In the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, visitors from around the world gaze at glorious works of art depicting major events in American history. One of these works, an 1820 painting by John Trumbull, is an oil on canvas titled “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis.” The painting depicts the surrender of English troops at Yorktown to a coalition of American and French forces in 1781. The victory, which decisively ended the Revolutionary War, was made possible by the arrival of the French Navy and its successful blockade at the mouth of the Chesapeake.
Today, as Russian forces advance across Ukraine, Trumbull’s painting reminds me that democracy and freedom cannot survive in isolation. They are human rights and noble values that can only be preserved and expanded with the assistance and support of friends.
My deep concern for the people of Ukraine, and all those who have stood up to the iron fist of Russian aggression, stems from both personal as well as practical experience. “Shimkus” is ethnically Lithuanian, and I previously spent three years of my life on the West German and Czechoslovakian border as an Army infantry officer. It was there I observed the guard towers, mine fields, and roving patrols with dogs. I followed reports of people fleeing the communist regime for freedom in the West, some successfully and some sadly not.
Today, I see the Russian Federation behaving much like the Soviet Union of old. They destabilize the political process of their neighbors with legal and illegal political activity. They block the importation of goods using trade as a weapon to advance their own interests. They use the supply of energy as a weapon to hold their neighbors hostage. And in the case of Georgia (and now Ukraine) they have invaded and continue to occupy sovereign territory in defiance of international law.
As a member of Congress and co-chair of the House Baltic Caucus, I’ve encouraged and supported the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) as they grew from fragile, newly independent countries into strong, thriving members of the European Union and the NATO alliance. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in the aftermath of World War II to counter the emerging Soviet threat.
While many are familiar with NATO’s military component, few realize that as long as there has been a NATO there has been a parallel organization of legislators who debate and follow NATO policy. As a delegate to this NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I’ve championed NATO enlargement as a critical strategic step to aide new democracies throughout Eastern Europe. The economic and military security brought by NATO and the European Union continues to stabilize the continent and advance democracy.
I applaud the brave protesters in the Maidan in Kiev and throughout Ukraine. Their bold stance toppled the corrupt, pro-Russian government. Now as the Russian military moves into Ukraine, I pray for the Ukrainian military and those reservists recently activated. To the commanders of the Ukrainian bases in Perevalnoye and Feodosia, I would remind them of Gen. McAuliffe’s response to the Germans at Bastogne. He replied, “Nuts.”
As the French came to our aid as depicted in “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” so to do I hope the community of democratic freedom-loving countries will come to the aid of our Ukrainian friends. I call upon any democratic country who is asked to aid Ukraine, and I hope that, in the absence of American leadership, the nations of Europe will rise to that challenge.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, represents the 15th Congressional District of Illinois. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.