Ukraine Needs Western Assistance, Global Implications if Conflict is Lost

Nobel Peace Prize winner and CDDRL alumna Oleksandra Matviichuk delivered the S.T. Lee Lecture on April 15 and spoke of the broader implications of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and for the world if the West does not continue to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Oleksandra Matviichuk speaks to an audience at Stanford University on April 15, 2024. Oleksandra Matviichuk speaks to an audience at Stanford University on April 15, 2024. Photo: Rod Searcey Rod Searcey

Oleksandra Matviichuk told a Stanford audience on April 15 that freedom and democracy are profoundly important in her home country of Ukraine and that Western allies need to quickly do more to help Ukraine prevail against Russian aggression.

“A new international architecture of peace and security is required,” and a defeat in Ukraine would have global ramifications, Matviichuk said during her S.T. Lee Lecture hosted by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). The lectureship is named for Seng Tee Lee, a business executive and noted philanthropist, and its purpose is to raise public understanding about complex policy issues facing the global community. The S.T. Lee Distinguished Lecturer is chosen for his or her international reputation as a leader on international policy-making issues.

Matviichuk’s presentation was delivered at a time when proposed U.S. aid to Ukraine is stalled in the U.S. Congress, and the Russia-Ukraine War is mired in a stalemate. After more than two years of conflict, the concern among Western allies is whether Ukraine can sustain its fight against Russia as that country grapples with shortages in weapons, ammunition, and troops.

‘Unwavering commitment’

Matviichuk was a visiting scholar at CDDRL in the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, a predecessor to the Center’s current Strengthening Ukrainian Democracy and Development Program, during the 2017-18 academic year. 

Kathryn Stoner, the Mosbacher Director of CDDRL, said, “For her unwavering commitment to her work, Matviichuk has received international recognition for her work on issues such as democratic reforms, improved public control, and oversight of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary in the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution.” Matviichuk received the Democracy Defender Award in 2016.

During the question-and-answer session, Michael McFaul, director of FSI and former ambassador to Russia, said that while he totally agreed with aid to Ukraine, it was important to explain to skeptical Americans how U.S. support will favorably change the situation on the ground for Ukraine and what this means overall for democracy on a global scale.

Matviichuk said, “It’s very simple. We will survive. Because when the United States and other countries start to provide Ukraine with weapons, it gives us a chance to push Russian troops out.”

As the head of the Center for Civil Liberties, which received the Nobel Peace Prize under her leadership, and a human rights lawyer focused on issues within Ukraine and the OSCE region, Matviichuk now leads initiatives aimed at fostering democracy and safeguarding human rights. Her organization supports legislative reforms, monitors law enforcement and the judiciary, conducts wide education programs, and leads international solidarity efforts. 

We will survive. Because when the United States and other countries start to provide Ukraine with weapons, it gives us a chance to push Russian troops out.
Oleksandra Matviichuk
2024 S.T. Lee Distinguished Lecturer

Global Democracy vs. Authoritarianism

Law and order represent critical distinctions between Russian authoritarianism and global democracy, said Matviichuk, who tearfully noted at one point that she recently lost a close friend in a Russian attack.

“As a human rights lawyer, I found myself in a situation where the law doesn’t work. Russian troops are destroying residential buildings, schools, churches, museums, and hospitals. They’re attacking evacuation corridors; they’re torturing people, infiltration camps. They’ve forcibly taken Ukrainian children to Russia. They ban Ukrainian language and culture,” she said.

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Matviichuk co-founded the “Tribunal for Putin” initiative, documenting war crimes across affected Ukrainian regions. 

“We have an ambitious goal to document every criminal episode that has been committed in the smallest settlement in Ukraine. Working together, we have already recorded and contributed over 68,000 episodes of war crimes to our database. We are documenting more than just violations of the Geneva Conventions. We are documenting human pain,” she said.

She said the Russian-Ukraine War demonstrates that the West is now dealing with the formation of an entire authoritarian bloc. “They all feature a crucial commonality. All these regimes have the same idea of what a human being is. Authoritarian leaders consider people as objects of control and deny them rights and freedoms. Democracies consider people's rights and freedoms to be their highest value, and there is no way to negotiate this because it only exists in the free world.”

The conflict has increased an axis of authoritarianism between Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China. “I live in Kyiv, and my native city, like thousands of other Ukrainian cities, are constantly being shelled not just by Russian rockets but also Iranian rockets and Chinese,” she said.

Russia has never been punished for a long list of attacks in recent years. “They believe they can do whatever they want. I‘ve talked to hundreds of people who survived Russian captivity. They told me how they were beaten, raped, smashed into wooden boxes, and electrically shocked. They were compelled to write something with their own blood. There is no legitimate reason for doing this. There is also no military necessity in it. Russians did these horrific things only because they could,” Matviichuk said.

Putin and NATO

Matviichuk said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not as afraid of NATO as he is of the idea of freedom. “The people in Ukraine want peace much more than anyone else. But peace doesn't come when the country which was invaded stops fighting. That's not peace. That’s occupation.”

She added, “If we don’t stop Putin in Ukraine, he will go further. And we have no time.”

Matviichuk said Putin governs his country not just through repression and censorship but also through a special social contract between the Kremlin elite and the Russian people. “This social contract is based on Russian glory—the problem is that, unfortunately, the majority of Russian people still see their glory in the forcible restoration of the Russian Empire.”

War Crimes, Accountability

Matviichuk urged establishing a special tribunal on Russian aggression in Ukraine to hold Putin, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka, and other alleged war criminals accountable. 

“The scale of work grows so fast that it becomes impossible to recognize all these stories, but I will tell you one,” she said. “The story of Svetlana, who lost her entire family when the Russian missile hit her building. I heard them dying. My husband was breathing heavily, straining as if he was trying to throw the rubble off of himself, but he couldn’t. At some point, he just went still. My grandmother and Jania died instantly. I heard my daughter crying … My mother told me that he called for me several times and then nothing. People are not numbers. We must ensure justice for all people affected by this war, regardless of who they are.”

She said the calls of some for Ukraine to stop defending itself and to satisfy Russia’s imperial appetites are immoral. 

The world has entered a period of turbulence, and “now fires will occur more and more often in different parts of the world because the international wiring is faulty and the sparks are everywhere,” Matviichuk said.

The S.T. Lee Lectureship is named for Seng Tee Lee, a business executive and noted philanthropist. Dr. Lee is the director of the Lee group of companies in Singapore and of the Lee Foundation. He endowed the annual lectureship at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies in order to raise public understanding of the complex policy issues facing the global community today and to increase support for informed international cooperation.

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