Two Iliberal and Unjust Zelensky Policies the West Should Force Him to End

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. February 21, 2022 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office).


Ukraine faces a Russian invasion that is brutal and unstoppable. The Ukrainian cause is right, and it is far more democratic than any puppet regime Vladimir Putin might install in Ukraine if he wins.  In fact, Ukraine’s liberal democratic values are far more important than Putin’s increasingly oppressive rule in Russia. His inspiring leadership during the firestorm deserves praise.

However, these facts should not be a blinding light to the injustice caused by two deeply illegal policies that Zelensky implemented in the aftermath of Russian invasion. These were decrees prohibiting all 18-64 year old men from leaving Russia and government control of all TV stations. Zelensky has appealed for increased Western aid on the ground that “we….are fighting for freedom and in defense of democracy together.” These two decrees contradict those principles in a blatant contradiction. They should be stopped by the West. This would promote liberal values and help us to win the war against Putin’s dictatorial regime.

Women and their children have to leave their fathers and mothers to escape the ban on exiting Ukraine. The pain and limitations on liberty that were imposed upon men has led to increased suffering for female refugees and those underage.

Liberal political theorists, even those who think governments should restrict immigration to certain countries, generally believe that this is not justified. It is for this reason that virtually every liberal democrat condemned the Berlin Wall or other emigration bans implemented by communist governments. Zelensky’s policy clearly violates this principle.

This travel ban was erected because of the need to protect the men living in Ukraine. The very idea of military conscription, while incompatible with liberal ideals, is an injustice. Zelensky’s decision is unjustifiable, even though you may believe that conscription could be justified in certain extreme circumstances where national defense cannot be provided.

Ukraine Not A shortage of human resources is a serious problem. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians  have volunteered to fight, and Ukrainian military has even had to turn away some of them. Many thousands more foreigners have offered to help Ukraine, even though they don’t have military experience. Others are also being denied or made to wait until the weapons become available.

It is obvious that volunteers will be more motivated and better than conscripts serving because they are forced to. This is evident in the poor performance of Russian conscrits in Ukraine. Many of those covered by the travel ban will not prove to be successful soldiers due to their temperaments, physical abilities, and skills. Zelensky’s decree goes far beyond any possible conscription-based  rationale, even if the latter were defensible to begin with (which it is isn’t).

Ukraine must have weapons in order to equip its many volunteers. Not forced labourers. While the West should provide them with as many weapons and as much assistance as they can, it must also condition that Zelensky ends his cruelty travel ban on Ukrainians. A cruel, unnecessary restriction on liberty should not be imposed by any government that claims it is fighting freedom.

The Ukrainian government taking over private TV stations is probably less painful. However, it’s just as illegal and irresponsible. This is an attack on freedom of speech, and the press. It is a government measure to protect information security in times of war. However, the justification of this measure actually highlights its undemocratic and illegal nature. A “unified Information Policy” is detrimental to democracy. It requires an independent media capable of questioning the government.

Incipient dictators have a long history of taking over media companies to enforce their official lines. Vladimir Putin is a classic example. He started out by seizing control over private television networks and then ended independent media.

So far, Ukraine’s media policies aren’t nearly as oppressive as Putin’s. Television channels are the only outlets under state control. Print, radio and online media outlets, however, fall within their purview. Things are clearly moving in the opposite direction. Zelensky must reverse this trend if he wants to be a successful West.

Some people might argue that the violations of human rights by the Ukrainian government are temporary and will be rescinded once the war is finished. Perhaps so. However, history has demonstrated that even during an emergency, repression can continue for a long time. It is possible that the crisis will continue for years to come. Even if the large-scale fighting ceases soon, Russia or Ukraine could remain locked in an intractable military conflict for years to come. A situation of emergency could last for many years. It could also be used to justify the continuation of these restrictive policies, and possibly others.

This is not just moral principle. It also has a strategic benefit. It is both a conflict of ideas and a geopolitical and military confrontation. Putin invaded Ukraine to protect his fear of an unreliable liberal democracy. For the Russian people, this is a good example. We need to win in the war for ideas. A Ukrainian government must live up to liberal values and not be a puppet of Putinism.

It is a complicated business to conduct foreign policy. Sometimes we are forced to tolerate illiberal allies because there is no leverage or other options. Zelensky’s violations of human rights are not as severe as Putin’s but they also pale in comparison to the long-standing US allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

However, this is a case where the US and other Western countries have an enormous amount of leverage due to Ukraine’s urgent need for military and economic support. This cannot be obtained anywhere else. Zelensky, with its two terrible policies, is the only alternative! Both the latter and the former are politically possible, but clearly better than both.

Our support is due to Ukraine’s courageous resistance against Russian aggression. Its people deserve a government which genuinely values liberal democratic principles. It is possible and appropriate for the West to use its influence to ensure that they receive it.