Winter has Come for Ukraine. Is it Too Late to Save Her? And the World?
The heartbreaking and harrowing account of the last three weeks, told by Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and by Freedom Fighters from the field
On the eve of this war, some experts gave us three days to fall before the Russian war machine, but Ukraine has not fallen. Ukraine is bleeding heavily; we are in terrible pain, but we are fighting because we understand that this is a fight for our liberty, and we have no right to lose it. Dmytro Kuleba
I consider myself privileged for having witnessed last Saturday, the event hosted by Renew Democracy Initiative, where Stephanie Ruhle the host of “The 11th Hour”, and a Senior Business Analyst for NBC News, interviewed Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. In the event participated also common Ukrainians turned into freedom fighters overnight, who narrated how this war has upended their lives.
The situation in Ukraine is very fluid and conditions in the terrain vary constantly, consequently, I will give an account of the stories told in the event as I have them ready. First, I invite you to read the interviews of, Garry Kasparov, and Dmytro Kuleba. The former is the Chairman of RDI, the 13th World Chess Champion, and a long-time opposer of Vladimir Putin, the latter, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. In later issues, I will be publishing the interviews with the Freedom Fighters in the field.
The event began with the intervention of Garry Kasparov shown below. He is a world chess champion who has guessed every move that Vladimir Putin has made since he first held the presidency of Russia. In his recently released book, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, he practically predicted what is happening right now in Ukraine.
Uriel Epshtein, RDI´s Executive Director, introduced Stephanie Ruhle, the moderator of the event, who began the conversation with Garry Kasparov.
SR: These have been a stressful two-three weeks. Garry, I want to start with you. For years and years, you have been warning us that “The Winter is Coming”, that Putin would take the actions he had and where we are. Give us a status update; in your mind, where we are, and your concerns about where we are going.
GK: “We are facing historic responsibilities, and we can’t evade them. Ukraine is in the front line of freedom and this war is not about preserving its independence, it is a war to defend our values, and it is our duty to do whatever it needs rally support to Ukraine, and give them all they need to fight Putin’s war in the battlefield.
SR: Whatever it needs. People are concerned with that because of the risk of a WWIII
GK: I have news for them. We are already at WWIII, and it is not a confrontation between NATO and Russian forces, but we are at a war that has been declared by Vladimir Putin. It is a war against the whole train of civilization moving towards the values we stand for, like respect for human rights, and compassion. Putin wants to push us back to the times of Ivan the Terrible, and Joseph Stalin. This war is not a Russia vs Ukraine war, it will continue until its instigator is defeated. That’s why we must do whatever we can right now when Ukrainians are still holding the Russian army on the battlefields.
If we miss this moment, if we let Putin destroy Ukraine like he is doing right now, committing war crimes on an industrial scale, if he can walk away with it, it is a matter of time until he decides to scale it. How are we going to defend NATO’s countries like Poland, if we are afraid of engaging Russia now?”
SR: Alexander Vindman*, what do you think?
AV: We had a cold war and we are trying to avoid a hot war. We have to remember that we have the largest country in the world attacking the largest country in Europe… We need to understand the scale of what’s unfolding. In WWI, the US sat on the sides until ultimately, they got dragged in. In WWII, which started in 1939, the US entered in 1942. I would like to see us learn from those mistakes, and be proactive, understanding that the Ukrainians are a fierce adversary of the Russians and they can do much of it on their own, but they need a great deal of help… the biggest asymmetries are in airpower and long-range power. If the Ukrainians can level the score there, they can very rapidly destroy the armed forces of Russia… The risk is the incrementalism of the war, the Russians are going to bring in more troops, more equipment… Eastern Europe is more likely to react more proactively than Western Europe because of the human catastrophe of the refugees caused by this war…
The longer this war goes, the most dangerous it gets. The US needs to recognize that the decisions are going to get harder, so, we have to make risk-informed decisions now to avoid the escalation into a much bigger war in the future.
SR: Foreign Minister Kuleba can join us now. Thank you so much for joining us. Please would you give us an update on what is the situation there and what the people in your country are dealing with?
Dmytro Kuleba, after thanking Gary Kasparov for organizing the event, and for his tireless efforts to reveal the truth about Putin’s intentions, said:
DK: Seventeen days of resistance and of the people’s war against the aggression of Russia. We are bleeding, and our cities are being destroyed. This war is barbarian when it comes to the actions of the Russian army. The loss of civilian lives is mounting, and in some cases, they are beyond the comprehension of any civilized person, like when civilian vehicles are being shot and crushed by Russian armored vehicles, not to mention the barbarian bombardment of cities and of civilian buildings.
On the eve of this war, some experts gave us three days to fall before the Russian war machine, but Ukraine has not fallen. Ukraine is bleeding heavily; we are in terrible pain, but we are fighting because we understand that this is a fight for our liberty, and we have no right to lose it. This is the fight for our identity and for our statehood, and we will continue fighting.
Of course, this does not exclude the course of diplomacy and a peaceful solution, but as President Zelensky has said “we are ready to negotiate, but we are not going to surrender”. The Russian position in negotiations started with an ultimatum to surrender. The Russian army has suffered in Ukraine its biggest loss in recent history. Unfortunately, unlike in Ukraine, in Russia, the price of human life is worth nothing, and President Putin is throwing more and more soldiers into the bloodshed. We have no other choice but to defend our land, fighting the aggressors. This land is our nation, a freedom-loving nation, and we are fighting for our freedom; brutal forces do not scare us.
We Ukrainians in times of peace put everything into question and sometimes get into endless discussions about our rights, about the direction of our development, and the decisions that we make domestically, but when we are before an external threat, we put all our differences aside, get united, and mobilized, to fight the enemy, and this is the moment that we are living through.
The aim of Russian ruthless attacks on Ukraine is to break Ukrainian's will to resist by inflicting terrible civilian losses. The most notorious case and I believe that now it is the worst place in the world to be in is the city of Mariupol, a beautiful city before the war. In a siege that has lasted twelve days, more than 1,500 civilians have been killed as a result of artillery fire and air raids by the Russian Air Force. It is a clear war crime. The Russians justify their actions, specifically in the case of the maternity hospital, on the words said by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he expressed that the pictures taken of its ruins were fake and that the women portrayed there, were not real pregnant women. Unfortunately, the Russians continue their siege. Every day, we try to arrange convoys for getting the most vulnerable people out of the city and to get food and medicines in but they keep attacking them.
The most asked question now is “how can we help Ukraine”?
First, I would like to confirm that if we had more planes, we would be able to save many more civilian lives because the most powerful weapon that the Russians have is air superiority, which they use to shoot indiscriminately civilian targets. The pilots of the Russian planes taken down, confess that when their commanders give them their targets, they know they are going to bomb civilians, and they still do that. So, we need to throw Russia out of the sky. The solution is there, everybody knows it, but for political reasons, it has not been made yet. Regarding military supplies, they should continue until we win.
The second issue is to step up the economic sanctions. The Russian economy already has been hit, but there is more to be done. I would ask you to press multinational companies to leave the Russian market and to cease operations there. It is economically and morally to do so because every dollar given to Russia is soaked in Ukrainian blood.
The third request to be made is the investigation and prosecution of war crimes. We would deeply appreciate all the help directed to make sure that every war criminal in Russian and Ukrainian territories will be brought to justice.
Finally, we need to keep our economy running. We are under attack, our economy also suffers a lot, and we cannot win a war without money. We have our financial system under control. Every dollar counts because it saves lives and contributes to winning the war. Thank you for your commitment to do all of these. My team is ready to attend to any requests in this matter.
We must and will prevail. Every country that believes in international law, and in human rights, is with us now. Those that believe that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a domestic issue, are making the greatest mistake against history and civilization. President Putin is a beast that has to be contained and has to learn his lesson. Together, we can achieve that. Thank you.
SR: Why do you keep exploring diplomatic channels? Given the denials of Russia, why do you keep on it?
DK: He sights and says, “If we were on a secure line, I would tell you everything that I think about the prospects of doing diplomacy with Russia. We have to remain open to diplomacy. Hearing and hearing that bizarre one-hour statement that President Putin gave on the eve before launching the war against Ukraine, I think any reasonable person, would come to the conclusion that there is very little space for diplomacy on President Putin’s mind. He literally does not recognize our right to exist. That is why Ukraine is at the beginning of the XXI Century, a nation that is deprived of the right to be a nation, to live its own life, and to make its own choices about the direction of its development. So, we have to keep the diplomatic channels open, but we are being cautious of the Russian manipulations. When we hear Russian officials saying that there is progress being made, that is not the case. We are talking, but the demands that Russia makes are unacceptable for us.
SR: Is this war the work of Russia or the work of Putin? If Putin was removed from power, would Russia continue this war?
I believe that this war is the decision of President Putin. I believe that the removal of President Putin will be enough to stop the war. But the restoration of peace and security on the European space, will require not only the removal of Putin, but also the deputinization of Russia. Putin is not just a person, it is a system, and Russia must be deputinized.
SR: Could you give us an update of what is the status in Mariupol? there are thousands of people trapped there, with no heat, no water, and no access to food.
DK: Mariupol is crucially important for us because if they seize control over the city, they will establish a direct land corridor to Ukraine from Russia, and they will also cut us from access to other cities. That is why we still are heroically defending it, and this is why Russia is ruthlessly destroying the city to capture it at any cost.
SR: How is the siege at this point?
DK: Mariupol is besieged, but the city is still in control of Ukrainian forces.
SR: How about Kyiv?
The biggest threat to Kyiv comes from the north. The first attempts of the Russians to take the city were defeated at the cost of almost total destruction of Bucha, the situation stands, but they have suffered enormous losses there, and we still have the city under control. It cannot be even close to the situation in Mariupol.
SR: You said that you need aircraft, effective air defense, and missile defense. Do you agree with this?
DK: Yes, as I said, we have to throw Russia from the skies. The tactics that the Russians are using in Ukraine are the same ones that they used in Syria, they try to crush the cities with airpower, looking to break the will to fight, and then moving with ground forces to “cleanse” the cities. These tactics cause enormous civilian losses. If we don't get enough fighting jets, and air defense systems, this is what is going to happen. Cities will be destroyed, and many civilian lives will be lost. We also need attack planes to destroy military columns coming into Ukraine from different directions.
SR: Do you believe Russia is attacking civilians because they can’t defeat the Ukrainian military?
SR: What are they doing to your country psychologically?
DK: It makes us hate them. We will not forgive them for generations to come.
SR: How is morale right now?
DK: High. In three weeks of fighting, we have sustained enormous losses, and the absolute majority of Ukrainians according to the polls believe in our victory because we have no right to lose this war. This is not about losing the war and starting a new life. If we lose the war, there will be neither old life nor a new life. Everyone understands that.
The best example of high morale is the behavior of the residents of the city of Kherson in the south. Unfortunately, the city was taken over by the Russians, but for many days, residents of the city have come to the main square to peacefully protest against the Russian occupying forces.
SR: What is your concern about Putin’s taking the nuclear plants?
DK: They deliberately took control of the operation of the power plant, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. they are trying to integrate it into the Russian system of nuclear power plants. We are working with International Atomic Energy on these matters. The Russians are also in Chernobyl, in the north of Ukraine. According to the information I have, they are building a logistics base near Chernobyl, with the understanding that it will be impossible to attack.
Russia threatens Ukraine and the world with nuclear actions of whatever kind, starting with possible accidents at nuclear power plants, and ending with putting their nuclear forces on high alert, but we believe that at this point it is to strengthen their negotiating position and to make Ukraine and the world be fearful of their madness. But this does not stop us. we will continue fighting.
SR: What is your hope right now?
DK: Hope? The fact that I am Ukrainian.
SR: That’s beautiful. Garry, do you have any questions?
GK: Do you think Belarus will join the war, attacking from the north to help Putin to put a siege on Kyiv?
DK: I think President Lukashenko is aware of the losses of the Russian army in Ukraine, and he is not willing to send his troops. We understand that he is under enormous pressure from Putin to send his troops. We don’t want to kill Belarussians, but if they cross into Ukraine, we will have no other option but to defend our land. We understand everything, and the fact that the Russian army attacked us from the Belarusian territory, will not be forgotten.
SR: In seventeen days of the war, what are you experiencing personally?
DK: During the nights, you hear the air attack sirens, and I think that I could not wake up the next day. Today I woke up and participated in meetings, online and on the phone, from arranging new sanctions, organizing protests, coordinating the boycott of companies that don’t leave the Russian market. Days pass very fast these days, day after day. I will keep on doing it because there are Ukrainian soldiers fighting for their country on the front lines.
SR: Sir, thank you so much for the minutes that you have given us. Our hearts are with you.
DK: Thank you so much for your effort and commitment. I am deeply grateful to all of you for standing by us and helping us in very practical terms to win. I am not saying this for the sake of disseminating optimism. I said it because I do believe that this is going to happen.
We will prevail. And this will happen much sooner and at a lower cost if we succeed in mobilizing every possible force to help Ukrainians to win this war. So, thank you for your efforts.
The Fourth Week and Beyond
I left the meeting with three escalating feelings.
One of profound admiration to a country whose people are decided to die for their liberty. As I said in another article, “Liberty is like the air; you don’t notice it until you don’t have it anymore. To live in a country without liberty is to live an asphyxiating life.”
To understand the reason behind the extraordinary resolve of the Ukrainian people, we need to put ourselves in their position. When the alternative that you have to save your life is to surrender yourself to be a second-class citizen of the Russian empire, just like your parents, your grand and great grandparents were, you begin to consider that dying for the cause of liberty is not an option, it is the only option. Especially, if you are a member of the first generation of Ukrainians who have grown under liberty.
Following the call “We will prevail!” they march together against the Russians with whatever they have in hand. I have never seen anything like that in my lifetime. You will read tales of heroism compared to what Ukrainians are doing now only in history books.
The second feeling is one of profound compassion and sorrow for a proud country, home of the bravest people on this earth, that is disappearing “live” before our own eyes. It seems to me that it is impossible that the rate at which the west is shily reacting and shipping inadequate weapons to Ukraine, would be higher than the rate at which the Russians are leveling the Ukrainian cities, burying their inhabitants below the rubble. My heart breaks wide open when I think that if they are going to be written in the history books because of their bravery, it is because they are already history.
In consequence, the third feeling is one of indignation, a deep one, caused by the mediocrity and lack of vision shown by the western leadership. They are unwilling accomplices of what’s going on in Ukraine right now. The only exception to that, is Poland, Czechia, and Slovenia, whose PMs risked their lives by going on a train to meet President Zelensky in Kyiv. After the meeting, the PM of Poland, Jarosław Kaczynski said “the Western states with the most power must start taking risks or it will end like Munich 1938”. He knows what he is talking about.
I am a simple bystander, nevertheless, in January of this year, I wrote about a crisis that would transform in less than a month later into full-scale war, Munich: A Reflection on the Future Based on the Experiences of the Past, and in March, A Tsar Is Conquering Ukraine: Don’t Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls.
If you analyze the slow but steady rise of Putin to absolute power in Russia in 20 years, and his calculated conquests over time: First, Chechnya, second, Crimea, third, Syria, and now Ukraine, you conclude that he has been developing during all these years a handbook of “how to become a global tyrant in the XXI Century”. It reads as follows:
- Secure domestic power by poisoning your adversaries and eliminating internal resistance.
- Test war tactics the way Hitler did in Guernica, Spain in 1937. Level the cities through indiscriminate bombing, to crush morale and to guarantee that your land troops only do a “cleansing” job with minimum losses of men and war material.
- Develop those tactics in countries that are not interesting for the western leadership, so that you keep testing their resolve to stop you because you know that they won’t react until it is too late for them to do anything.
- Repeat and perfect.
- PS. Do everything stated above with total disregard for human life. In doing so, you will create the greatest humanitarian crisis in your lifetime. But who is counting?
I know one thing about history — it repeats itself. That handbook has been written by every tyrant that existed before Putin. As an example, It would be impossible not to establish comparisons between Putin’s “restoring the glory of Russia” in the XXI Century, with Hitler’s “Third Reich”, in the 1930s.
Meanwhile, the western leadership, especially the US, has sustained a slow but steady slide during the last twenty years. Now, if you trace a line on a quadrant to draw this slide, and draw over it another line picturing Putin’s rise, you’ll get a giant X over the Ukrainian territory. Ukraine should have been where the west drew the line, not on the Russian frontier with the countries of Eastern Europe.
The west lost the opportunity to stop Putin on his tracks, by not arming Ukraine when it was possible, and when they needed those weapons to effectively counterattack the Russian forces, and destroy them, as Mr. Kuleba said above. Even today, they are arguing about not giving weapons to Ukraine, fearing the start of WWIII. As Garry Kasparov says before in this article, “I have news for you. The WWIII has already begun”.
The best chance to stop Putin is to help Ukrainians fight for their country. The only cost for the west would be the cost of the weapons themselves.
The western leaders did not see what was coming. Now, they lack the compassion to stop the massacre of the Ukrainian people, and the courage to act, as the PM of Poland is suggesting. Consequently, they should think about what they are going to do when Putin sets his sights on Poland and the rest of the former Soviet republics.
It will be Munich all over again.
- Alexander Vidman, is a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel who was the Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council (NSC)