Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to annex Crimea to Russia. It may seem like a small, unimportant piece of land, far away from America. But its fate is important to the United States, and to the entire civilized world.
Russia has violated international law with an illegal invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent state. And its planned annexation is an attempt to redraw international borders in Europe, upending the principle of respect for international agreements guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity and the United Nations Charter.
We are calling for America's help at this critical moment in our history. We need the diplomatic support of the United States to restrain the Kremlin from further aggression against Ukraine, and to persuade it to relinquish its illegal land grab.
We also are asking for technical and financial assistance to stabilize the fragile situation in our country in the wake of a popular change of government.
Last November, Ukrainian citizens began to gather on Maidan, Kiev's Independence Square. They gathered to express their dismay that ex-President Viktor Yanukovych reneged on his implicit promise to sign a long-awaited association and trade agreement with the European Union. Ukrainians have been caught in a post-Soviet time warp for 22 years since we achieved independence.
Under a succession of governments, Ukraine has failed to free itself of the morass of corruption and economically stifling over-regulation which are all too common in former Soviet republics. Also, a resurgent Kremlin intent on dominating its neighbors has cast a long shadow over Ukraine's independent status.
Closer ties with the EU offered Ukraine a way out of this dead end of bad governance. Yanukovych abruptly turned away from Europe to embrace an offer from Putin to tie Ukraine yet closer to Russia.
Ukrainians from all over the country came to Kiev to protest peacefully. They protested because they understood Yanukovych was robbing them of their future. But with Russian support, Yanukovych decided to ignore the will of the people and to resist demonstrations with force.
In February, Yanukovych crossed the line from legitimate if unpopular ruler to tyrant, when he unleashed deadly force upon the demonstrators in Maidan. With the urging of the Kremlin, he deployed his personal guard of shock troops and snipers to murder in cold blood nearly 100 Ukrainian citizens. But when the people rose in open revolt, his praetorian guard abandoned him, and Yanukovych fled for Russia.
After these tragic events, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, was left as the only legitimate authority in the country. My colleagues and I in the opposition formed a new government of national unity, the Yanukovych allied party went into opposition, and we called for a new parliamentary and presidential election on May 25.
For Putin, any change of government unsanctioned by him personally was intolerable. He authorized his military to undertake a stealth invasion of Crimea, a constituent part of our country. And under military occupation, Putin organized an illegal referendum to ratify his conquest as a prelude to outright annexation.
The Kremlin has justified its illegal actions with a combination of sophistry and outright falsehoods. In 1994, Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, recognizing and guaranteeing Ukraine's borders in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal.
But now the Kremlin argues that this agreement is null and void because of the change of government in Kiev, and relies upon the sophistic argument that because Crimea was transferred to Ukraine under Soviet law that it need not respect internationally established borders. Under such logic, Russia's Kaliningrad enclave should be restored to Germany.
Kremlin propaganda also claims that Russia is acting to protect the Russian residents of Crimea from "violence and oppression" from Kiev. In all of Ukraine's history as an independent state, there has been no such violence or oppression of Russians or Russian-speakers. Ukraine respects the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of nationality, language, or religion. And Crimea has large Ukrainian and Tatar minorities who are unreconciled to being absorbed into a Greater Russia.
Russia also makes the outrageous claim that the new government is dominated by "neo-Nazis and fascists." Here, the Kremlin seems to be relying on the advice of Joseph Goebbels, that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it. Ukraine's governing coalition is composed of three parties, and we are all dedicated to democracy and a European future for our country.
Our party, Svoboda, has been a particular target of Kremlin disinformation. We are a nationalist party, in the sense that we support Ukraine's special cultural identity, and we are Ukrainian patriots. However, we recognize that Ukraine's peoples include not only ethnic Ukrainians, but also Russians, Tatars, Jews, Poles, Hungarians, and others. We are committed to equal rights for all citizens.
We would not advocate European integration if we were fascists. Fascism as a system of values is entirely unacceptable to the European Union, and Ukraine will never follow this path. Fascism is also entirely incompatible with our party's program and our values.
Regarding language rights, we believe Ukrainian should be the sole state language in Ukraine. However, there are no prohibitions on private use of other languages. And in Crimea, Russian is recognized as the state language under Crimea's autonomous status in the Republic of Ukraine.
We appeal to America for your help. We urgently need to restructure our economy and rewrite many of our laws. We need financial assistance to stabilize the country while it faces foreign aggression. And we need America's support to deter the Kremlin from further aggressions.
We have faith you will help, because America historically always supported democracy. Also, we believe it is in America's own interest to uphold the international law of nations and the spread of market-based democracy around the world. And it is consistent with the most basic of America's values, which have always been a beacon to the world.
Oleg Tiahnybok is the leader of Ukraine's nationalist Svoboda Party — one of three parties that compose Ukraine's governing coalition — and a former elected councilman of Lviv in western Ukraine.
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