Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

The War in Ukraine Affects Us All

The Netherlands’ prime minister argues that Russia’s war is a great-power conflict—with the world’s small states near its center.

By , the prime minister of the Netherlands.
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister, of the Netherlands speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting to improve United Nations Peacekeeping Operations on March 28, 2018 at the United Nations in New York.
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister, of the Netherlands speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting to improve United Nations Peacekeeping Operations on March 28, 2018 at the United Nations in New York.
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister, of the Netherlands speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting to improve United Nations Peacekeeping Operations on March 28, 2018 at the United Nations in New York. ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s War in Ukraine

Last week I visited Kyiv, nearly one year after the launch of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has been a year of senseless bloodshed and destruction, of mass graves and gross violations of our most basic principles. Visiting Ukraine, standing amid the ruins of war and witnessing so much human suffering and courage at the same time, I was more convinced than ever that Russia’s invasion was a watershed moment in world history—one that concerns us all, governments and citizens worldwide.

Last week I visited Kyiv, nearly one year after the launch of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has been a year of senseless bloodshed and destruction, of mass graves and gross violations of our most basic principles. Visiting Ukraine, standing amid the ruins of war and witnessing so much human suffering and courage at the same time, I was more convinced than ever that Russia’s invasion was a watershed moment in world history—one that concerns us all, governments and citizens worldwide.

Here’s why I think that the only possible outcome of this war is that Russian President Vladimir Putin will lose and Ukraine will prevail.

First, Putin gravely underestimated the strength, resilience, and resolve of the Ukrainian people. Their determination to decide their own fate, to choose freedom over tyranny, is beyond admirable. In the first days of the invasion, President Volodymyr Zelensky was urged to leave Kyiv, for his own safety. “I need ammunition, not a ride” was his famous response, which will go down in history. Those few simple words were all he needed to send a firm message to his own people and to people around the world: Democracy and the freedom to determine one’s own future are non-negotiable and worth fighting for.

In an article in Foreign Affairs, Timothy Snyder laid out what Zelensky’s decision to stay and the resolve of the Ukrainian people have meant for the future of democracy: “Ukrainian resistance to what appeared to be overwhelming force reminded the world that democracy is not about accepting the apparent verdict of history. It is about making history; striving toward human values despite the weight of empire, oligarchy, and propaganda; and, in so doing, revealing previously unseen possibilities.” Undeniably, democratic governance is under pressure worldwide. But as Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are proving on a daily basis, the aspiration toward more democracy and freedom still prevails. And not only in Ukraine: In the past year, we have also seen people demanding freedom and democracy—often at great personal sacrifice—in countries such as Iran, Myanmar, and Syria.

Second, Putin also gravely underestimated the resolve on both sides of the Atlantic to stand united with Ukraine. He clearly counted on the European Union to be divided, on NATO to be weak, and on the United States to be reluctant to get involved. Instead, the EU is united, NATO is united, and once again the United States has stepped up without hesitation to defend freedom and democracy. I think it’s fair to say that the massive U.S. military support in particular has made all the difference in the past year. Without it, Ukraine would not have been able to defend its territorial integrity against successive waves of Russian aggression. To me, this is proof that the strength of the U.S.-led international liberal order is unparalleled and will remain so this century, and that transatlantic cooperation remains crucial for the safety and security of Europe.

This is not a conflict between the West and Russia. Nor is it an exclusively European affair. Make no mistake: This conflict affects each and every nation, and it should therefore concern us all. This war is about the principles of sovereignty and the right of every people and every nation to forge their own future, as laid down in the United Nations Charter. We cannot allow large countries that view the world in terms of “might is right” to simply take over smaller countries as they please. If we do, where does it stop?

Last October, an overwhelming majority of U.N. member states voted in favor of U.N. General Assembly Resolution ES-11/4 regarding Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s right to territorial integrity. This underscores what Martin Kimani, Kenya’s permanent representative to the U.N., said shortly before the Russian invasion. He made a passionate plea in defense of respect for territorial integrity and the principles of the U.N. Charter as the basis for global peace and prosperity, rather than pursuing other nations on the basis of “dangerous nostalgia.” “At independence, had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious homogeneity,” he said, “we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later.” Words like these reinforce my belief that Putin’s lies and falsehoods, his whitewashing of blatant aggression, are seen for what they are across the world, not just in the West.

Of course, merely paying lip service to the principles of the U.N. Charter is not enough. The rules-based world order will crumble if we are not willing to resist aggression, and however different the interests of regions and countries may be, this bears on us all. I’m well aware that the West could do more to ensure the rules-based order works for all countries, especially in the global south. At the same time, I firmly believe this is a time to stand united. So I express my sincere hope that all countries, including those that voted in favor of our fundamental principles in the form of Resolution ES-11/4, will continue speaking out against Russia’s aggression, in the U.N. and beyond, and that they will support Ukraine in every possible way.

For the sake of all sovereign nations, Putin cannot be allowed to win this war.

Mark Rutte is the prime minister of the Netherlands.

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.