Opinion: From Iran to Ukraine, David faces Goliath

Editor’s note: Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) is a former CNN producer and correspondent, world affairs columnist. He is a weekly columnist for CNN, a columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


On Sunday, almost unexpectedly, two groups of protesters met in London. One was waving Ukrainian flags; Other flags of Iran. When they met they encouraged each otherand he shouted: “We will all win together.”

The Iranian uprising and the war in Ukraine are, on the surface, very different conflicts. At their core, however, they are struggling individuals who have made up their minds risking their lives, to do what is necessary to defend the right to live as they wish; to overthrow violent and entrenched dictatorships.

For decades, autocrats have been gaining ground while democracies seemed almost exhausted, in retreat. Now, suddenly, when we least expected it, there has appeared a violent backlash against the two most shameful tyrannies. In Ukraine and Iran, for the sake of dignity, freedom and self-determination, citizens have decided to face the odds.

This David and Goliath battle shows courage that is almost unimaginable for the rest of us, and it is inspiring equally brave support In places like Afghanistan.

The consequences can be far-reaching.

A protester holds a portrait of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey, on September 20.

In Iran, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was the spark last month. Known as “Zhina”, she died under the surveillance of the morality police, arrested for ruthlessly and violently breaking the rules requiring women to dress modestly.

in the scenes of exciting challengeIranian women have danced around the fire in the night, throwing off the hijab – the regime-mandated head covering – and throwing it into the fire.

Their peaceful uprising is not about the hijab; it is to cut the chains of oppression, and that is why many men have joined them, even though the regime is killing more and more protesters.

That’s why women are climbing into cars, waving their hijabs in the air, as one flag of freedomand to gather a crowd of supporters in the streets of the city, and there the universitieswhere security forces are opening fire to try to silence them.

That’s why older women have joined; why regime brutality so far this rebellion has proven incapable of being extinguished.

There are chances of success in Iran”Women, life, freedom!” rebellion looks dark, consider what the prognosis was for Ukraine when one of the world’s most powerful military forces set out to take over their country.

After all, it was less than a decade ago that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military entered Syria’s protracted civil war, helping to save dictator Bashar al-Assad (as did Iran).

Putin built up his forces and thought he would be able to conquer neighboring democratic Ukraine in a few days. US intelligence also predicted that Russia would capture the capital Kiev within days, if not hours. That is why the US reportedly offered to evacuate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to safety after the entry of Russian forces, but Zelensky refused.

As Washington warned that Zelensky was “the main target of Russia’s attack”, the Ukrainian president sent him a message to his people and to the whole world, vowing to stay.

“We will defend our people, because our weapon is the truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our people, our children, and we will defend all of that.” He finished: “That’s it. That’s all I wanted to tell you. Glory to Ukraine.”

Just over seven months later, Russia’s route looks like a war crimes trail, with hundreds of bombed hospitals, schools, civilian convoys and mass graves filled with Ukrainians.

Police and experts work on a mass grave in the town of Izium, which was recently liberated by Ukrainian forces.

And yet Ukraine is moving forward, doing very well indeed, and very likely to win this war.

Western aid and weapons have been crucial, but the most essential element of Ukrainian success is fighting spirit. Like Iranian women, they take the moral high ground. They are fighting for their lives, for their freedom. The other side is fighting for power and control over others.

Because of their high moral standards, the struggles of the people of Ukraine and Iran have inspired support for democracy and human rights defenders around the world. In this age of social networks, their Anthems against fascism have gone viral, as has the brutality of their enemies.

The repressive regimes in Moscow and Tehran are now isolated, pariahs among the world’s many, mostly protected by a few autocrats.

Is it any wonder that Putin’s first trip outside the former Soviet Union since the start of the war in Ukraine was to Iran? Is it any wonder that Iran trained Russian forces and is now believed to have supplied Russia with advanced drones to kill Ukrainians?

They are two regimes that, although very different in their ideologies, have one thing in common in their tactics of repression and their willingness to project power abroad.

Both pretend to be democracies. But there is no real opportunity to know who has the power and who makes the rules.

Iran’s prisons are full of regime critics and courageous journalists, among others Nilofar Hamidi, first to inform Mahsa Amin about what happened. Even in Russia, journalism is a deadly profession. Also criticizing Putin. After trying and failing to assassinate opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin’s people made charges to keep him in a penal colony.

Multiple Putin critics have suffered mysterious deaths. Many have fallen out of windows. And both Iran and Russia have become leading practitioners of transnational repression, killing critics on foreign soil, according to Freedom House and other democracy research and advocacy groups.

Moscow and Tehran have sought to promote their ideologies beyond their borders. Therefore, the struggles of the people of Ukraine and Iran will have consequences beyond their own countries.

For the people of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, there is more than a vested interest in the low probability of the fall of the Iranian regime. It would be transformative for their countries and their lives, with Tehran having a major influence. After all, Iran’s constitution calls for the spread of its Islamist revolution.

For people living in Putin-backed autocracies, the war in Ukraine could change everything at home.

For the rest of the world, it is a time of uncertainty and hope. Seven months ago, some saw Putin as a genius. That myth has turned to dust. The man who helped suppress uprisings, entered wars and tried to rig elections across the planet is now cornered.

No one knows what will happen next. No one knows how this all ends. While the people of Ukraine and Iran are fighting for freedom, for self-determination, the world is at a turning point. History is waiting to be written.