Lessons for American Democracy from the Russian War with Ukraine


Header photo taken from: The Moscow Times




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Ukraine bans men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country, raising the issue of military conscription, harkening back to Vietnam War in the U.S.

Photo taken from: BreezyScroll

Russia’s invasion and war with Ukraine has been unfolding in real time in front of our eyes. The war has succeeded in bringing out the courage of Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people and the ruthlessness and cruelty of President Putin and the Russian army.

The war also has many important lessons for American democracy currently in a state of disrepair. Presented below are examples: 

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Alina is a 26-year-old dancer, but she joined the volunteer armed forces in Ukraine

Photo taken from: LaFargue, Raphael / ABACA

The moral strength of a democratically united country.

Tiny Ukraine, which has a third of the population of Russia has nevertheless put up a united front in the face of the Russian invasion. In similar situations in other countries, leaders would have fled and a country  like Ukraine would have been easily occupied, e.g. witness Afghanistan. But the Ukrainians thus far have put up a united front that has been able to slow down the ability of Russia to meet its objectives. What was once thought to be a quick Russian conquest has turned into a conflict now entering its fourth week with no end in sight.

The importance of having democratic leaders who have the support of their people.

Certainly President Zelensky is a charismatic and courageous leader, but his success draws upon the fact that his government has the universal support of the Ukrainian people. You don’t have a political environment in Ukraine where  bickering between rival political parties, such as in the United States,  paralyzes the ability of the government to act.

The divisiveness that occurs as a result of media misinformation.

As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war we have gained an insight into the ways in which Russia controls the flow of information to its citizens, and the misinformation that results. It appears that most Russians have little knowledge about what Russia is doing in Ukraine. State-run media tells Russians that it army is seeking to liberate Ukraine from Nazis who govern the country. The government threatens with jail time anyone who calls its actions in Ukraine “a war.” Although thankfully America still supports free and open media information, several news organizations, such as Fox News, regularly spread disinformation in support of right wing and authoritarian  political views. People in the U.S. who watch these channels can be led to believe that President Putin is “a genius,” and that his actions in Ukraine are justified.

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Some fear a new “Iron Curtain” may be closing as the Russian president leaves his country deeply isolated both culturally and economically.

Photo taken from: NBC

The impact of having a war where everyone fights.

In America up until 1973 there was a universal draft, known as the Selective Service System, that we used to fight our wars. All males between 18 and 37 had to register with the system and were eligible. To be called up to fight as members of one of our Armed Services. The Selective Service System  democratized military service by making everyone participate. Wars were truly our country’s wars; much the way in which Ukraine is fighting its war with Russia. In Ukraine all males between the ages of 18 and 60 have been asked to fight. Everyone is a part of the war effort, making it into a national unifying operation.

The importance of standing up to authoritarianism.

President Biden has aptly termed the period we are living in as a battle between democracy and authoritarianism. Over the past few decades the world has witnessed the rise of authoritarian style leaders such as Xi in China, Bolsinaro in Brazil, Victor Orban in Hungary and of course Trump and Putin. Ukraine squarely and unabashedly rightly calls itself a democracy and has positioned its conflict with Russia as a battle between an authoritarian ruler (Putin) and a democratically elected government. Media coverage of the war in Ukraine has enabled people around the world to see the ruthlessness and cruelty that happens when an authoritarian, answering only to himself, is allowed to unleash an unprovoked war on another country. In standing up to Putin the Ukrainians are showing the world the importance of the need to challenge authoritarian regimes.

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Ukraine Conflict Risks New U.S.-Russia Arms Race, World Closer to Nuclear War.

Photo taken from: Newsweek

The need to revisit the issue of nuclear disarmament.

The conflict in Ukraine has re-raised the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons and a larger global nuclear war; something that has not been talked about for decades. During the early stages of the conflict President Putin indicated he was putting Russia, which has an arsenal of over 6,000 nuclear warheads, in a state of nuclear alert.  President Biden and European leaders, also in command of nuclear weapons, have gone out of their way not to take steps, such as a no fly zone, that could prompt Putin to launch a nuclear strike. The prospect of a nuclear war, long ignored by the world community has been reignited. Regardless of what happens in Ukraine the world has re-awoken to the danger of nuclear weapons and the need to control and disarm them.

The need for a better global system to address the world’s growing number of refugees.

Over 3 million Ukrainians have become refugees since the start of their country’s  with Russia. Their suffering and needs are placing enormous strains on nearby countries to which many of them have fled. But the Ukrainians are only the latest group in a growing number of refugees made stateless due to wars,  internal conflicts in their countries as well as climate change. But their plight further highlights for the global community to develop a new system for dealing with refugees and displaced persons that is appropriate for these troubled times.

So there is much we all should learn from Russia’s war of choice with Ukraine. It’s tragic it has taken such a horrendous war to teach us these lessons.

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