Andriy Yermak is the head of the Office of the Ukrainian Presidency.
In the ancient kingdom of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar the Great was running out of patience. Night after night, the monarch dreamt a magnificent statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, and thighs of bronze — but at the bottom, its feet were made of clay. And none of his magicians or astrologers could explain the meaning of this terrifying vision that had been haunting him.
Frustrated by the lack of clarity, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the mass murder of his underwhelming seers. And the slaughter continued until a young Jew named Daniel who was held in captivity piped up, revealing the statue depicted the kingdom’s system of rule as it would progress across successive empires through history.
The precious metals represented powerful and prosperous years, but the feet of clay depicted an empire unable to sustain its splendor — an empire that would ultimately collapse.
And looking ahead, it is now difficult to avoid the conclusion that modern Russia is en route to suffering a similar fate.
When the Kremlin ordered the illegal invasion of Ukraine last February, the Russian armed forces had initially deployed around 180,000 soldiers. Met with courageous resistance, they have since been pushed back toward the Russian border — a defeat many didn’t believe could happen to one of the world’s supposed “great powers.”
Yet, since the retreat, the crisis has deepened.
In July, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the shadowy Wagner paramilitary group, trawled Russian prisons in a desperate bid to net soldiers for the war. It wasn’t a lucrative search. And months later, thousands of Russians fled the country to avoid being thrown into the “meatgrinder,” after the Kremlin announced the conscription of 318,000 civilians.
Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s teetering armed forces are being replenished by murderers and rapists sourced from African jails, with Wagner recruiting criminals from the Central African Republic.
Meanwhile, the Russian empire’s feet of clay have also been exposed by its decision to avoid military combat with Ukraine and instead bomb our civilian infrastructure. Far from a sign of strength, it is prima facie evidence of the Kremlin’s military weakness.
Still, this war won’t end tomorrow, or in a month — however, we have reached a turning point. Ukrainian defenders are winning against Russian invaders on the battlefield, and they will continue to do so. As noted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, this success is preconditioned by the fact that Ukraine is winning the battle for the minds and hearts of the world. And the extraordinary and unprecedented assistance our allies and partners provide— military, economic, humanitarian — is evidence of this.
However, it’s too early to stop.
We still hear calls to help Russia save face, talk of negotiations without preconditions and chatter about recognizing the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian territories Russia still occupies.
Some experts believe Putin will declare any outcome a victory. And it’s also likely he’ll succeed in convincing many of his citizens that Russia’s abject humiliation on the battlefield is nothing of the sort.
The war has indeed been a Russian misstep of phenomenal proportions with far-reaching consequences — prompting the country’s brightest and best to flee, while exposing vulnerabilities hidden away for decades to all on the world stage. Its military losses have broken not just the families of Putin’s citizens but also the trust of formerly sympathetic allies, the result of decades of meticulous economic planning. It has instilled a renewed sense of purpose in NATO as well.
Despite this, the Kremlin continues to blackmail the world with nuclear weapons and radiation disasters. Russia’s leadership still seeks to avoid punishment for the crime of aggression, as well as all the other war crimes committed by its soldiers and endorsed by the Kremlin.
If Moscow gets even just some of what it wants, there will be other attempts to restart its imperial project. And Russia’s resources will once again be used for blackmail and destruction — not partnership and creation.
As President Zelesnkyy has said, if Russians can defeat the Kremlin in their minds, they will have a chance to become free. It’s quite obvious, however, that they won’t be able to do this on their own. That is why Ukraine’s partners and allies should help us to not only restore sovereignty within internationally recognized borders, but also create a new global security system that will make revanchism impossible.
The 10-point plan the Ukrainian president unveiled last month envisions all the necessary steps to do just that, such as the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine; the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity; the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes; Western security guarantees for Ukraine; guarantees for food security, including support for Ukraine’s grain exports to the world’s poorest nations; and guarantees on radiation and nuclear safety around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, which is now occupied by Russia.
These conditions must be met in full — otherwise, the Russian colossus will stagger back on its clay feet. And while there’s no doubt that would simply delay its eventual fall, humanity will end up paying for this with even more needlessly lost lives.
This is what the democratic world can choose to prevent — just help Ukrainians finish their work.
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