by Thomas C. Theiner – https://twitter.com/noclador
As the recent days have shown, Putin continues to his clandestine war against Ukraine to get what he wants: either to annex two thirds of this sovereign European nation or to beat the Ukrainian state into submission and capitulation. Allowing Putin to achieve either of his two goals or even allowing him to continue on his destructive spree will plunge Europe into a decade of political uncertainty at best—or a major pan-European war at worst.
Only a united, pro-active and decisive front by the European Union, the United States of America, NATO and Ukraine, along with all our allies, can defeat Putin’s ambition to re-conquer former Russian colonies. The EU, the US, NATO and Ukraine have to closely coordinate their efforts, with each one taking the lead in the area they are best suited to deal with: NATO in defense, the EU in economics, the US in leadership, and Ukraine in fighting Russian forces on the ground.
To retreat into a self-imposed paralysis in the face of Russia’s brutal aggression will lead to a complete erosion of Western power, values and ultimately the very peace the West has enjoyed for nearly 70 years. From this point on, retreat is defeat— a defeat from which the West will never recover. There must be no wavering in our resolve, our demands and our alliance to win this war, which is aimed at destroying the very bonds that keep peace in Europe.
To win, we first must declare what our aims are and we must never dilute them, never forgo them and never negotiate them. These are:
- Russia recognizes the sovereignty of all its neighbors and the inviolability of their borders.
- Russia stops blackmailing, threatening, destabilizing its neighbors.
- Russia returns Crimea to Ukraine.
- Russia removes all its forces from Ukraine, including Sevastopol.
- Russia returns Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia.
- Russia withdraws its forces from Transnistria.
- Russia withdraws its forces from Armenia.
We will only achieve our aims if we weaken Russia economically, strengthen its neighbors militarily and win over the younger generations of Russians with soft power. First and foremost, we must accept that we are in a long and costly struggle with Russia, which, after annexing Crimea, believes itself to be in a position of supreme strength. In reality, Russia’s economy is weak, its military forces puny, and it’s demographic trends disastrous. But as long as we do not find the will to blow this house of cards over, Russia’s leadership will continue on its ever-more destructive path. In Russia’s view, the West is a weak-willed decadent civilization in decline—and one that a resurgent Moscow can divide and rule. We must prove Russia wrong!
Although the West is currently burdened with weak and cowed leaders, most of whom are also afflicted with moral cowardice; we still have the economic advantage, preeminence in soft power and supremacy in hard power. All we need is to stand up, stand united and blow the Russian house of cards over.
For a start, western leaders must finally acknowledge that Putin doesn’t want an off-ramp and doesn’t want a compromise: Putin wants vengeance. Vengeance against the West and vengeance against the Ukrainian people, who stood for months in bitter cold, under threat of death and murder on Independence Square—the Maidan—in Kyiv, united in their determination to overthrow the kleptomaniacal, murderous regime of Putin’s cohort, Viktor Yanukovych, and to not see their country torn from the civilized nations of Europe and added to the corrupt dictators club of Putin’s “Eurasian Union.”
Putin’s Eurasian Union is meant to subjugate the nations of Eastern Europe under Kremlin rule once more, to give Putin a better hand at playing geopolitics. But the Ukrainian people don’t want any of it. Ukrainians want rule of law, justice, fairness, freedom of speech, economic development, democracy, peace, and freedom from want and fear. In short, everything that is absent in the world of Putin and his satraps, but commonplace in the West.
Putin felt himself at the zenith of power last December, after he successfully bribed Yanukovych to join the Eurasian Union and the Sochi Olympics were about to open. But as the Ukrainian people continued to rise up in defiance to his schemes, he took their rejection of his Eurasian Union, with its supposedly “superior” values of homophobia, cronyism, nepotism, corruption, alcoholism, repression, and social injustice as a personal insult. Furthermore Putin, in his paranoid worldview, actually believes the revolution in Kyiv and the flight of Yanukovych to be deliberately orchestrated Western steered humiliations aimed at overshadowing the Sochi Olympics and to be just the latest in a long line of Western-instigated plots to humble and contain Russia.
This means that Putin will not negotiate and he will not back down. He wants vengeance. Crimea was only the first step, and each subsequent step will be worse, if he does not feel the pain of steep costs for his actions. He is already destabilizing Eastern Ukraine, fully expecting to get away with stealing more territory and herding more people under his rule, at little economic cost to his regime. And each further weak response to his attacks will emboldens him to undertake more and more roguish and dangerous actions.
In short, the West must unite and take decisive, deterring actions: in Ukraine, in Europe, in the Caucasus, in the Middle East, in East Asia, in South America, and in even in Southeast Asia. Putin broke international law and violated every agreement on peace and stability ever signed. He chose Ukraine as the opening front in his campaign against democracy, freedom and peace and now we – the West – must not shy away to join battle and never weaken in our resolve until we break his regime.
We have the economic, soft and hard power to contain Putin in every corner of the globe and in all political and economic aspects. Putin has thrown down the gauntlet, to retreat is defeat and defeat will turn to rout if we allow him to choose the time, place and means of the next confrontation, too. We are a giant challenged by a loopy dwarf. It is time we cut that dwarf down to size.
This article is part of a series:
Thomas Theiner is a writer and production manager. He has previously lived in Kyiv for 5 years and worked at a subsidiary of Ukraine’s biggest film company.