[OPINION] Why Ukraine matters

Franz-Michael “Dan-Dan” Mellbin

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[OPINION] Why Ukraine matters
Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine has not only unleashed a typhoon of destruction and death, it also begs the question: will we have a world with one set of rules for great powers and another for the rest of us?

Today, February 24, it is one year since Russian air forces began bombing Ukraine while Russian troops simultaneously invaded Ukraine across four fronts. The reasons given by President Putin were a mix of the oblique, incredulous, and outright lies. However, three elements stood out: Russia did not accept Ukraine as a sovereign nation, Russia had the right to interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs and Russia had the right to take territory belonging to Ukraine. 

Waging war in a wanton act of aggression to subjugate and dominate can never be legitimized. There are no excuses, no explanations. Russia’s war is a blatant violation of international law, an attack on global prosperity and an attempt to substitute a rules based global order with the ideals of militant autocracy. 

The result has been devastating not only to the people of Ukraine but to people globally, with the world’s most vulnerable including many poor Filipinos suffering from rampant inflation, energy and food shortages. Meanwhile, the unprecedented geopolitical fall-out has increased international tensions and provoked regional instability including here in the Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea.

For countries around the world including Europe and the Philippines the Russian attack was a rude wake-up call on the need to rally in defense of the international law, the UN Charter and its institutions.

Mischief in West Philippine Sea

I am proud to serve in a country that has steadfastly supported the principles of the UN Charter and international law through every UN vote since the Russian offensive opened one year ago.

This is especially important at a time when Beijing according to Manila is bringing mischief to the West Philippine Sea. Every day Filipino fishermen are being deprived of access to their fishing grounds and the country of its full economic potential by the actions of the Chinese navy and naval militia forces. China not only refuses to follow the 2016 arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines but has intensified its military activities to the point that there are “daily incidents” of harassment and land reclamation.

Last week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. underlined that the Philippines “will not lose one inch of its territory” but continue to uphold its territory and sovereignty in accordance with the constitution and international law while working with its neighbors to uphold peace and security.

While the Philippines since 2016 has tried to reach a peaceful settlement with China following the international court’s ruling it is clearly under the impression that China has stepped up attempts to force the issue with more military presence and installations. 

This fits badly with repeated Chinese statements of support for the principles of the UN Charter and international law and its willingness to peacefully resolve international disputes. Last week, State Councilor Wang Yi reiterated China’s support for international law and added that there is a “pressing need” to place the principles of the UN charter “above one’s own lesser interests”. He also said that China will table a peace proposal for the Ukraine war.

Removing friction

These are positive statements that should be taken on face value. Because the world is a better, safer and more prosperous place with China as a cooperative partner in support of a rules-based world order. What the world needs is peaceful competition not confrontation.

We will see what actions China itself is ready to take to reassure the world of its willingness to move beyond narrow own interests for the greater good. Even small, initial steps could go a long way to put the world on track towards reduced geopolitical risks and remove the friction that is harming global economy.

The first, important hints will be found in the principles China will use as a basis for its Ukraine peace proposal. Will it reaffirm Ukraine’s right as a sovereign nation to choose its own foreign policy? Will it seek to fully reinstate the territories Russia has taken from the Ukraine? Will it make clear that there is one aggressor; Russia, and one victim; Ukraine? Let us hope for the best.

The Ukraine war is approaching a point where we must fear that only victory on the battlefield can end the conflict. Meanwhile there are fortunately many options to de-escalate the spiral of increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific, including the South China Sea.

Here, it is of course for the involved parties together to define the best way forward towards peace and stability. In this all regional parties can rely on the unwavering support of Europe in defense of international law, the UN Charter and its principles.

Nothing is more important than peace. War is the most terrible of all human endeavours. I have heard the screams of children, the sobs of parents, the cries of wounded soldiers. And I have buried the dead. The ambitions of the mighty to wage war is not a world to live in or to live through. That is why Ukraine matters. –

His Excellency Franz-Michael “Dan-Dan” Mellbin is Denmark’s ambassador to Manila.

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