provide direct assistance to the Ukrainian military, Polish citizens have found their own way to express solidarity with those who have spent weeks trying to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Last week Poles sent their own humanitarian convoy to areas worst affected by ongoing conflict. The convoy delivered desperately needed supplies – winter clothing, socks and underwear for the military, toys for displaced children, medication and even off-road vehicles. But the situation of both Ukrainian combatants and civilians near the front line looks bleak. Many have been without energy or water for weeks; the Russians have effective control of the gas supply, and a harsh winter lies ahead. There are tens of thousands of IDPs across the country and tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border.
President Poroshenko’s visit to DC this week is very timely. While many Ukrainians feel betrayed by the West, some look to the USA as its last hope. At this time of great uncertainty, we should pray that the USA will find a way to walk in solidarity with Ukraine on the precarious road toward a just and sustainable peace – at least within what is left of its borders.