The most oft-asked question from outside and inside Ukraine is: when will the war end? Unfortunately, the question not publicly debated is: what should be the nature of the geopolitical world after the demise of Putin?
Ukrainian success on the battlefield presents the potential for a new reality for its European partners. Ukraine has undermined the geopolitical assumptions that had defined long-standing assumptions regarding the type of relationship that European nations have had with Russia. Ukraine has challenged “empire thinking”, especially in areas that once saw themselves as colonizers, and presented a viable case for an order that is based on fundamental human rights and national sovereignty.
In a general sense, Macron is an unfocussed personality searching for relevance in what is still an unreformed world order, while Germany struggles to redefine its political and economic relationship with Russia along the principles of a democratic state with a history of genocide and war crimes.
Russia’s disdain for international law, disrespect of the most sacred value of human dignity, the practice of a sustained program of deliberate genocide, along with the use of irresponsible rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons, proves that Russia can no longer be treated as a responsible partner or an integral arbitrator within the institutions of the civilized world order.
Russia has proven itself as a lawless, barbaric, unpredictable, and unstable actor on the world’s stage. Based on the immoral facts of its behavior, accountability, whether legal or moral, demands that they be treated as a pariah in a new geopolitical reality until they are ready to change and submit themselves to a world order based on the rule of law and respect for human dignity.
What Ukraine has exposed is Western wishful thinking; that attempting to incorporate a society into world institutions with a totally different worldview and regard for the dignity of individuals is the errand of a fool.
Regardless of what one may think of Boris Johnson, he has been proven right from the beginning. First, he had no allusions as to what Russia is, what were Putin’s ambitions and the motivating aspects of the expansion of the Russian Empire. Second, he clearly understood the resolve of Ukrainians to escape the dictatorial and authoritarian rule of Putin’s Russia.
The response of Britain’s political elites and the vast majority of its citizens illustrates that despite immense political differences, it is possible for democracies to be united if there is fealty to universal human values.
The support of these values, along with Ukraine’s “standing against” this form of evil has become a clarion call to the world. Putin’s hubris, coupled with Russia’s inherent arrogance towards the exercise of power has exposed a glaring weakness.
Putin assumed that Ukraine was weak and could be exploited. He thought the same of the collective West. Militarily, Ukraine had not been served well by its political leaders since it secured its independence. At the same time, the West, confused and still stung by two decades of failures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, was caught in the headlights of Russia’s propagandist lies, psychologically frozen by its fear of Russian power, always reacting, rather than acting with initiative towards its civilizational foe.
The West had forgotten, and even denied, Ronald Reagan’s axiom of “peace through strength”. It had forgotten the essential watchword that authoritarian dictatorships only understand and respect power and its efficacious use. The West’s misunderstanding of the nature and use of authoritarian power has largely contributed to the present situation. The West cannot draw “lines in the sand” and then retreat when such a line is crossed.
The resolve of Ukrainians in resisting Putin’s military onslaught and their willingness to sacrifice their very lives for freedom is the lesson that Ukraine has taught a cynical world during this war. This lesson contains the seeds for the reinvigoration of the West, an example of resolve that affirms that basic human and democratic values have the power to change the world’s geopolitical matrix.
The West had grown complacent, miring itself in the mud of moral relativism, cancel culture and compromised objective truth. This led the West’s dominant intellectual and political elites to lose their resolve in the competition between law-based freedom societies and authoritarian dictatorships who, always choose the exercise of power over the progress of human societies.
Idealism was pushed aside and the world’s discussion was dominated by doubt and a lack of resolve. Putin considered this an essential weakness of the Western soul and gambled to exploit it.
To this point, there can be no denying that Ukraine has established a new narrative for freedom for the world.
Russia, defined by its decaying, corrupt and cynical pursuit of power, must no longer be the dominant narrative. The story of how an empire attempted to reassert its form of authoritarianism on a militarily weaker neighbor has proved to be hollow.
The new narrative must be about how a morally resolute and freedom-aspiring people, can both re-energize and reassert the rightness of the cause of freedom, its values, and the worthiness towards the establishment of a just and democratic world order, based on the rule of law.
Prior to the war in Ukraine, thousands of Russian intellectuals signed a letter published in the New York Review of Books. At the same time, a letter was produced by retired Russian military veterans. Both groups prophecied that if Russia attacked Ukraine that it would ultimately lead to Russia’s demise. What did they know that the West is only learning now?
What we have learned is that Russia is in the process of becoming a failed empire. That Putin’s Russia, despite the bravado of its leadership, is actually a fragile society whose citizens are not prepared to support the imperial ambitions of its morally and economically corrupt leadership.
Furthermore, they knew that Russia was acting without integrity and not based on objective truth and that such a war would lead their country to a loss of integrity in the world community and that its actions would lead to its isolation. But perhaps most importantly, they knew that their country’s ambitions for empire-building would eventually lead to its economic demise through sanctions, further compromising its standing in the world.
The primogeniture of Stalingrad has fled. Russia’s best no longer reside in their country.
After almost 300 days of war, Russia has succeeded in causing the largest displacement of refugees since the Second World War. It has initiated a genocide of the Ukrainian people. It has caused unity amongst its military competitors. Russia terrorizes Ukrainian citizens, it has caused fear amongst the world’s citizens with its nuclear threats and it has isolated itself from the world’s institutions. It has exposed the weakness of its supposed military power.
Russia, under the leadership of Putin, has failed in meeting any of its prime military objectives, and over the last month, the Russian military has lost lands that it had occupied due to a consistent effort of Ukraine’s counter-offensive with the essential help of its Western partners.
Russia will never occupy Ukraine. Ukraine will not negotiate with Putin and it will not give up any of its lands. To truly understand Russia, the West must understand this fact through Ukraine’s eyes.
Peace will only become possible in a post-Putin world. Ukraine cannot morally, and will not diplomatically, speak of peace with the individual who has sought its destruction and ultimate extinction as a nation and as a people. It cannot be forced to do so by the West.
The war in Ukraine is the last chapter of the Cold War. The story of Ukraine is one of a once-captive nation becoming free. A quest of a country that has established its own road to escape its authoritarian colonizer.
Once beholden to various empires throughout its history, Ukraine has morally discredited the notion of empire-building in Europe and opened the door to the formulation of a new way of looking at history. It has upended the assumption of a “sphere of influence”. And, perhaps to the discomfort of many of the West’s ‘old world’ practitioners, it has also exposed the diplomatic, political and moral compromises made by the Allies to Stalin in the post-war world. Ukraine offers the West the opportunity to get history right.
Ukraine has hued a new road towards the true meaning of freedom in its fight against dictatorial authoritarianism. It has created a framework for a new narrative. It is imperative that Ukrainians be given the opportunity, the military material and diplomatic support to finish the job on the battlefield whose huge costs are being paid for by the blood of their sons and daughters.