Thursday, September 18, 2014
Poroshenko tells US Congress: Live Free or Die is Ukraine’s Motto
In a speech that was punctuated with more patriotic fervor and life-or-death combat passion than the one he delivered yesterday in the Canadian Parliament, President Petro Poroshenko in an address to the US Congress today implored America not to let Ukraine face Russian aggressors alone.
In two days, Poroshenko spoke at the pinnacle of the free world, telling all who would listen that the responsibility for stopping Russian aggression is not only Ukraine’s but also the world’s. Failure would mean that Russia would have to be turned back in another country, in someone else’s back yard.
The US Congress at least has never witnessed such an impassioned plea by a national leader for lethal and non-lethal help in a life-or-death war with an invader. It is a significant tribute to Ukraine that at a time of war with Russia, Washington and Ottawa invited its leader to address their nations.
Poroshenko opened his speech with a reminder that freedom is at stake in contemporary Ukraine: “I will focus on one thing that is at the core of Ukraine’s existence today: freedom.
“There are moments in history when freedom is more than just a political concept.
“At those moments, freedom becomes the ultimate choice, which defines who you are – as a person and as a nation.”
Frequently noting the similarity of both countries’ histories, Poroshenko concluded by alluding to the battle cry of the American Revolutionary War:
“’Live free or die!’ – was one of the mottos of the American Revolutionary War.
“’Live free or die!’ – was the spirit on the revolutionary Maidan during the dramatic winter months of 2014.
“’Live free or die!’ are the words of Ukrainian soldiers standing on the line of freedom in this war.
“’Live free!’ – must be the answer, with which Ukraine comes out of this war.
“’Live free!’ – must be the message Ukraine and America send to the world, while standing together in this time of enormous challenge.”
In between, the Ukrainian president spoke about Russian aggression against Ukraine that could spread to other countries near and far and Ukrainian civilian and soldiers’ steadfast commitment to defend their country in this war.
“The defenders of freedom were willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of a better future. What is even more amazing, they won. Armed with only sticks and shields, they attacked the special police and chased them away,” he said.
Poroshenko’s speech was replete with references to the revolution that ousted Viktor Yanukovych and it served as a comprehensive primer on Ukraine’s history during the past 10 months.
“Day after day, week after week, month after month – thousands upon thousands streamed into the streets of Kyiv, simply because their dignity didn’t allow them to remain passive and silent, while their liberties were at stake.
“The stand-off on the Maidan lasted three months.
“It culminated on February 20-21 – when over 100 protesters were shot by snipers.
“We call them the ‘Heavenly Hundred.’” We revere them as true national heroes.
“We applaud their heroism,” he said.
Later that month, Poroshenko continued, Russia launched its first invasion of Ukraine, in Crimea – “an external aggressor decided to take away a part of Ukraine’s territory.
“The annexation of Crimea became one of the most cynical acts of treachery in modern history.
“Ukraine, which gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear potential in exchange for security assurances, was stabbed in the back by one of the countries who gave her those assurances,” he said.
Poroshenko referred to the Budapest Memorandum in which the US, United Kingdom, China, France and, ironically, Russia, agreed to protect Ukraine’s territorial inviolability in exchange for Ukraine’s becoming a non-nuclear state. His words clearly condemned the signatories for forgetting their pledge – especially Russia which crossed Ukraine’s border with conquest in mind.
“In reality, what we got from Russia was annexation and a war that has brought Ukraine to the brink of its survival,” he said.
Poroshenko categorically proclaimed that under no circumstances would Ukraine ever accept Crimea’s occupation.
“Ending the occupation and annulling the annexation is not only an integral precondition to a full normalization of relations between Ukraine and Russia. It is also an integral precondition to Crimea’s prosperity and modernization,” he said.
“In 2008, Russian troops occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now they have invaded Ukraine. The right to protect ethnic Russians, and even Russian speakers, can and already has become a reason to fan the flames of war. Besides Ukraine, the Russian speakers reside in Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria. Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine – what happens next,” he said, pointing out that even NATO members are vulnerable to an attack by Russia as it evidenced by the harassment that the Baltic States are experiencing.
“I urge you not to let Ukraine stand alone in the face of this aggression.
“The United States made a commitment that it would stand behind Ukraine’s territorial integrity – and we hope that it will live up to that promise.
“Democracies must support each other.
“They must show solidarity in the face of aggression and adversity.
“Otherwise, they will be eliminated – one by one.
“The aggression against Ukraine has become one of the worst setbacks for the cause of democracy in the world in years,” he declared.
Poroshenko emphasized that the outcome of the war against Ukraine will determine the fate of Europe and other countries. He said the underequipped and “often unappreciated by the world” young Ukrainians soldiers are the only barrier between peace and and “the nightmare of a full relapse into the previous century and a new cold war.” This war is not only Ukraine’s war, he elaborated. It is Europe’s war and it is the world’s war for its freedom.
“Today, aggression against Ukraine is a threat to global security everywhere. Hybrid proxy wars, terrorism, national radical and extremist movements, the erosion of international agreements, the blurring, and even erasing, of national identities: all of these threats now challenge Europe. If they are not stopped now, they will cross European borders and spread throughout the globe,” he said.
Again comparing both countries’ wars of independence, Poroshenko said Ukraine and America chose “freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”
“With this in mind, I strongly encourage the United States to give Ukraine special, non-allied partner status,” he said. “I also ask that the United States be forceful and stand by its principles with respect to further sanctions against the aggressor.”
Beyond joining the EU and being given special status by NATO, Poroshenko said Ukraine needs to undertake its reforms to fit into the global community.
“Ukraine needs modern governance and non-corrupt public administration!
“Ukraine needs to delegate more powers to local communities!
“Ukraine needs to rely more on its strong, vibrant, and dynamic civil society!
“Ukraine is building a new model of managing its state and economic affairs, where merit and hard work are duly rewarded!
“Ukraine needs know-how, technology, and new start-ups to become better integrated with the global economy.
“And for all that – we need America’s help! In particular, I ask the Congress to create a special fund to support investments of American companies in Ukraine, and to help us with reforming our economy and our justice system,” he said.
Calling on America’s help, Poroshenko said “By supporting Ukraine, you support a new future for Europe and the entire free world. “By supporting Ukraine, you support a nation that has chosen freedom in the most cynical of times.”
Two days, two capitals, two landmark addresses that summarize the threat Ukraine faces due to Russia’s invasion and outline an agenda that can turn the tide for independent Ukraine and the world. We can only hope that everyone paid attention.