A Twilight for Freedom in Kyiv

February 25, 2022

Underground, it's an alternate universe. Children play ball in the subway hallways or sit on blankets watching their tablets. For the crowd of Ukrainians packed into the cities' makeshift bomb shelters, flashes of normal life are surprisingly calming. Families cluster by piles of belongings, petting their dogs and cats while jets roar overhead. For the third night in a row, they wonder what's left of their cities.

Above them, life tells a very different story. While explosions take out key buildings and access points, national guardsmen lie across Kyiv bridges on their stomachs, rifles trained on unseen soldiers. In the south, the Russian infantry has already unloaded from the sea, putting "potentially thousands" of troops ashore. As the capital's mayor and former president join the rows of Ukrainian soldiers on the city streets, someone asks them how long they think they can hold out. "Forever," Petro Poroshenko replied.

Russian missile launches are well over 200 now, detonating on even civilian targets. Through it all, President Volodymyr Zelensky has been a persistent voice in the chaos, updating his anxious citizens at all hours. In a particularly grim message during the night, he announced the arrival of Russian sabotage groups in the capital. They have come, he explained, to hunt him down. "According to our information," he said evenly, "the enemy marked me as target No. 1, my family as target No. 2. They want to destroy Ukraine by destroying the head of state... I am staying."

As darkness fell Friday, the mayor warned of "a difficult night ahead." Russian troops, he cautioned, are "very close to the capital." While rockets pound away at government offices and Ukrainian neighborhoods, mixtures of heartbreak and patriotism were everywhere. One couple, who became an international story when they rushed to get married as the first bombs started falling, spent their first day together collecting rifles. "We are going to fight for our land," Yaryna Arieva insisted. "We maybe [will] die," she said, "but have to protect it... we have to protect the people we love."

International leaders, for the third day, hosted late-night meetings and emergency calls, desperately trying to find the right pressure points to stop Putin before he unleashes "targeted killings, kidnapping, detentions, and torture" on thousands of the country's innocents. "All evidence," Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned, "suggests... Moscow has developed plans to inflict widespread human rights abuses -- and potentially worse -- on the Ukrainian people."

And yet the United States' response in the face of this massive invasion of Europe, Blinken's predecessor warned, is more weakness. "This thug understands one thing: brute force," Mike Pompeo said of Putin. "We should give him the brute force he deserves." If we don't, the world doesn't need to guess about his intentions. Pompeo, like so many conservatives, understands that the best deterrent is strength. That's why his boss, Donald Trump, spent four years rebuilding the military. They know that the stronger America's troops are, the less likely we are to need them.

But if Joe Biden doesn't grasp that -- if he doesn't meet Putin with resistance -- the reunification of the old Soviet Union isn't our only threat. "I fear that we'll see a cascading series of crises," Pompeo warned on "Washington Watch." "Even as we speak, the United States is in Vienna with the Russians on [our] side of the table... negotiating a deal to create a pathway for a nuclear weapon for the Iranians. You've got Russians negotiating as partners of the United States while Russia is invading Ukraine... This is incomprehensible to me. It sends exactly the signal that Vladimir Putin hears, which is I can move about the cabin. I can go destroy the lives of Ukrainian children and women, and the United States and the West will do nearly nothing to push back against me."

America's hand was weakened even more thanks to Biden's absolute joke of a "climate envoy," John Kerry. The former secretary of State is being eviscerated for comments he made Wednesday, prioritizing the environment over Ukrainian lives. "I hope diplomacy will win. But it could have a profound negative impact on the climate, obviously. You have a war, and obviously you're going to have massive emissions consequences to the war," he said, as mouths dropped.

Kerry, who's no stranger to stupid comments (genocide, remember, isn't in his "lane"), managed to bring down the wrath of the international community with this one. And rightly so. Innocent men, women, and children are being killed, and his concern is the war's carbon footprint. A member of the British parliament, Marcus Fysh, could barely contain his rage, posting the interview and ranting, "These idiots are the problem." Condemnation poured in on social media, even spilling into editorial pages, where the Wall Street Journal declared, "What's overheated here is Mr. Kerry's brain." One radio host joked, "Bad news for the Babylon Bee: American leadership is now beyond parody."

If I were President Biden, Pompeo argued, "I'd call [Kerry] back immediately. I'd tell him to stop diminishing the United States in the eyes of the world." But in some ways, it's too late. It was this administration's misplaced priorities that helped lead to this conflict in the first place. By shutting down America's pipelines, Biden delivered the rest of the world into Putin's hands. By forcing the West to turn to Russia for oil and gas, we helped finance this war. And we could just as easily help stop it.

"Perhaps the quickest thing that President Biden could do to put pressure on Vladimir Putin would be to immediately... lift all the new regulations he's put in place [that deny] America the capacity to produce its own energy and ship that energy around the world... We have the capacity to drill. We were up to almost 13 million barrels per day in the Trump administration... We ought to drill baby drill and ship it to Germany, ship it to Estonia, ship it to Ukraine, ship it to Latvia, Lithuania. We can change the lives of these people. And when you drive the price down to 50 bucks a barrel where it sat for much of the Trump administration, you will be denying the very monetary fuel that is allowing Vladimir Putin to roll tanks in and kill women and children in Ukraine today."

That's one of the many things Christians can be praying about as the situation deteriorates in Ukraine. You can find others in our special prayer guide. What's happening in Ukraine reminds us that we live in troubled times, but we are not to be troubled. We need to pray with hope and understanding and then act with confidence. "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled... The end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6).

** On Monday, in advance of President Biden's State of the Union address, I'll be delivering my own remarks on the "State of the Faith, Family, and Freedom" at 8:00 p.m. (ET). Join us at FRC.org.