Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ukraine has shaken the world’s older democracies out of our malaise


The writer is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Canada

Martin Luther King believed that the arc of the moral universe is long but that it bends toward justice.

But he also knew that there are evil men in the world, who seek to thwart that benign curve and push us all back into darkness.

Because of those men, there are moments in history when the great struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight, in one place, which is waged for all of humanity.

In 1863, that place was Gettysburg. In 1940, it was the skies above Britain. Today, in 2022, it is Kyiv.

On the cobbled streets of that golden-domed city, a fierce and united citizenry, led by its cheerfully resolute president Volodymyr Zelensky, is fighting a barbaric invasion. Those courageous Ukrainians are fighting for themselves, and they are also fighting for us all. Right now, indeed, brave Ukraine is the moral leader of the free world.

But there is another side to this story. While Ukrainian civilians gamely learn to make Molotov cocktails to defend their homes, one of the world’s most brutal war machines is bombarding them.

Not content with terrorising his own people, President Vladimir Putin is seeking to impose his tyranny on his democratic, freedom-loving neighbours. In launching this war against Ukraine, Putin attacked the values and the international rules that are the foundation of all the democracies of the world.

And in so doing, he has forfeited the right to partake in the global prosperity that we, the world’s democracies, have built together since we first established that rules-based international order after the second world war.

Russia cannot simultaneously open fire on our system, while also enjoying its fruits. You cannot bomb Kyiv in the morning and dock your yacht on the Côte d’Azur in the evening.

That is why, in close collaboration and in solidarity with the Ukrainian government, the G7 has put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a major economy.

We have personally imposed sanctions on Putin and his hangers on. We have done the same to Russian oligarchs. We have cut Russia’s major financial institutions and its sovereign wealth funds out of the global economy. We have frozen the assets of its central bank.

These measures will sever Russia financially from the western world, and will render useless much of the war chest of reserves that Putin has amassed.

The Russian president and his enablers may have believed that they had built an economic Fortress Russia, but we have shown that there are no fortresses in the interconnected global economy. No country is sanction-proof.

And to the Russian technocrats who are this week vainly struggling to prop up a rouble in freefall, let me say: We warned you.

Two weeks ago at the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, I urged Elvira Nabiullina, the governor of the Russian central bank, not to allow her government to launch an illegal and unprovoked war. I cautioned her that if her country took this horrible step, it would be, as Talleyrand reportedly said, worse than a crime — it would be a mistake.

Our economic sanctions, I warned, would be swift, co-ordinated, sustained and crushing. They are. And they will continue to be.

Dictators, very much including the Kremlin’s tyrant, often fail to understand democracies. We can seem, to them, to be weak and divided, compared with the servile conformity they impose on their societies at the barrel of a gun. But our very openness to debate and dispute means that once we are agreed on a course of action, we are strong and we are united.

Indeed, with their remarkable resistance, the people of Ukraine have shaken the world’s older democracies out of our malaise. In dying for freedom and democracy, Ukrainians have shown us that these values can come at a high price, but that it is a price worth paying.

And Ukraine’s courage has renewed our confidence that democracies can actually win.

The people of Ukraine are today showing the incredible strength of a free people fighting for their democracy. That is why the world’s democracies are equally resolute in our support for the people of Ukraine.

This is one of those times, and one of those places, where freedom confronts tyranny. We are determined that freedom will triumph, and it will.

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