The Dangers of Boredom due to ‘Long-Drawn Trials’
Winston Churchill’s salient quote about finishing the job during World War Two has been making the rounds recently. And rightly so.
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and other Kyiv officials have been imploring the free world to give the Armed Forces of Ukraine weapons, with which, they believe, they can defend themselves but also defeat Russia. Esprit de corps they have in abundance. The latter goal is believed to be the guarantee of regional and global peace and stability.
“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job,” Britain’s wartime prime minister said on February 9, 1941.
I decided to research this quote, not that I doubted anyone, but to ascertain his other pearls of wisdom. Indeed, in the rather lengthy missive, Churchill wrote in the final paragraph:
“Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
Yes, the tools – the arms – that Britain and the allies needed to defeat Hitler’s Nazi Germany were important. And the free world gave them the tools. Today, a wide range of arms, delivered in quick sequences, are also needed for Ukraine to defeat Putin’s Russia.
But in Churchill’s admonition, there are other words that are also vital in helping Ukraine and the free world defeat Russia’s blundering but massive military: “Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.”
Those words boil down to staying the course, discipline, not being disillusioned by battles, believing in the mission and the outcome, evading frustration, boredom and exhaustion.
On September 20, 2016, I wrote in my blog that the free world’s boredom will be its and Ukraine’s downfall – Russia’s war against Ukraine that precipitated its seizure and occupation of Crimea and two eastern Ukrainian oblasts had entered its 31st month. Europe and the free world were showing more and more signs of frustration, boredom and exhaustion.
Today, less than fourth months after Russia again invaded Ukraine some 110 days ago there are also signs of boredom and exasperation that lead to ridiculous conclusions. Sadly, interest in the war against Ukraine is waning among people who are used to quick, happy endings.
Russia is continuing its unsustainable military campaign against sovereign Ukraine with its disillusioned regular army as well as its murderous mercenaries. Moscow is pursuing its latest display of unbounded imperialism as it strives to annihilate all elements of Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation. However, nothing is working as quickly and effectively as Putin had hoped for so the Russian war drags on. Cities and towns are destroyed, civilians are killed, women and girls are raped, and more than 7 million Ukrainians have been turned into refugees. Russia’s goal is not re-subjugation but rather extermination.
First Weeks of War
In the early weeks of the war, the mainstream American and non-American media genuinely showed interest in the war and Ukraine’s fate. They sent reporters to Ukraine and from broadcast centers in Lviv covered the bombings and battles and expressed surprise at the Kyiv’s ability to withstand Moscow’s military machine. They saw an attention-grabbing David vs. Goliath or good-against-evil story. Week after week, with the proliferation of reporters in Ukraine and the growing impatience of news producers and editors demanding new angles, the stories began to reflect Moscow’s claims or unnamed sources rather than Kyiv’s statistics or points of view. For example, while Kyiv reports that a dozen Russian generals have been killed in the war – a record for such a short time – the outside world reports that only four have been killed, “according to unnamed sources.” Or they simply overlook major victories because of their astonishment. The incredulous press covered the infamous 40-mile long tank column that was heading to Kyiv for days and days only to be destroyed by Ukrainian troops along with the daily coverage.
One major drawback faced by the foreign press covering the war is ignorance. Lack of knowledge about the players in Ukraine, the terrain, the language, a basic who’s who, which means that accessing and interpreting accounts of what is happening is challenging. Consequently, the reporters, who need to file stories regularly, go to official sources. The lack of subject matter experts has also led to some confusing or misleading journalism.
At an online seminar on this topic in London, www.journalism.co.uk reported, Dr Laura Pérez Rastrilla from Complutense University, Madrid, “noted that many Spanish media commentators were not experts on the Ukrainian language, culture or society. In many cases, ‘experts’ mispronounce city names. She questioned whether news audiences have been getting the most reliable information.”
For Ukrainian journalist Nataliya Humenyuk participating in this event, the biggest mistakes made by international media came during the years before the war, either through limited or misinformed reporting on Ukrainian issues. She also said that from her perspective, the “most untold story” from the war was the continuation of many elements of society alongside the conflict – in other words “life goes on.” It is enough to look at figures from border crossings which have shown that in recent weeks, more people have returned to Ukraine than have left the country as the situation returns to fragile stability, particularly in Kyiv, she said.
“There is still a functioning parliament and civil society, with political diversity. It is still an extremely functioning society even during war and this is the most untold and covered story,” said Humenyuk.
She said that these forgotten perspectives were crucial to Ukrainians who do not want to be portrayed only as victims and who want solidarity rather than compassion.
The sheer shock of Ukrainian soldiers’ ability to stop the marauding, massive Russian army, once regarded to be number two in the world, has left producers, editors, generals and government officials scratching their heads. Reporting about the unimaginable has contributed to disbelief and doubt in the minds of news consumers, whose attention span can be counted in minutes if the stories disappear.
Over the past almost four months, Ukrainian soldiers and people have thwarted Putin’s effort to topple their government, execute their leaders, seize Kyiv and occupy much of the country. Much to the chagrin of Moscow and surprise of Washington and London, Zelenskyy didn’t turn tail and run, leaving his people to fight for themselves. He became the historic national leader at a desperate time – a 21st century Winston Churchill, as he mobilizes his nation to fight the Russian aggressor and rallies the free world to Ukraine’s cause.
But the world maybe tiring of having to deal with Ukraine. Russia’s war against Ukraine has tested European leaders’ patience beyond their limited thresholds of tolerance. However, the free world’s irrepressible, gaping yawn will endanger Ukraine but it will also pave the way to Europe’s demise at the hands of a belligerent Russia.
Former US secretary of State Henry Kissinger was the first to astonish many when he urged a couple of weeks ago that the outcome of Russo-Ukraine War must not humiliate Putin and Russia. A chastened Russian fuhrer may launch nuclear missiles against everyone. Others have blatantly opined that Kyiv should surrender its eastern territory to Moscow in an effort to quench its imperial aggression.
Ukraine fatigue and let’s resolve this at all costs is collectively dangerous. This perilous attitude from Ukraine’s fair-weather free world allies will merely lead to ongoing strife, insecurity, instability and wars like in the Middle East. Feeding this hungry bear will only make it hungrier.
No Return to Normal
As for those that want to resume so-called normal relations and not to humiliate Putin and Russia, Linas Linkevičius, former Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs and a staunch supporter of Ukraine, has been an outspoken critic of the free world’s political myopia. In an article in EurActiv he chastised the free world for paying too much attention to not provoking Russia. Linkevičius warned about the dangers of acting in a “pragmatic and responsible manner” with Russia, which will not bear the expected fruit.
“With Russian actions in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, areas of the sovereign country were occupied. The protests of the international community, NATO and the EU were forgotten within several months and the ‘pragmatic and responsible’ position had the upper hand, i.e. cooperation with Russia was going on as usual. Russia did not ask for anything; it was the West that took the role as usual because ‘isolation is harmful, not profitable,’ etc.,” Linkevičius wrote.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, another ardent ally of Ukraine, reproached the doubters who favor discussions by asking would they have supported negotiating with Adolph Hitler.
The war is not over so the free world must continue to ensure that the Kremlin’s aggression fails and that Ukrainian army forces a Russian retreat and achieves victory over Moscow. Defeat of Russia is the only guarantee for regional and global peace and stability.
Battles now rage in the northeastern part of Ukraine from around the country’s second city of Kharkiv, continue through separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and reach westward to Kherson, forming a land bridge linking the peninsula of Crimea with the Donbas region. The fighting is intense with Ukrainian soldiers are engaged in village to village, street to street battles against Russian invaders. The war in Donbas is becoming a prolonged bloody war of attrition which, according to news rooms, is boring. Recent fighting has focused around Severodonetsk, which means North Donetsk, an industrial city. The status of victories changes quickly with the news media unable to stay on top of current conditions but strangely they always report that the Russians have seized one town or another, rarely stating that Ukrainian soldiers have re-captured a town, or destroyed a garrison, or overrun an enemy battalion. But Newsweek did so recently: “Missiles Rain down on Russian Tank Column.”
Putin’s plans for a victory parade in Kyiv have evaporated. The morale of the Ukrainian nation did not dissipate and is as strong as ever. Zelenskyy is rallying the nation and visiting the wounded. Ukrainian troops, equipped with modern anti-tank weaponry delivered by the US and its allies, have devastated Russian armored columns; Ukrainian missiles sank the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet; and Ukrainian aircraft stayed in the air, against the odds. Exciting events that were underplayed. Still some media outlets, feigning neutrality, objectivity and equal time, have been citing Russian sources in their news reports.
Russia’s offensive and Ukraine’s defense in the east is playing out as international media attention on Ukraine recedes somewhat from the headlines. Thankfully, the Ukrainian flag still appears on every page one of The New York Post. And, ironically, short of an elusive Russian victory, Putin is counting on the world getting tired of the war and focusing on inflation, the price of gasoline or other shortages. He may also be counting on short diplomatic attention spans.
It should be noted that a victory will give Putin the opportunity to fulfill what Soviet Communists and tsars failed to accomplish – destruction of the Ukrainian nation, seizure of Ukrainian land and global domination.
The US and its allies have given billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine. Europe has taken in millions of people displaced by the war. And despite some malcontents, there has been unprecedented unity in post-World War II Europe in imposing sanctions on Putin, his junta and Russia. But as good as sanctions are they’re insufficient and unity is fraying.
No War-Fatigue Compromise
President Zelenskyy has chafed at Western suggestions he should accept some sort of compromise. Ukraine, he said, would decide its own terms for peace. His wife, Olena Zelenska, told Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America that surrendering Ukrainian territory would be like surrendering freedom.
“The fatigue is growing, people want some kind of outcome (that is beneficial) for themselves, and we want (another) outcome for ourselves,” Zelenskyy said.
French President Emmanuel Macron was met with an angry backlash after saying that although Putin’s invasion was a “historic error,” world powers shouldn’t “humiliate Russia, so when the fighting stops, we can build a way out together via diplomatic paths.” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said such talk “can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it.”
European leaders’ palpable fear of Putin will result in a global catastrophe of an ongoing war that would destabilize the region for generations.
Fortunately, the United States is firmly in Ukraine’s corner. In a New York Times essay on May 31, President Biden assured Kyiv, “I will not pressure the Ukrainian government — in private or public — to make any territorial concessions.”
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds into its fourth month, officials in Kyiv have expressed fears that “war fatigue” could erode the West’s so far unified resolve to help Ukraine push back Moscow’s aggression and perhaps even defeat it. Russia is showing signs that it quietly recognizes its military inferiority and is determined to wear down the West. It is now building its strategy on the assumption that Western countries will get tired and gradually begin to change their militant rhetoric to a more accommodating one.
In the face of that, the free world must stay the course in supporting Ukraine not only for the country’s sake but for the free world’s as well.
More than 30 of America’s experts and national security professionals issued a joint statement earlier this month on this topic.
“Over the past three months, the Ukrainians have thwarted Vladimir Putin’s effort to topple their duly elected government, take Kyiv and occupy much of the country. The battle is not over, however, so the West must continue to help ensure that the Kremlin’s aggression fails and that Ukraine forces a Russian withdrawal or achieves a negotiated outcome on terms acceptable to Ukrainians,” they wrote.
The group includes:
General Philip Breedlove, US Air Force, Retired; 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe; Distinguished Professor, Sam Nunn School, Georgia Institute of Technology;
Ian Brzezinski, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy;
General Wesley K. Clark, US Army, Retired; 12th Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Senior Fellow, UCLA Burkle Center;
Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, US Department of State;
Natalie A. Jaresko, Former Minister of Finance of Ukraine; Chairperson, Aspen Institute Kyiv; Distinguished Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council;
Nadia McConnell, President, US-Ukraine Foundation;
Ambassador Michael McFaul, Former US Ambassador to Russia; Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University;
Ambassador Kurt Volker, Former US Ambassador to NATO and US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations; Distinguished Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis;
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Former US Ambassador to Ukraine; and others.
“No one wants direct confrontation with Russia, but helping Ukraine to defend its land and freedom is in the West’s security interest. While the United States and NATO must certainly take into account Russian nuclear capacity, they should respond calmly and not be intimidated.
“This unjustified war has a clear aggressor — Russia — and a clear victim — Ukraine. The West should aim to see that the Kremlin’s aggression fails and that Ukraine prevails on the battlefield or achieves an outcome that Kyiv can accept,” they concluded.
Yes, Ukraine needs tools from all of its allies to finish the job – the job of saving Ukraine and defeating Russia. But that will be impossible if the free world doesn’t stay the course through the long-drawn trials of vigilance and battles.