The “Revolution of Dignity” lives – and defends Itself

The military situation in Ukraine is constantly changing as the war continues into a fifth day, even as some things have become clearer.

A person holds up a banner during an anti-war protest in Moscow Feb. 24, 2022, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine. The banner reads "No war. Freedom for political prisoners." (CNS photo/Evgenia Novozhenina, Reuters)

Two sets of images, widely circulated online over the weekend of 26-27 February, graphically illustrate the difference between the forces now locked in combat – military combat and moral combat – in Ukraine.

In one set of images, lines of volunteers applying to join the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine surround recruiting stations in Ukrainian cities; in a parallel set of pictures, Russian police arrest Russian citizens peacefully protesting Putin’s war on Ukraine. In a second set of contrasting images, an almost jaunty Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is surrounded on a brief video by close aides, including the Ukrainian defense minister, and assures his people that their leaders remain in Kyiv with them, even as the Russian attacks on the Ukrainian capital intensify and some urge the Ukrainian government to evacuate; then there were was the video of Vladimir Putin meeting with his National Security Council, all kept at a safe distance from the autocrat as he publicly humiliates Sergey Naryshkin, the chief of his foreign intelligence service.

The Ukrainian volunteers and their stalwart political leaders bespeak one moral sensibility; the Russian police and their despot of a leader represent another. That striking difference has shaken the world out of its complacency and fear, although not yet sufficiently. And those who continue to defend Mr. Putin, by quietly forwarding Russian disinformation on Twitter or sending out inane tweets suggesting that the flaws of Western culture and politics preclude criticism of Putin’s tyranny, have defined themselves as moral cretins.

The military situation is constantly changing as the war continues into a fifth day, even as some things have become clearer. Putin and his military, perhaps believing their own agitprop that Ukraine is not a real country, expected a walkover once their invasion got underway in earnest; they have been severely disabused of that fantasy, as both the Ukrainian Army and the Territorial Defense Forces have exacted a serious toll in casualties and Russian materiel destroyed. The first ninety-six hours of the war have also confirmed Napoleon’s dictum that the moral is to the material in war as three-to-one: highly motivated Ukrainian forces have given unmotivated, confused, and poorly led Russian troops a serious beating.

Yet the material factor counts, and it was heartening to see European leaders agreeing on Sunday to pour military assistance into Ukraine – assistance that should be further amplified by the United States, especially in terms of anti-tank and anti-aircraft capability. Russian forces seemed to be regrouping on February 27, and there is little doubt that, resupplied and with more intense artillery support, they will resume their onslaught on Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other urban targets, with little or no discrimination between military and non-military targets.

In addition to bolstering Ukraine militarily, humanitarian assistance is also needed, immediately, to sustain the country in its hour of need and to aid the refugees created by, or fleeing from, the war. Initial appeals have meet with a generous response from American donors, and those looking to help out through Catholic channels can contribute to the Ukraine Solidarity Fund created over the weekend by the Knights of Columbus.

The Maidan Lives

If the first five days of the war have confounded certain widespread Western assumptions about Ukrainian military capability and will, they have also demonstrated that the 2013-2014 “Revolution of Dignity” centered on Kyiv’s Independence Square, the “Maidan,” has wrought a profound change in Ukraine’s civic culture. On the Maidan, it will be remembered, protesters displayed both Ukrainian and European Union flags, their message being that they wanted their country to be part of the free world, not Putin’s Russkiy mir (“Russian world”). In the eight years since the Maidan Revolution, commentary on Ukraine has often focused on the country’s continuing problems of corruption, many of which are the detritus of seventy years of Soviet rule, Soviet terror, and Soviet-sponsored genocide. No doubt those problems existed and exist. But parallel to those challenges and a raucous politics, inflamed (as everywhere) by social media and exacerbated by Russian disinformation, something else was going on: the growth of a more profound sense of national identity and the beginnings of a genuine civic culture, especially at the local level. Putin’s ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine since 2014 unwittingly but surely accelerated that emerging national solidarity, which was strengthened in a previously unimaginable way by the full-scale invasion on February 24.

That Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has emerged as the embodiment of the spirit of the Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity has surprised many, perhaps even Zelensky himself. But he has certainly become the man of the hour and the face of Ukrainian determination and grit. His riposte to an American offer to help evacuate him from Kyiv to avoid assassination by Russian special forces – “I need ammunition, not a ride!” – was magnificent. So was his appeal to the leaders of the European Union on Sunday, when the typically cautious politicians of the EU took a phone call from him during their virtual summit. Before Zelensky’s call, they were hesitant. After his powerful plea to recognize that Ukraine was fighting for the European dream of a free world of free states living in harmony and solidarity, Euro-spines stiffened; massively enhanced military aid to Ukraine was promised; and more severe sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs were imposed.

Those sanctions should be strengthened even further, not least in response to Putin’s latest form of reckless bullying, putting his nuclear forces on alert. All of Russia, not just certain financial institutions, should be cut off from the SWIFT system of international financial exchange. Russian exports should be blocked, including oil and gas exports, which are the major drivers of the Russian economy and the major financial support of the Russian military. Comprehensive travel bans should be instigated against all Russian citizens, including a worldwide refusal of landing rights to Russian aircraft.

All of which would strengthen the hand of the Ukrainian negotiators who began to meet with Russian officials on the Ukraine/Belarus border on February 28. Because, as one international affairs analyst put it to me Sunday night, every day that Ukraine holds on increases its chances of victory exponentially.

The Churches and the War

February 27 weekend also saw stirring calls to solidarity within Ukraine and with Ukraine from two of Europe’s most impressive Catholic leaders, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, the primate of Poland.

First, a transcript of Major-Archbishop Shevchuk’s video address on Sunday, which he delivered with fortitude, grace, a smile, and the calm that comes from deep faith:

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ! Greetings from Ukrainian Kyiv!

Today is Sunday, 27 February 2022. We survived yet another horrible night. But after night, there comes day, there is morning. After darkness, there comes light, just as after death there comes resurrection, which we all today radiantly celebrate. On this Sunday we will celebrate the presence among us, the presence here in Ukraine, of the Risen Christ.

But on this Sunday, the residents of Kyiv will not be able to go to church because of the government mandated curfew and everyone should stay at home because of the threat to their lives. But in that case, the Church will come to the people. Our priests will descend to the underground, they will descend to the bomb shelters, and there they will celebrate the Divine Liturgy. The Church is with its people! The Church of Christ brings the Eucharistic Savior to those who are experiencing critical moments in their life, who need the strength and hope of the resurrection.

Today I would like to ask all those who have the opportunity to go to church: go to the Divine Liturgy! Today, go to Confession. Everyone receive Communion. Today, receive the Eucharistic Christ, to sacrifice for those who cannot go to church, to sacrifice Holy Communion for our soldiers. Today our life is in their hands. To sacrifice for those who are wounded, for those who are discouraged, for the refugees who are on the roads during this crooked war in Ukraine. Today I would like to thank those who are defending Ukraine in various ways.

We see that the government services, especially in Kyiv, are working at the highest level. We once doubted, wondering if our government institutions were strong. We saw that our government has passed its tested for strength, and is continuing to pass. Along with our army, I would like to thank our State Emergency Service of Ukraine, who today are pulling people out of obstructions; our medics, who in this night saved hundreds of lives; our firefighters, who put out hundreds of fires throughout Ukraine. I would like to thank everyone who is working, each one in their own way, for victory in Ukraine. I would like to address our people abroad, our brothers and sisters in various parts of the world: I thank you for your compassion with us. I thank our bishops in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, North America, Western Europe, who organized great national solidarity in those countries where you reside with our Ukrainian people. I thank all those who are striving to tell the world the truth about Ukraine, who are gathering humanitarian aid, medicine, or are simply praying for the victory of Ukraine.

We believe that, just as morning comes after night, just as after death comes resurrection, after this horrible war there will be victory for Ukraine, which this new day relentlessly and steadily brings closer. Allow me to impart to all of you, from here, from the hills of Kyiv, from the first-throned city of Kyiv, to impart to you this resurrectional and joyous blessing of God: May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, through His grace and love for humankind, always now and ever and for ages of ages.

Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

On Sunday, Archbishop Polak participated in a Ukrainian Greek Catholic liturgy in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Inowrocław, Poland, at which he had this to say:

We, Poles, know the suffering of the loss of independence. How much does it cost to recover and maintain it. Today I want to say that the Ukrainian people have the right to sovereignty and independence, to self-determination, to live in peace and hope. You have the right to live and no one, no dictator or madman, no Russian invader has the right to take it from you, rob you of your dreams and your hope, destroy and kill you. Therefore, from the very beginning, from the first moments of danger to your beloved homeland, we are with you, we pray with you and for you, we look for ways to help you, to stop the cruelty of war with you, to limit its deadly harvest, to restore peace and hope in Ukraine…

Then there was Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow. Despite the fact that the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church allied with the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Onufry, had denounced the Russian invasion, the Russian patriarch offered a quite different message on Sunday: not a word of condemnation of unjust aggression, but a reiteration of the cultural, historical, political, and ecclesiological falsehoods that have helped underwrite the Putin regime’s efforts to recreate the Soviet Union under the guise of the Russkiy mir:

God forbid that the present political situation in fraternal Ukraine so close to us should be aimed at making the evil forces that have always strived against the unity of Rus’ [the medieval state centered in Kyiv] and the Russian Church, gain the upper hand.  God forbid that a terrible line stained with the blood of our brothers should be drawn between Russia and Ukraine.   The Lord may give them strength and wisdom to repulse the attacks of the evil one while serving their people in faith and truth promoting peace by all possible ways.

May the Lord preserve our Church in unity.  May the Lord protect from fratricidal battle the peoples comprising the one space of the Russian Orthodox Church.  It must not be allowed to give the dark and hostile external forces an occasion to laugh at us; we should do everything to preserve peace between our peoples while protecting our common historical Motherland against every outside action that can destroy this unity.

The drama continues, in Ukraine and elsewhere. So does the clarification of the moral contest underway. History will remember who understood that contest – and who didn’t.


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About George Weigel 393 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

29 Comments

  1. If the stakes were not so high and Christian duty not so clear, Mr. Weigel’s appalling criticism of Mr. Putin’s liberation of the Ukraine would normally invoke pity. But Mr. Weigel purports to be a man of Christian faith, and he is undoubtedly a scholar. So his morally bankrupt opinion here is nothing less than scandalous.
    One hopes that the Kievan puppet regime—a regime installed through coup d’état by a threatening, Godless, pluralist, anthropological revolution that is the liberal “West”—will be either quickly reformed, or toppled by Mr. Putin. The fact is, the pestilence of today’s ascendant Liberalism is the new Communism. It creeps. Let us not aid that creep. We pray that Mr. Putin is strong enough to wrestle with the Liberal leviathan, and we pray that Ukrainians quickly realize that their civilizational enemies lie far west of the Carpathians and not east of the Dnieper. Lest the cult of the worship of Man, triumph. Where is Pope Gregory XVI when one needs him?
    “History will remember who understood that contest – and who didn’t.” Yes, Partriach Kirill understands it.

    • Robert, Putin is a tyrant, murderer and war criminal. You calling such an evil person “Christian”is blasphemous and you defending his un-Christian aggression (which violates Catholic Just War Theory) shows you have substituted Christ with Putin as your god.

      • I do not mind accusations that I’m stupid, morally ignorant, corrupt, etc… But the allegation that I would put any man, whether Vladimir Putin, George Washington, or St. Anselm, on the same par with, much less replace, Christ has no place on this forum. It should be obvious that such an allegation is inflammatory on a site such as CWR.
        We might have difficulties, if we should ever meet.
        I absolutely never said in my comment here that Putin was Christian… but he certainly seems to be. Christianity is not an ideology, and, shockingly, even sinners might just be Christians. Is Mr. Zelenskyy? He may or may not be; I do not purport to know.
        The fact that you think that it is blasphemous to call Putin a “Christian”… simply means that you don’t know the definition of blasphemy. Or perhaps it suggests something else….
        I suspect that Putin may be a dictator, but, no, he is not a tyrant. At least not in this instance. Quite the contrary. His is the righteous cause, and I will pray that he has the strength to face down the Liberal Moloch. The fact that you and many others do not see this, is a good indication that you (as do we all) have much to contemplate during Lent.

  2. God bless the Ukrainian people snd defend them in battle against this murderer Putin.

    And may God curse our fraudulent “NATO Partner” Germany, for (as reported by Gov. Mike Huckabee), “actively blocking military aid to Ukraine.”

    And may God defend us from the evil, flaccid, bewildered, push-over Boy-Biden and his evil twin, the appalling, stark-raving-mad-millionaire climate-hawk, John-Mr-Teresa-Heinz-Kerry, who laments not the dead in Ukraine, but the distraction away from his green-new-deal-cocktail-party.

    So this is what comes of sanctimonious progressives serving up a senile criminal fraud as their candidate, and funding Putin’s oil-powered military by handing him $100-a-barrel-oil, appointing Pajama-boy Blinken as Sec of State, and “queering the US military.”

    The price of their “progress”? Putin’s War.

  3. For someone known as a great biographer, the heavy editorializing coming from George Weigel is something new, and an unfortunate development. Where is the Weigel who diligently recounted conversations, provided context, and offered background to complex events.

    Here we have exhortatory statements and wishful opinions. A lot of people would like to know, in more detail, why Ukrainian forces were so successful, or why the Russian advance was prosecuted so haphazardly, over the first five days.

    It is also very disappointing, as a Catholic, to encounter such a paucity of concern for civilians, who will bear the brunt of the cost of this war.

    The failure of diplomacy was madness, and this war is madness. And using the Ukrainians as proxies to face down the second or third largest military in the world is madness.

  4. Did these stalwart Bishops djoe such zeal during the covid sham? Or rather not? And again for fear of their lives…

  5. I don’t have any confidence in this analysis. I don’t understand why Putin is doing what he is doing, but I have read elsewhere it’s because of western attempts to turn Ukraine non-neutral to threaten Russia. True? I don’t know. But with everything we’ve gone through in these last two years of pandemic, where any gray area is ignored, and everything is deemed either black or white, which is very untrue, portraying Ukraine In the same way raises all kinds of red flags for me.

    • Russia attacked and invaded Ukraine in the absence of any attack or immediate military threat by Ukraine against Russia. I call that black and white. Let us not allow the moral depravities we have experienced during the pandemic to derange our ability to apprehend obvious facts, or to turn us relativistic toward Church teaching (here, CCC 2309).

    • I think the red flags were the old USSR–a very interesting turn of phrase here.

      So, here’s the deal: each independent country has the moral right to conduct its business however it wants. Ukraine can elect people of any political party or no party. They can decide with whom they want to be allies.

      Russia had a very easy path in 1992: fostering positive relationships with nearby nations. Instead they’ve gone to war in Chechnya and Georgia and invaded Ukraine 8 years ago. If the Ukrainians want to put Mr Putin on their spit list and join NATO or the EU or ANZAC or the NFL, they are free to do so. Ukraine rejoining Russia by force of arms makes as much sense as returning Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and the rest of the SW to Mexico.

      • Well, at least know what you think about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
        “If the Ukrainians want to put Mr Putin on their spit list and join NATO or the EU or ANZAC or the NFL, they are free to do so.” Not for much longer.

  6. Meanwhile, the “legal” murder of wiggling, kicking babies more viable than babies routinely cared for neonatal care units continues in the U.S.

  7. I do note the unapologetic apologism for Mr Putin and Mr Trump has lost a good bit of its burnish from the Catholic Right these past few days. Good thing Lent is coming soon. Some kinds of malady, even within the Church’s fold, can only be cast out with prayer and fasting.

  8. It seems that this attack has much to do with Kiev’s political and spiritual significance to Russia and to the Russian Orthodox Church. This could explain why the Russians have used its armed forces so ruthlessly.
    “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space” Putin said. That’s what this is all about, “spiritual space” — a terrifying phrase steeped in over a thousand years of Russian religious history. https://unherd.com/2022/02/putins-spiritual-destiny/
    Our prayers could help the two sides to achieve a peaceful outcome.

    • Christianity is less about history and much more about the imitation of its Master. To wage war, to commit violence against other persons is inherently antigospel. There is nothing spiritual about a demonic demonstration of violence.

      This attack has everything to do with perpetuating a 20th century dictatorship, and extending the economic reach of corrupt oligarchs. We should reject fake news and the justification of military savagery as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus. We need look no further than Mr Fraser’s op-ed: he offers no Biblical quote and no reference from Jesus. He takes a dictator at his word, with seemingly no nuance or critique.

    • For those who are tempted to entertain thoughts that somehow, to some extent, Putin is ‘justified’ in his invasion with the purpose of regime change in Ukraine, perhaps some familiarity with Catholic teaching and discourse on the subject of war is advisable. Pope John Paul ll had things to say on this subject. May I offer you this article by BRUCE DUNCAN CSsR for your enquiring and open minds. http://compassreview.org/winter03/7.html

      I’m hoping Mr Weigle would also find this informative and enlightening as I suspect he has in the past emphasised some aspects of Pope John Paul teaching while being less emphatic about other aspects of his teaching, especially in his attitudes toward and defence of the US Invasion of Iraq. There is always hope.

      • Thank you for the link to Duncan. But now I propose the following as a question that might lengthen the discussion…

        We read: “James Turner Johnson believes that a way to a common moral discourse in resolving conflict can be found in human rights language which provides a common base for moral judgments, transcending cultural differences.73”

        Transcending cultural differences? With regard to the complexity of even history’s holy wars, and now the misfit between resurgent Islam and what’s left of the Christian West…what if within all of human (and inhuman!) history, the basis of “human rights” is ultimately to be found in the historical fact of the singular Incarnation? What if human rights (and responsibilities) are rooted, finally, in the total divinity and total humanity Christ, rather than in any less grounded evolution of thought, language, and sensibilities?

        How, then, to reconcile this ultimate reality with Islam which, ultimately, replaces the eternity of Christ with the “uncreated” Qur’an as a package deal? What do we still mean by “human rights language,” and is Islam–as a natural religion–capable of morphing off of its (alternative and denying) foundation?

        Full agreement, here, that apart from Islam as a religion, personal dialogue between the “followers of Islam” and the “witnesses to Christ” still can be a different matter.

        On a second point, not directly addressed in the linked Duncan article, I seem to recall a conundrum noted in a Weigel article back in c. 2002: in our hair-trigger world and even because of the high stakes of modern warfare, is there a possible moral difference between a “pre-emptive strike” and an immoral first strike? Just another question without a clear answer for all circumstances.

  9. An email to President Putin.
    CC: P Wolfowitz, G W Bush, T Blair, J Howard

    Ode to the Military Industrial Complex.

    The swill is in the bottom of the glass
    now obvious you’re talking through your ass
    any pretext of truth is fading fast
    you’re a class act
    you’re a fat cat
    you’re one of them that puts the human race to shame
    you’re one of them that can be held to blame
    for the volumes of misery and pain
    your choices inflict on the children, the women and the men
    who contribute to your grand scheme
    With shed blood and piercing scream
    As you grab as much as you can
    and hoard it where it suits
    your future sleight of hand.

    © c. hallam

  10. This all appears to me to be a function of the domination of Yankee Puritanism, first in America, and then, given America’s domination for some decades after 1945, throughout the world. This dominatrix attitude provokes (or in some cases, attacks) opponents, then acts the victim when the response is hostility and violence. If America stayed out of the Ukraine… then these Ukrainians would not be dead. Period.

    • Yes the USA should have not become involved in the internal politics of Ukraine. However that is by no means any guarantee that Putin would not have acted to regain Ukraine under his control by one means or another, and mark my words, it would involve suffering of the people of Ukraine. This is about power and control, nothing else.

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