One year on….: Op-Ed co-authored by Ambassadors of European Union

One year on….

One year ago, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine and Russian parachutists tried to launch a blitz strike against the capital Kyiv. Certain of the rapid success of its so-called  “special operation”, the invading troops were ordered to pack only three days of clothing, including dress uniforms for the victory parade.

The opening battle failed miserably, and as the war continues, so does the carnage and destruction.

As this unjustified, unprovoked and illegal Russian war of aggression against Ukraine moves into its second year, we feel compelled to speak out once more. The world must not accept this war as the New Normal as it is a direct challenge to the UN-centred, international rules-based order. International relations in the 21st century must not be based on the idea that “might makes right,” that a bigger neighbour can use brute military coercion to subjugate smaller nations.

Why did Russia attack?

Russia’s President Putin has, at various stages, tried various ways to justify the war, one more absurd than the other.

In light of years of denying the authenticity of Ukrainian statehood and denigrating the Ukrainian nation, and Putin’s infamous assertion that the breakup of the USSR was the biggest political catastrophe of the past century, there can be no doubt about his real intentions. Driven by a revanchist, neo-imperial vision, it is to assert Moscow’s control over Ukraine, to deny the smaller neighbour’s sovereignty and to prevent Ukraine from continuing along its own chosen path.

One year later, under the guise of liberating Russian speaking populations, an impaired Russian army, now reinforced by criminals and mercenaries, repeatedly commits war crimes against the very populations it purportedly came to protect.

How has Ukraine responded?

From the very start, the Ukrainian nation has demonstrated tremendous steadfastness, bravery and resourcefulness in defending its homeland. Ukraine has withstood the attacks and continues to fight back, successfully reclaiming some of its territory captured during the initial phase of the full-scale aggression. The Ukrainian nation, whose existence Putin denied, and its army, forecast to crumble within weeks, are more united and resolute than ever.

But this has come at a far-reaching and tragic price. Tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed or injured so far. About eight million Ukrainians have fled, causing the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. In Ukraine, almost six million people are internally displaced. Civilian infrastructure - apartment buildings, power plants, hospitals, schools and theatres - has intentionally been targeted and damaged.

 What has the EU done?

Here again defying Kremlin’s miscalculations, we in the European Union have responded with unprecedented speed, unity and singularity of purpose.

We have welcomed the women, children and elderly who fled the assaulted country into our homes and our hearts.  We have used the European Civil Protection Mechanism, which helped also during Pakistan’s floods and now in the earthquake-struck regions of Turkey and Syria, to channel assistance to the suffering population. We have put into place ten packages of sanctions to reduce Russia’s ability to wage the war and punish those responsible for supporting, financing or implementing actions against Ukraine.

Food and fertilizers are not included in the EU sanctions as many countries depend on importing these essential items. Actually, the global shortages and increase in wheat prices are a direct consequence of Russia’s attack, as Ukrainian farmers were not able to harvest and export. This impacted countries like Pakistan, which in pre-war times got 39% of its wheat imports from Ukraine.

Providing a safe, alternative land route, the EU’s “Solidarity Lanes” enabled the export of 23 million tonnes of grain and other agricultural products from Ukraine to global markets. In parallel, through the UN Black Sea Grain Initiative, more than 21 million tonnes were exported. Both initiatives have contributed to a drop in food prices on the global market over the last months.

Thanks to that, even in the conditions of full-scale war launched by Russia, Ukraine retained its place among the world’s top 5 agricultural exporters, being one of the guarantors of the world’s food security.

In order to reduce the volatility of global energy markets and limit price surges, the EU with the G7 and Australia has imposed a price cap to Russian crude oil and petroleum products. This measure will help third countries like Pakistan to purchase oil at a manageable price while denying Russia the profit of surging oil prices to keep financing its bloody war in Ukraine.

Overall assistance to our neighbour Ukraine and its people by the EU and its Member States, or Team Europe, amounts to at least 67 billion Euro. While the EU itself is not a party to the conflict, we have provided some 12 billion Euro of military assistance and training, so that Ukraine can defend itself, which is entirely legitimate under international law. From the EU’s point of view, Ukraine is fighting for its country, but it is also fighting for the broader community of nations who believe in the rule of law and the UN Charter.

 Looking ahead

One day this war will end with Ukraine’s victory. For that reason, the EU is looking toward the future. Last summer, we extended EU candidate state status to Ukraine, with the hope that accession negotiations will start as soon as conditions allow. We also support Ukrainian and international efforts to ensure accountability for violations of international law and war crimes, including by way of the International Criminal Court.

The need to stop Russia’s brutal war is obvious. Calls for a diplomatic solution are justified. But for such a solution to be viable, it must be built on the principles of international law and guarantee Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. These points are, included in the 10-point peace plan submitted by President Zelensky. The EU supports this formula and is committed to work actively with Ukraine on it.

Op-Ed co-authored by the Ambassadors of the European Union, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Spain

Published in daily Express Tribune.

Urdu version published in Daily Express.