Minister Hoekstra: An attack at the heart of Europe

Yesterday we awoke to news of lies and violence. Russia’s massive, illegal invasion of Ukraine is a gross violation of every principle that both we as a country and the international community as a whole stand for. The outrage, anger and deep concern that we are feeling connects us to the people of Ukraine. There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding not just the safety of the innocent Ukrainians, but also the future stability of our continent following this unprecedented act of war.

Enlarge image Minister Wopke Hoekstra bezoekt Oekraine, 1 en 2 februari 2022
Minister Hoekstra visits Ukraine, 1-2 february 2022

The EU and NATO have rightly condemned Russia’s attack in the strongest possible terms. The Netherlands has done so too. As Europeans, we hoped that this kind of aggression had been consigned to history. President Putin has shattered that hope.

Unity and purpose

Our response to lies and violence is unity and purpose. All the counterparts I’ve spoken with have said the same: we must draw a line. And I agree. This attack on Ukraine has struck at our heart. It’s an attack on the values we cherish, on the principles of international law, and on the international security architecture that has given us peace for so long. A direct attack by Russia, which has brought us to a turning point in history.


If we peer through the fog of this crisis, we can see the outlines of a worrying future. The implications of this invasion for the long-term stability and security of our continent could be huge. In 1991, Russia agreed to Ukraine’s independence and its borders, and by signing the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 it committed to security assurances. Now the Russians have broken their word. If we do not stop Russia in its tracks now, there is no telling where this will end.

The path of freedom and democracy

Historically speaking, the security and stability with which many of us in Europe grew up is an exception. Our content has a dark history of war and instability. Ukraine’s history is a particularly poignant example. You only have to think of the horrific Holodomor famine under Stalin, the millions of Ukrainians who died in the Second World War and the oppression of Ukrainians in the Soviet period. In the 20th century, Russia cast a dark shadow over Ukraine.

But since gaining independence, Ukraine has chosen its own path. The path of freedom and democracy. During the Maidan revolution, that prospect inspired huge crowds to take to the streets. People who believed in a better future and who are entitled to build that future. Now Ukrainian soil is once again stained red due to Russian aggression. We cannot accept this in 21st century Europe.

That is why it is good that the West is showing a strong, united front. We will answer injustice with justice, and aggression with action.

Our responsibility

NATO has strengthened its eastern flank, and various member countries – including the Netherlands – are providing military goods to support Ukraine. In addition, the Netherlands has urged that EU sanctions against the Russian government should be as robust as possible. Sanctions are a particularly powerful instrument for Europe because, as an economic superpower, this is how we can hit Russia hard.

In Europe we are setting our differences aside and making a firm stand for what unites us. The package of sanctions consists of hard-hitting measures. Over the past years, the Russian economy has already suffered significant damage due to previous sanctions, and we are now turning the screw. Because if we squeeze the Russian economy, we will also deplete Russia’s war chest. And yes, the sanctions will affect us too. But freedom and peace don’t come free; they are our most valuable possessions.
That is why we must do everything in our power to protect those possessions. By acting now, we are taking control of our continent’s future. A future in which there is no place for bloodshed. A future of freedom and peace. Each and every free and democratic country now has a responsibility to defend that future with full commitment. The Netherlands will shoulder that responsibility.