For much of the past year, the world stood in absolute awe of the courageous acts and unyielding resolve of the Ukrainian people in the face of a Russian onslaught. I too admire the Ukrainian people’s tenacity, but it’s exactly what I expected from an army and citizenry I came to know when I served there in 2016. As an active-duty Army intelligence officer, I deployed to L'viv, Ukraine to help train the Ukrainian Armed Forces on NATO military doctrine and defense strategy. But this year, the world found out what many of us already knew. Ukrainian people are not only committed to defending their homeland; they’re committed to freedom and western democracy.
When I walked down the streets of Lviv, it was not uncommon to see pictures of Vladimir Putin blazoned upon dart boards at local pubs and restaurants. Or, my personal favorite, rolls of toilet paper with Putin’s smiling face on every sheet. Only a few years had passed since the harrowing events of The Maidan Protests when the people of Ukraine stood against a Russian puppet government, and spoke with one voice that yearned for a modern democracy—free from the shackles of Putin’s meddling. A short time later, the Ukrainians learned that Putin would never leave them in peace when he annexed Crimea and invaded The Donbas.
Those events sparked something in the hearts of the Ukrainian people that is now burning bright as they defend their country. I saw the determination and patriotism of Ukrainian soldiers firsthand, who committed wholeheartedly to learning NATO doctrine, weapons, and tactics so that they could defend themselves against Russian aggression. Even the Ukrainian civilians who worked as translators approached their job with an esteemed sense of duty to their country.
Ukrainians I spoke with knew their country wasn’t perfect. But they understood that their success on the battlefield was the only thing that could keep their dream of becoming a modern republic alive. Though Ukrainians may have more cultural and historical in common with Russia, their hearts and minds are with the West. That’s why it’s not just the Ukrainian people that Vladimir Putin seeks to kill, but the ideas that they carry with them: democracy, freedom, and prosperity.
The Ukrainian fight should remind us that freedom isn’t free here in the United States either. As President Reagan put it, it’s only one generation away from extinction. That’s why the next Congress must pass common-sense energy reform immediately upon taking office. Disastrous progressive policies like the Green New Deal or Keystone XL pipeline cancellation that threaten to choke-off American oil and natural gas exports must be put to an end. Incoming members of Congress must also work to strengthen and modernize our military. Less than a year ago, the White House tried to submit a woefully underfunded defense budget to Congress. We have now seen overwhelming proof that nations like Russia will seek to use their power to topple governments friendly to the United States and NATO. We should adopt the mantra once again of “peace through strength” by bolstering our armed forces and ensuring our allies do the same without delay.
America is still a “Shining City on a Hill” and a beacon of hope for those like the people of Ukraine who risk losing their dreams of democracy. But we only maintain our example if we strengthen our military and roll back the radical left’s dangerous energy policies. If we don’t, we will face the next great era of global upheaval unprepared, and unable to do what Americans do best: lead.
Jeremy Hunt is a media fellow at the Hudson Institute and senior advisor to Vets on Duty. After graduating from West Point, he served on active duty as a U.S. Army Captain. Follow him on Twitter @thejeremyhunt.