For hundreds, thousands of years, Europe suffered from endless conflicts between kings and dictators, its soil saturated with the blood of wars and imperial rivalries.
But in 1945 we pledged to turn our back on that history, to build a new future, where nations do not invade one another, where we no longer alter borders by force. We created international organizations to help us negotiate, to stop conflict before it escalated. Of course, being human, we did not change overnight, and many countries, including our own, transgressed, invading others for what they felt were justifiable reasons.
But this, this is different.
There was no casus belli, there was no provocation, there was no June 22, no Pearl Harbor, no 9/11.
And yet we are now witnessing Russia’s invasion of its independent and sovereign neighbor. This is a war of aggression. And it is illegal.
No nation in Europe, Ukraine included, threatened Russia. Not a one. And, notably, the world order Putin has so loudly decried, the Soviet collapse he loathes but that finally allowed Eastern Europe to prosper, the NATO enlargement that grew out of real agreements and insecurities – every bit of it was signed off on and facilitated by the same Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, who placed Putin on his throne back in 1999.
Make no mistake: this invasion will backfire. The world will be turned upside down for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Millions of Russians will suffer economically and physically. Already reeling from inflation, a stagnating economy, and a horrific bungling of the COVID crisis, the Russian people will be hit hard. Their savings will be decimated. The ruble is already in free fall for lack of any buyers. And the Russian economy, propped up by flagging oil and gas sales, will devour its reserves in record time (particularly if the RCB is sanctioned), with nowhere to turn.
Worse still, sons and fathers will come home in body bags.
Internationally, Putin’s galling attempt to use aggression to divide and conquer Russia’s so-called “enemies” has only strengthened their unity. Indeed, the invasion may become a vaccine, strengthening the democratic West’s body politic against autocratic tendencies.
If there is a prolonged stalemate in Ukraine, and if Russian troops do not withdraw, it is a safe bet that Ukrainians will wage a relentless partisan war against their Eastern invader, funded and abetted by wealth and arms from Europe and beyond – it will be a porcupine war that makes occupation brutally painful for Russia to swallow.
Ukraine is, after all, soil saturated with the blood of heroic World War II partizans fighting against the last invasion, by Hitler’s Nazis. Indeed, it was during a brutal February just 79 years ago, after the pyrrhic victory at Stalingrad, that Soviet forces turned the tide in the war, pushing the Nazis out of Russia, out of Ukraine, out of Belarus…
Any leader, any nation, that starts a war such as this deserves to be made into an international pariah. Vladimir Putin has ensured that his name will be infamous through all history, ranked alongside countless other autocratic aggressors. And, even well after this war ends, Russia will be a pariah on a par with North Korea, Burma, and Zimbabwe. Peace-loving Russians are already ashamed, speaking out, acting bravely.
So how should the West act?
First, every possible nonviolent sanction must be put in place to make Russia pay a huge economic price for this action, to put the livelihood of its elites at risk – because this war was not started by one man. All trade, travel, and financial activity with Russia must be brought to a screeching halt. There must be a clear and unequivocal statement that if you choose to wage war, the price will be debilitating. Russians must be cut off from the world, unable to travel or trade, with all their anger focused on the regime that brought on this horrible chain of events.
Second, in the absence of regime change in Russia, we must strengthen US and NATO deterrent forces in Europe. Regrettably, we have no choice. Peace will not defend itself.
Third, we must conduct a relentless information offensive to counter the lies and censored reality that Russians are being fed. As interconnected as the world is, the Kremlin will not be able to impose a virtual Iron Curtain.
The world has changed, yet not as much as we hoped and planned back in 1945.
The West needs to double down on its commitment to democracy, to a relentless defense of the ideals voiced so eloquently in the preamble to the US Constitution.
And Russia needs to admit it was in error, retreat, and recommit to a world free of war and aggression.
The alternative is too horrific to consider.
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