Putin’s war against Ukraine: a new genocide? A European perspective

The military aggression of Russia against Ukraine is a watershed moment for Europe, as much as for the international community as a whole. This unjustified war breaks all rules and principles of international law. It destroys the architecture for peace and cooperation that was agreed after the fall of the iron curtain.


In the 1990 Paris Agreement  and the 1992 Budapest Memorandum, the Russian Government, alongside other partners, solemnly guaranteed the sovereignty and integrity of all states, both in Europe and the former Soviet Union. All countries should have a free choice in their economic and political alliances. Ukraine gave up the entirety of its nuclear arsenal with the guarantee of its security for the country signed by all parties, including Russia. This war is the largest possible betrayal of all those who believe in a rules-based international order and will have grave consequences for international cooperation on global problems.


There are many insightful analyses of how Putin’s obsession with attacking Ukraine evolved over the last decade. In numerous speeches, he has declared the breakdown of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Not the two world wars, not the Holocaust and Auschwitz, not the many other across the world; for the KGB Officer Vladimir Putin nothing could match the loss of the empire and control over many states and territories by Russia. As a reminder, other empires collapsed as well in the last century: those of the Ottomans, the Habsburgs and the British. It is hard to imagine that revanchism would guide the strategic agenda of the core countries from those former empires as it exists today in Moscow.


According to the official Russian argument, Putin feels threatened by NATO and its expansion to include the countries of the former Warsaw Pact. Many measures of confidence have been established between NATO and Russia such as a regular NATO-Russia Council, the mutual observation of manoeuvres and so on. Such co-operation was broken down by the occupation of Crimea and the Donbas Region by Russian soldiers in 2014. The real threat for Moscow at that time was the democratic revolution in Maidan Square, when Putin forced former Ukrainian President Yanukovych not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. Young people saw their future at risk and started an unprecedented opposition which led to Yanukovych fleeing to Russia.


Anxiety of democratic states at Russia’s border is generated by previous military interventions in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, plus its support for Lukashenko strangling the democratic movement in Belarus. Russia is today a totalitarian regime with almost no free media, where dissidents are killed, poisoned or in prison and civil society finds itself under enormous pressure to believe and repeat the state’s propaganda.


What can make this war a genocide? Again, in various speeches, Putin denies the existence of both a unique Ukrainian culture and a legitimate Ukrainian state. Driven by a quasi-religious mission for an orthodox-Slavic Union under the leadership of Russia, the attack on a Ukraine was a question of time. The ‘special military operation’ should eliminate the so-called ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine. Who are the ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine? Putin’s definition includes everyone who claims to love Ukraine and opposes Russia. This propaganda dehumanises a whole population and gives the military forces a green light to ‘clean’ every village and town they invade. This explains the atrocities against innocent civilians that have taken place in the last month. With the new offensive proclaimed for the coming days the worst may still be yet to unfold.


Why focus on these elements of the war against Ukraine? We must expose all the lies and see more clearly the deeper roots for these aggressions. It is a battle of a democratic state against a dictatorial regime, for freedom against domination. If Putin wins this war, it will be an incentive for Xi in Beijing to do the same in his neighbourhood. The resilience of democracies is challenged by dictatorial regimes and especially by leaders who are

elected for a lifetime.


It is hard to believe that the United Nations Security Council is unable to condemn this aggression against a peaceful nation. President Zelensky is right, if the UN can no more

act according to its Charter, it has lost its credibility and right to exist. The fate which befell the League of Nations in the 1930s is looming.


Putin’s war will bring many challenges and changes. A new arms race will emerge. NATO will get new members from previously neutral countries like Sweden and Finland. Value chains will be redirected, energy dependence on Russian oil and gas will be lowered until it is finally removed.


Francis Fukuyama’s prediction for an ‘end of history’ was wrong. The battle for freedom and democracy is simply moving into a new era.


Jo Leinen

Honorary President of European Movement International

Former Member of the European Parliament