Nataliya Bugayova's Testimony to the April 2, 2022, ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

Nataliya's opening remarks begin at 15:24:23 and her closing remarks begin at 16:25:37.

ISW’s Nataliya Bugayova spoke at a session of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of African, Caribbean, Pacific and European Union States (ACP-EU) on April 2. The Assembly brings together Members of Parliament from 78 countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and Members of the European Parliament. These are her notes, not a transcript. 


Opening Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I speak to you today as a national security analyst, a Ukrainian, an American, a Russian-speaker who grew up in Donbas, and someone who for years has been studying the Kremlin’s military and information operations from Africa to the Balkans.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is a global-level event. It has shifted us on a different historical trajectory. We cannot go back to the previous baseline. But we can shape the outcome of this war and the world that follows. At stake is both Ukraine’s existence and our civilizational values. The choice is simple—either Ukraine emerges sovereign, or we emerge in a Hobbesian world. We have the privilege of choice, but we must act faster and on a greater scale.

How did we get here?

For the Kremlin, this war has never been just about territory or NATO or Russia’s sphere of influence; it has always been about control over Ukraine, as Putin explicitly does not consider Ukraine a nation state. For Ukraine, the debate has never been a simple ethnic or West vs. Russia issue—but rather a fundamental choice about Ukraine’s values and its way of life. Ukrainians have repeatedly chosen to fight for their right to live in a free society and not in a police state antithetical to human dignity. For years, Ukraine resisted Putin’s attempts to control it. Putin thus resorted to a full invasion, and that’s how we got here.

The Kremlin has been trying to control more than just Ukraine. Many countries you represent suffered from colonialism and imperialism. When Russia propagates that it has never been a colonial power in Africa, for example, just remember: Russia has been in the imperial business for a half a millennium. The brief period of non-assertive Russian foreign policy in early 90s was an anomaly, not a new norm. Russia continues to act as an empire. As we speak, it is trying to force its neighbors, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, to fight and die for Russia in Ukraine. Russia has been forcefully conscripting people in Donbas, which it illegally occupies.

Where are we now?

Ukraine has defeated the Russian objectives in the first phase of this war. The Russian army is suffering damage that will take years to repair, if repair is even possible. Ukrainian forces are conducting counteroffensive operations. Ukraine faces many dangers ahead, including Russia’s major offensive east, Russia’s gains in Ukraine’s south coupled with Russia’s campaign to terrorize civilians; you are all aware of Russia’s atrocities. There are no short-term offramps. Putin left Ukraine with choice between obliteration and existence, and his intent regarding Ukraine is unlikely to change. The Kremlin will use any ceasefire it offers to adapt, not scale down, its ambitions to erode Ukraine’s sovereignty. But we can say with certainty that Ukraine has a chance to win. With proper military aid, Ukraine would likely be able to prevent consolidation of Russian gains and liberate its territory. The only question is “at what cost?” Faster assistance is essential to reducing the number of lives it takes to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty.

What are our choices?

History rarely gives us black and white choices, but this one of them, whether you are a pragmatist or an idealist. For pragmatists—the alternative to a world in which Ukraine is free and sovereign is a world with a dragged-out war, more lives destroyed, billions of dollars lost, and many more millions of refugees to host. Make no mistake—Russia will dig in and establish a military foothold in Ukraine directed at Europe if permitted. The ramification will not be contained to Europe. Russia’s war is already blocking substantial wheat export potential from Ukraine and Russia, which will particularly affect the African continent.

But what’s truly at stake are our civilizational values. That’s why people around the world expressed overwhelming support to Ukraine—even when their politicians lag. It is not West vs. East. It is about the soul of humanity. Putin’s victory would mean a world where predators can redraw borders by force and states would need to justify their right to exist.

What can we do?

Ukraine is doing the hardest part—fighting. It is not asking for your soldiers. The least the world can do is provide Ukraine with all the military aid it needs to win, including the advanced weapon systems Ukraine is asking for. We also must block Russia’s economy—that the only way to ensure the Kremlin cannot rebuild its military and sustain its war against Ukraine. And we should certainly not volunteer Ukraine’s sovereignty on its behalf nor try to push Ukraine into a peace deal just to achieve short-term “peace.” We must shift focus from helping Ukraine survive to empowering Ukraine to win. But time is of the essence. The opportunity to act is now, while Ukraine has momentum and the Russian forces are not fully dug in. 

We only gain by supporting Ukraine. Many of you represent countries with relationships with Russia and are thinking about the costs of action. I will leave you with this thought: Russia’s value proposition to the world—already limited—will only decrease, including the weapons it sends, security assistance it provides, and agriculture and technology it exports. Putin has thrown Russia’s progress backwards in time. Russia will not be able to offer you much in the future, neither it will have much leverage. And no amount of the Kremlin’s information manipulation can compensate for a simple fact—that Russia is not a great power. 

To conclude: Many of you represent countries that suffered brutal conflicts, during which others stood by and watched. Ukraine, with its relentless will to fight, gives us all an opportunity to rediscover our courage and will and ensure that the world that comes after this war is a bit more just and a bit more fair.

End-of -Debate Remarks and Reflections:

On Ethnic Divides; For the Kremlin, the war has never been about protecting Russian speakers in Ukraine. In fact, Russian forces are killing many Russian-speaking civilians in places like Mariupol, Kherson, and throughout Ukraine. For Ukraine, this has never been an ethnic conflict; I can assure you of that as a Russian speaker who grew up in Donbas. This war is about Ukraine’s choice to be a free and sovereign society.

On Ceasefire: We may get a Russian offer of a ceasefire because of how badly Russian forces are doing on the ground. That could pose a threat to Ukraine. Why would one frame a ceasefire as a threat? Some ceasefires can lead to peace, others, to more fighting. If we are truly interested in a durable peace—a term used many times today—we should reject any Russian offer of a ceasefire that provides the Kremlin with leverage on Ukraine or sets conditions for additional fighting. Putin’s intent regarding Ukraine has not changed in 20 years and it likely never will. A ceasefire is one of the few options Putin has to move the Russian forces off their trajectory toward defeat.

On Peace: If we are truly interested in durable peace, there is only one path. As long as the Ukrainians are willing to defend their sovereignty, we should give them all tools they need to do so and to push Russia out of Ukrainian territories, where Russia is terrorizing civilians as we speak. Whatever concerns you have—whether it is a wheat shortage or a refugee crisis or other spillover effects—will only get worse if this war ends in an unjust peace. And we will emerge in a Hobbesian world.

On Urgency. The coming weeks are critical. I call on everyone to focus on not just empowering Ukraine to survive but empowering Ukraine to win. It might be one of the most important things we do for the future of humanity; our civilizational values are at a stake.