Home Opinion The Ukraine/Russia War and Nigerian youths, By Kazeem Akintunde

The Ukraine/Russia War and Nigerian youths, By Kazeem Akintunde

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Nigerians returning from Ukraine after evacuation by the Federal Government

The response from the Federal Government this time around was fast and immediate. Perhaps owing to the fact that majority of the victims are kids of the nouveau riche caught in the Ukraine-Russia war. In Nigeria, the rich takes care of themselves. Many of the children of very rich Nigerians who could afford the exorbitant school fees charged by foreign universities were stranded in Ukraine when the needless war broke out and those in government quickly moved in to look after their own. A memo was presented at the Federal Executive Council and without much debate, the sum of $8.5m was approved for the evacuation of stranded Nigerians from Ukraine. The number of Nigerians living in that country was put at above 6,000.

Two airlines, Max Air and Air Peace were contacted to operate chartered flights and ferry those kids out of the clutches of the war. With the airport in Ukraine closed to international flights, Nigeria’s diplomacy was at its best as the foreign affairs ministry reached out to neighbouring Poland, Hungary and Crimea to allow Nigerians to cross into their country without visas. Help desks were also opened at the border posts to offer assistance to Nigerians moving to those countries from Ukraine.

And true to the assurance given by the Federal Government, Nigerians in Ukraine have been returning to the country since last Thursday. Max Air was the first to ferry about 450 of our compatriots back to the country followed closely by Air Peace that brought in 181 people. Aside from facilitating their return journey, the Federal Government also gave each of the returnees $100 to aid their return to their respective states and to the warm embrace of their loved ones.

But as the Federal Government was involved in this noble venture, some Nigerians, particularly the youths, are hell-bent on leaving the country for the same Ukraine where many nationals are leaving in droves. On Thursday last week, a peculiar event took place at the Ukrainian embassy in Abuja where more than 2,000 youths, mostly young boys, had gone to register to join the Ukrainian army and help the European nation fight its oppressor, Russia. They believe that they have what it takes to fight the Russians and are ready to lose their lives in the process if need be. Forget the fact that many of the volunteer and ‘battle-ready’ youths have never held a gun not to talk of firing one since they were born.

And to add salt to injury, the ‘battle-ready’ youths have been asked to get $1,000 an equivalent of N450,000 for their flight tickets and visa processing fees ready to be eligible for the trip. What could be more cruel than asking those youths who are willing to lay down their lives for the love of a country they have never been to than asking them to look for money to defend such a nation against Russia? It may sound funny but it is not and it has shown the level of desperation many Nigerian youths have sunk to all in a bid to get out of the country at all cost. 

Though it is not yet clear if any of the ‘war-ready’ youths have met the financial requirements, it is hoped that our leaders would realise that most Nigerians have given up on the country and are no longer hopeful in a nation that has shown scant regard for their welfare.

 While some Nigerians are deriding the youths for showing ‘love’ for Ukraine and mocking them to go and fight Boko Haram instead, it is clear that many Nigerian youths don’t even know why the war broke out but are only concerned about using the war as a springboard of getting out of the country. 

Ask an average youth the genesis of the war and all that you will get are blank expressions or on the average, that Russia was a bully trying to cheat a weaker and smaller country. But the tension between Ukraine and Russia has been simmering for more than two years, with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue showing little sign of progress. As far back as late November last year, Russia had more than 100,000 of its troops on its border with Ukraine, sparking Western warning of an imminent invasion. There had been daily reports, citing US intelligence sources, that Russian President Vladimir Putin had already decided on a date to commence an invasion of Ukraine. The offensive began before dawn on Thursday, February 24th while majority of the country, or at least those who haven’t fled, were tucked up in their beds, fast asleep.

The invasion forces were assembled in Belarus, Crimea and on the eastern border, close to the Donbas region, first on the pretext of conducting military exercises and drills, some of which are to be performed jointly with Belarus to the north. Those military exercises were due to end on 20 February but were subsequently extended, with Belarus Defence Minister, Viktor Khrenin explaining that they were “designed to ensure an adequate response and de-escalation of military preparations near our common borders”.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a complex affair and a result of a series of historical moments, broken promises, mistrust and suspicion on both sides – west and east. From 1922 until relatively recently, Ukraine was a satellite state of the federal Soviet Union, governed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). That changed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s. Between 16 November 1988 and 26 December 1991, the USSR ceased to become a sovereign state and a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed. Russia became self-governing while Ukraine gained independence in August 1991 and Belarus a few months later. 

However, the origins of the present conflict and Russian invasion of Ukraine can be traced by the expansion of NATO, the military alliance which was formed in 1949 under the North Atlantic Treaty, an initiative designed to “safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of the peoples” following the widespread destruction during World War II.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German reunification, NATO’s purpose had to be reviewed and at a meeting in Moscow on 9 February 1990, US Secretary of State, James Baker, assured Gorbachev that NATO’s forces “would not expand an inch eastwards” or act as a threat to Russia or the newly-independent, former Soviet states. Not only did the US and its NATO allies dump the agreement, they are bent on establishing a satellite in Europe through Ukraine and once Ukraine opens its doors to the West, the demise of Russia will be, only, a matter of time.

However, for Russia, the invasion of Ukraine is a matter of national interest, security, survival and the economy. 

It should be noted that US invaded Cuba in 1960s because Soviet Union wanted to build military bases in Cuba which brought about the Cuba missile crisis. Cuba is few miles away from US. So why should NATO and the US build a military base in Ukraine which has a long border with Russia? Putin is not stupid.

Additionally, NATO and the US breached the 1990 treaty which prevents NATO and US from expanding eastwards from the then East Germany. Today,  NATO and US are almost everywhere in Europe including Croatia, Poland and other places that are closer to Russia. Getting closer to Russia means NATO and US missiles can directly hit Russia. Putin had been complaining ever since when those expansions began. No one listened.

Coming closer home, take a look at NATO and US activities of recent in Africa:  The strongman of Libyan politics, Muammar Ghaddafi, was killed for no genuine reason. Libya conflict was entirely an internal one. Libya was once a peaceful and prosperous country but today lies in ruins with no known government. The US and its allies invaded Iraq and killed its leader, Saddam Hussein, and left only after destroying a once beautiful country; lying to the United Nations and the entire world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Till date, no such weapons were found and Iraq has been in ruin since.

While no nation prays for war, it is the inalienable right of countries to defend their territorial integrity and when the action of a country is about to threaten the sovereign existence of another, then there is the need for all parties to sit at a round table and iron out their differences. It is wrong for Russia to invade Ukraine and it is also very wrong for Ukraine to open its borders and allow US have a foothold on its soil. 

Hoping that our yet-to-be-trained but ‘ready-for-war youths’ have picked one or two things from this piece before going ahead to enlist in the Ukrainian Army.

See you next week.

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