The intimidation and worse of Ukraine by the Russian government and military, and their allies in Belarus, is an affront to civilised values, a massive blow for freedom of expression, and a terrible threat to world peace. There is a whiff of 1913 in the air, with Russia's rulers behaving depressingly like the Kaiser and his generals. War is not a game nor are 19th century imperial power politics appropriate for the global challenges of the 21st century. Whether the aim is to cross the border with troops, use cyber attacks to disrupt Ukrainian life, blockade trade along Black Sea coasts, bring fear and insecurity to people in Ukraine and nearby states, or curtail the rights of their own citizens, such actions are unacceptable.
The Russian government needs to desist immediately. If it is worried about its own security there are plenty of multilateral and bilateral fora for discussing issues and finding reassurance. If it is serious about protecting Russia's place in the international community it will draw back its forces and repair the damage to its reputation among the nations of the world that the actions of recent years have caused. Global peace rests on global trust, as the government in Russia knows from its position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. If such trust is shattered it will take a generation to repair and we will all be less secure, poorer and less able to deal with climate change, disease and all other crises.
As writers we believe that the free circulation and discussion of ideas, without threat or censorship, is the best means of keeping humanity safe and innovative.
"Here we have a real situation where fake news is created in order to start a war that will affect not only Europe but all the world. I appeal to journalists to be honest and objective and to writers to be open and engage in any attempt to avert the looming danger of war in Europe" says Andrey Kurkov, President of Pen Ukraine
As the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International, we have been available for nearly forty years to cross political dividing lines and propose new ideas to help communities and countries come to positive and lasting agreement. We therefore call on Russia and Belarus's Presidents to end their isolation, come to a new understanding of their country's real interests, and work to deliver peace and the benefits it will bring to all generations. That can only start when Russia and Belarus renounce the threat of violence.
Writers for Peace Committee
22nd February 2022