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Nearly 365 days. More than 7,100 civilians killed, nearly 450 of them children. Almost 12,000 people injured. More than 8 million people displaced from their home country.
These are just some of the numbers resulting from Russia’s brutal invasion of neighboring Ukraine, one year after Vladimir Putin manufactured a pretense for his internationally condemned assault.
Interviews with survivors and soldiers, footage of bombed cities, photos of devastated schools and hospitals all show the human tragedy contained in these numbers. No one should forget that this horrific year of suffering in Ukraine happened because one man and one government made it happen.
Despite what might be broadcasted on state-controlled TV in Moscow, Russia is not denazifying Ukraine. It is not protecting the people of Ukraine. It is killing them. It is destroying homes and shattering lives.
We have focused much of our attention, and rightly so, on the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people and leadership in the face of this onslaught. There wasn’t even supposed to be a one-year anniversary to this conflict, because Russia was expected to roll through Ukraine quickly. That didn’t happen, due to Ukrainian resistance and international assistance led by the U.S. This overperforming combination should be celebrated and continued.
But a year into this conflict of Russia’s making, let’s not lose sight of the evil that started it in the first place. And let’s remember that there is a clear aggressor in this conflict.
Domestically, the political landscape is increasingly swirling with doubts about American resolve after already substantial support totaling more than $100 billion. President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine Monday ahead of the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
“One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden said Monday from the Ukrainian capital, as reported by the Associated Press. “And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”
Despite that message from the White House, House Republicans have been sending a different one.
Unsurprisingly, there are complicated truths here. Ukraine is the victim, no doubt about it. Its government also has a demonstrated history of corruption that underscores the need to make sure aid is going where it is supposed to. Similarly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has led his people heroically this past year. He has also taken some concerning steps like signing a new law with troubling implications for free speech.
We are professional skeptics. And it is a poor skeptic who believes that only other people’s governments are capable of propaganda. Of course the claims of our government and its allies deserve heavy scrutiny. Skepticism and wanting more information is one thing, but turning away from Ukraine now would be a cynical mistake that would only benefit Putin.
Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had an instructive exchange recently with Roger Zakheim from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. King traveled to Ukraine in January and met with Zelenskyy.
“It strikes me, as you look back at the Ukraine conflict, that if you combine the Ukrainians will to fight with the resources of the west and the United States, Putin really, in the long run, doesn’t stand a chance,” King said during a Feb. 15 committee hearing. “It strikes me that Putin’s best hope now is dividing the West and dividing the United States. Do you think that’s a legitimate concern?
Zakheim, a witness at that hearing, agreed.
“I absolutely think that’s part of the Putin strategy,” he told King. “I think he also questions the will of the West to continue to support Ukraine.”
Congress must be careful not to go along with Putin’s strategy in the second, and hopefully final year of this conflict.
The goal of continued U.S. support, of course, must be peace and not prolonged war. But no one’s memory should be fogged by the stretch of time or numbed to acceptance by Russia’s repeated brutality. It was obvious at the onset a year ago, and it remains obvious today: The responsibility for this conflict lies at Putin’s feet, and peace will be won not by bending to his will but by breaking it.