Kaptur, Fitzpatrick, Fedynsky: Refugee crisis is new front line in trans-Atlantic fight for liberty in Ukraine

As published in the Kyiv Post — 10.27.15

Since World War II, the trans-Atlantic alliance between the United States and its European allies has stood as a beacon of liberty and hope for subjugated people around the world. This alliance won a 40-year struggle when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. Soviet Communists and Nazi Fascists were defeated on the continent where they had taken root. Hungary, Poland, the Baltic States, the Czech and Slovak republics entered NATO’s mutual security pact. Former captive nations became free. Next year, Ukraine will celebrate a quarter century of independence. Liberty has been on the march on the European continent.

Today the story is more ominous. On April 27, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted to the world that his military had invaded Ukraine.

Already, more than 1.4 million people have been displaced.

At least 8,000 have been killed and nearly 20,000 injured.

Russia continues to illegally occupy Crimea and Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

This is not the first time Russia has stormed the borderlands surrounding it. But unlike in the past, this Russian invasion has gone largely unchecked. Now Russia, emboldened by its perception of Western weakness, has launched airstrikes over Syria. This has added lethal complexity to the conflict and created ever-greater waves of Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, Eritrean, and Pakistani refugees flowing into Europe by way of Turkey, Greece, Libya, and points east.

Human traffickers aid the flow to NATO’s doorstep.

Europe’s southeasterly edge of Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, etc. has struggled to handle this massive flight and is overwhelmed.‎ NATO has been slow to respond.

Vladimir Putin benefits from destabilizing the European Union‎ and the trans-Atlantic alliance. From his perspective, exacerbating conflict is a strategic plus.

Germany, which has stood strong on Russian sanctions in response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine, is now the principal destination for refugees.

NATO members Hungary, Austria, Poland, and others also face security pressures on their borders, as legions of Arab, Pashtun and other refugees challenge Europe’s internal cohesion. How intense will the backlash to the refugee flow become across Europe, with the Russian propaganda machine spewing out venom across the continent?

Initially, Europe has had the means to address the challenge. But it is a heavy burden as refugees fill railway stations, school auditoriums, and parks.

Meanwhile NATO-vacated properties in Germany are sitting unused. They could be converted into emergency holding areas to accept refugees, heal the wounded, verify documents, and repatriate or resettle them in Middle Eastern nations or elsewhere.

The United States and the free world did this well after World War II. Past U.S. presidents have stood strong against Soviet aggression.

John F. Kennedy made a lasting impression in his Berlin address in 1963 when he said “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

In 1987, Ronald Reagan traveled to the Brandenburg Gate and challenged Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!”

In 1990 America led its allies in a military campaign defending Kuwait against Iraq’s invasion. Four years later the United States, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum, which “reaffirmed” their commitment to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” in return for that country dismantling its vast nuclear weapons arsenal — the third largest in the world.

A serious promise was made; it is not being kept.

Ukraine’s stability is critical to European stability.

The Ukrainian people have held fast even in the face of a vastly more powerful invading force.

Out-manned and out-gunned, they have exercised an iron will to keep Russia’s imperial march in check.

Yet America and its allies have mostly looked away while Ukraine’s long-suffering Western-leaning people are under siege. Americans traveling to Ukraine are welcomed and cheered. Ukrainians endeavor to be America’s partners, but America must lead the free world forward. Winter is coming.

Russia seeks to score a huge victory by seizing Ukraine’s most valuable economic regions. Ukraine’s soldiers need modern telecommunications equipment and weapons to stop Russian tanks. ‎The wounded need medical supplies.

Before the snow flies, the beleaguered people of Ukraine must be given hope akin to World War II’s Berlin Airlift. Mobilizing global assistance to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon would also help stem refugee flows to Europe. The world must not accept Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine or the consequences will continue to spill over. If Ukraine’s dire plight is not addressed soon, there could be millions more refugees steaming across Europe in the coming months and years.

The trans-Atlantic alliance has a duty and a compelling moral and geo-strategic interest to aid in Ukraine’s defense, help treat the wounded and increase humanitarian assistance.For the sake of liberty in Europe and around the world, America, NATO, and the trans-Atlantic alliance must lead. The world is waiting.‎

Marcy Kaptur is a Democratic Party member of Congress from Ohio. Mike Fitzpatrick is a Republican Party member from Pennsylvania. Andrew Fedynsky is a resident scholar at the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, Ohio.