There are ten reasons why the Ukrainian victory is important not just for Ukraine, but for the larger world.
The first and the most fundamental is that Ukraine’s victory is the only way to achieve peace. All the people would like for this war to come to an end, and a victory by Ukraine is the only way to do that. A Russian victory will lead to further Russian aggression. A Ukrainian capitulation will lead to the continuation of policies of atrocity on Ukrainian soil. The only way this war could end is a sufficient Ukrainian success on the field of battle that Russia believes is in its interest to negotiate.
Secondly, the Ukrainian victory is important for the security of the region. The only way that the Ukrainian population could be protected is by way of Ukrainian victory. But it is also very significant for the populations of the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, and Moldova that Russian aggression against the neighboring country not succeed.
The third reason the Ukrainian victory is important has to do above all with the citizens of Ukraine. There is no other way to protect the citizens of Ukraine than by Ukrainian victory. So long as the war continues, Ukrainian citizens under Russian occupation are subjects to deportation, another form of atrocity. Ukrainians not under Russian occupation are vulnerable to bombing and shots. The only way to secure the 40 million Ukrainians is for the war to cease, and the only way for the war to cease is by way of Ukrainian victory.
The fourth reason, and it is extremely important, has to do with the defense of democracy. One reason this war is being fought is that Ukraine is a democracy. Ukraine has that kind of unpredictable political system which throws up unpredictable combinations and unpredictable leaders. It’s that unpredictability, it’s that inability to know what’s going to come next that is so intolerable for Mr. Putin and his regime. So one more reason why it’s important for Ukraine to win this war is the ability of democracy to protect itself.
But this is also important for democracies as such. Were Russia to win this war that would be a tremendous victory for all forces that oppose democracy, for all people who are planning to use violence of one kind or another to overthrow democracies. If Ukraine wins that is a victory for those who believe in law, who wish to hold elections, who wish to hold their leaders accountable, and especially for those who are willing to take risks for all those important things.
A victory by Ukraine is also a victory by a state which is traditionally been seen as peripheral, which is traditionally been seen as colonial against a power that perceived itself as central and as imperial. As we know it from the nineteenth and twentieth century, imperial wars belong to a certain phase of political development. Imperial wars will continue so long as imperial powers believe that they can win them.
Every European power and plenty of other powers reach a point where they realize that they will be exhausted by imperial war and that is a very good thing for everyone concerned. So because this is an imperial war, a war in which Russian leadership claims that there are no Ukrainian people and no Ukrainian state, Ukrainian victory is important to defend the basic principle that nations are equal and states deserve respect. Victory by Ukraine is one more push towards a post-imperial world.
Speaking of a post-imperial world, the seventh reason for Ukrainian victory to be important has to do with a recollection of World War II. In Mr. Putin’s telling, the lesson of World War II is that we need more war. In Mr. Putin’s telling, the lesson of the defeat of fascism is that we need more fascism. In Mr. Putin’s telling, the lesson of the defeat of imperialism is that we need more imperialism. In Mr. Putin’s telling, the lesson of World War II is that the word “Nazi” just means whatever he wants it to mean and can be deployed as hate speech against whoever happens to be his enemy of choice. That is one reading of World War II. It’s not a reading of a World War II that should prevail.
It is very important, as this war is being fought, to consider it in the light of World War II. But in particular, to consider it as an opportunity to preserve certain virtues which many of us believe were reinforced by that war or should have been reinforced by that war. Toleration for difference, the importance of the rule of law and pluralism, and the importance of cooperation among democracies too.
Number eight. Ukrainian victory is also very important for the future of Russia. The Ukrainians should not be thinking about this factor, but for the rest of us who are concerned about the security of Europe and the security of the world, it is very important what kind of Russia we will be living alongside in decades to come.
For Russia to become a normal country where Russian interests are observed by Russian leaders, it is very important that Russia loses this war. It is very important that Russians cease to pursue a foreign policy that is about gathering land on a basis of entirely untenable myths. It is very important for Russia, for Russians, and for future Russian governments to be in a position to think instead about the future of Russia and about the reality of Russian interests. And a defeat on a battlefield here will be a step forward towards that kind of Russia. Russia where Russians are able to think about a future away from imperialism. Russia where the past perhaps weighs a bit less heavily as myths on the decisions of the President. And Russia where interests can be considered and the future can be considered.
Number nine. Ukraine must win this war because Ukraine is a major source of food for the rest of the world. In the history of the twentieth century, Ukraine has been an object of colonization from all sides, because of its fertile soil. In the present war, we observe as Russia illegally expropriates Ukrainian agricultural products and we watch as Russia illegally blockades the rest of the world from Ukrainian agricultural exports. Should this war continue in this way, people in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere are going to be threatened with food shortages. Which will have consequences not only in hunger and death but also in political instability along the way. Ukrainian victory and reopening of world trade will prevent all of that.
Tenth finally, last but not least, is summing up all of these other points. Ukrainian victory is necessary to help point not just Ukrainians but all the rest of us towards the future. Russian propaganda is all about the past, it’s all about how things are predetermined, it’s all about seeking some kind of moment at some point in history where we were right and everyone else was wrong. But that is not what we need. We, everyone, need a future. We need a politics of the future; we need an event that can break us out of our rut and which will point us towards a future. It is very important that Europeans and others help to offer Ukrainians a future after this war in the form of membership in the European Union, and in the form of generous aid which allows Ukrainians to rebuild.
The process goes two ways. If we are open-minded and generous about the way we look at Ukraine, about how we look at this war, we can see that Ukrainians are also offering a future to us.
Hadn’t Ukrainians not fought, had Ukrainians capitulated, our future, the future of democracy would look very bleak right now.
Because Ukrainians did resist, because Ukrainians are fighting they have bought other democracies a certain amount of time.
This time should be used to think about the future. Not just a future in which Ukraine joins other democracies in different forms of cooperation, but also a future in a broader sense where a Ukrainian victory demonstrates that individual action matters, that people can take responsibility, and that the range of possibility is broader than we think. The future where all the things that can happen are better than we think today.
Ukraine and Ukrainian victory point us in that direction.
Timothy David Snyder is an American author and historian specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust.
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