Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 07.06.2018
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, occupies Crimea and part of Donbas, and is bombarding and assaulting Ukrainian defensive lines incessantly. Because of Putin’s War, now into its fifth year, Russia is a pariah on the world stage. Two international events in the month of June should illustrate Russia’s isolation. The Group of Seven (G7) summit will be held in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada and the FIFA World Cup tournament will be held in Russia. Whether the G7 summit and the World Cup do in fact demonstrate that Russia is considered to be ‘beyond the Pale’ depends on good people standing up for their principles in the face of Putin at war.
The G7 is remarkable because it is the G7 and not the G8. Russia was expelled from this exclusive club of the world’s top industrialized nations. Russia has no business being in such a grouping by any measure, even before Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian economy is not even in the world’s top ten by gross national product. Russia does not have a rules-based, contract-enforcing system for it to be taken seriously in world markets. The Putin-led oligarchy makes an insignificantly small number of Russians rich, the vast majority of Russians poor, and provides no return on investment for outsiders. The G7 was only expanded to the G8 as a goodwill gesture to draw Russia in to the family of civilizations. Putin snubbed this gesture when he went to war with the largest country that lies wholly within Europe: Ukraine. Russia was promptly kicked out of the G8, and the exclusive club of nations went back to being the G7 as it was at its founding in 1975.
Canada holds the presidency of the G7 in 2018. The leaders summit will be held in Charlevoix in the province of Quebec in Canada, June 8-9. With the power to set the agenda, Canada has made international peace and security a key theme, with Russian aggression central to it. Canada made Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, a special guest at a meeting of G7 foreign ministers held earlier in Toronto. It is expected that Canada will take note that Russian aggression against Ukraine has not ceased, that Russia has been found to be responsible for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) with a BUK missile, that Russia is almost certainly behind the nerve agent attack which took place in Salisbury in the United Kingdom (which is a G7 member), that Russia violates international humanitarian law while acting as the de facto occupying power of Ukraine’s Crimea, and that Russia continues to hold illegally over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners of war. The G7 summit in Canada should call out Russia on all of its war crimes and crimes against humanity. The very good reasons that Russia is excluded from the G7 will be brought home to a world that is sick of Putin’s War.
The FIFA World Cup 2018 was awarded to Russia before Russia invaded Ukraine. That the privilege of being the host of this tournament was not taken away from Russia after the invasion speaks more to the corruption of FIFA and its corporate sponsors than to the worthiness of Russia. Over four years of unrelenting warfare against the Ukrainian people has not helped Russia in its massive propaganda effort to draw prestige out of hosting the FIFA World Cup. A campaign for a diplomatic, political and governmental boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Russia got a strong boost in the European Parliament in the spring of this year. Going to Russia or boycotting is now a test for leaders. No one seriously believes that the FIFA World Cup in Russia is just a sports tournament. Participating in this event in Russia in any way – as a fan, as a sponsor, as a broadcaster – will be seen in the court of world opinion as support for Russia itself, and therefore support for what Russia does.
Ukrainian artist Andriy Yermolenko has created a series of posters for real FIFA World Cup Russia 2018. Images of soccer players are interspersed with images of Putin’s War: the passengers on MH17 being killed; a Syrian civilian being executed; a Russian soldier with a cat (a motif of Spetsnaz invader-occupiers in Ukraine’s Crimea); a field of crosses with a raven. Andriy Yermolenko’s posters are gaining more popularity on social media than the official ones. It appears that Facebook has blocked the artist’s account, censoring his free expression. The Yermolenko posters are widely available elsewhere, and Facebook is being roundly condemned for persisting in its pro-Russia, anti-Ukraine stance – which Facebook adopted during the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14 and has continued throughout Putin’s War.
Tying together the G7 summit in Canada and the boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Russia is the need to end Russia’s war against Ukraine. A more immediate goal is to secure the release of the Ukrainian hostages that Russia is holding. Four of these loyal Ukrainians are on hunger strike: Volodymy Balukh, Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Shumkov, and Oleksander Kolchenko. Attention is being drawn to Russia’s shameful actions in kidnapping and holding hostage people seized from among the captive population of invaded and occupied Ukraine. Attention is being drawn away from Russia as the host of a soccer tournament.
The leaders of the G7 must lead: they must stop Putin’s War. Everyone must boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia: they must not lend prestige to Putin’s War.