Ukraine Will Continue to Resist Invasion – No Matter What the Rest of Us Think

By the time you read this, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could have already escalated far beyond Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. I will not predict the military outcome of that conflict. I am ready to predict that the military operation will not be the end of the war. Ukraine will continue to resist the Kremlin, the demands Moscow and reactions of Western capitals notwithstanding.

Much of the American discussion regarding Ukraine – particularly on this website – appears to be stuck in 2014. We have been told that Ukraine itself “is roughly divided between pro-Russian and pro-EU camps.” That may have been true eight years ago, but it simply isn’t today.

These days, a firm majority of Ukrainians have expressed hostility to the Kremlin and support for Western institutions. Moreover, history suggests that these people won’t give up their self-determination without a fight (and indeed, they have been fighting for eight years).

Much of the pro-Putin or anti-anti-Putin sentiments regarding Ukraine rely on “history” for their defense. Actual history is a bit more complicated. Many of the same folks who harkened back to the British-Afghan wars to justify surrendering Central Asia to the Taliban skip over the fact that less than a century ago, Lviv outside the USSR (and fought to stay that way). Hand-wringers insisting Putin was “pushed” into the conflict by Ukraine forging ties to NATO in 2007 forget or ignore that he tried to assassinate Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko three years before that.

The strangest one, by far, is the assertion that helping Ukrainians resist Russia occupation is equivalent to allowing a second Holodomor – which only makes sense if you’re trying to absolve Stalin for causing the first one. Those of us who are survivors of domestic abuse can hear the whisper, “Look what you made me do.”

More to the point, by arguing (as others have done here) that “the Russians will bleed for Kiev in a way that the American public will not bleed for Kiev,” the let-Putin-have-it caucus simply ignore the agency of the Ukrainian people. Even asking if Russians are more willing to bleed for Kiev than Americans are misses the point. Neither are more willing than Ukrainians.

Why we tend to forget that occupied people have a vote – unless the American military is somehow involved – is likely due to an instinct to ignore what happens in a place where a military conflict ends. I won’t begrudge the historical fascination with the Civil War (indeed I share it), but far too little attention has been paid to the Reconstruction period, when the disgruntled vanquished waited out the distracted victors until 1877.

The casual observer of ancient history hears far more about Thucydides’ documentation of Athens’ fall to Sparta than Thrasybulus’ reversal of the same by popular revolt. Even recent historical arguments about who “won” the Cold War pay little attention to the people of Eastern Europe who continually resisted Communism whenever and wherever they could, including the people of Moscow who were willing to risk Tiananmen II to stop the 1991 coup.

Speaking of 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence that year. Every province voted in favor – yes, even Crimea.

Of course, if one just sees the world as an imperial carve-up, none of this matters. For the far left, America’s empire is no better than Russia’s – and for the far right, Russian imperialism is a boon to the  White Supremacy and bigotry against LGBTQ+ that they crave.

For the rest of us, this is about the fate of democracy, domestically and around the world. Ukraine is on the front line, and its people will ensure it remains there. They deserve our support as they continue to resist Putin’s aggression and, in the worst case, occupation.

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