Ever since the dawn of time, there have been strong men, strong groups and strong armies battering and grasping weaker ones. Roman armies laid waste to Gaul and conquered vast territories for gain. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan did the same in Asia. Attila the Hun. The Duke of Normandy burned, raped and pillaged in the North of England. Napoleon. Adolph Hitler. Stalin. Many others. Now Putin. The plunder is transported back to the centre, while the defeated countries lie in ruins, and their populations are massacred, enslaved or conscripted. History repeating itself.
So nothing new here. Except in the scale of the planned destruction. 40 million inhabitants. An area the size of France. A civilised culture and economy. Aspirations for better. Facing total annihilation by a huge and modern military machine which has done it before, in Chechnya/Grozny and Syria/Aleppo, under the direction of the same man. Vladimir Putin, a known clever, manipulative, deceitful, ruthless, contemptuous, international and industrial-scale murderer without empathy or compassion, who has an iron grip at home and who is fixated, without any possibility of compromise, dialogue or persuasion, on attaining his dream of reviving the old Soviet empire. Starting with Ukraine.
Never mind that after his army has finished annihilating the country, the land, the cities and the remaining population, it will be valueless to him. His victory will be symbolic, but no less satisfying to him for that, since his success over the democratic West will be obvious to all. Don’t mess with me, or you will be next. And I’m king of the castle.
Never mind either that his own Russian Federation economy and society will be immeasurably damaged by all the sanctions, the international opprobrium and the isolation. Victory for him, on his chosen terms, is the only thing that matters. Now it’s a matter of ensuring he retains his own personal credibility as the hard man standing up to the West.
After Ukraine, will come another. Moldova? Baltic States? Finland? He has plenty of choice.
What of the West’s response?
Lots of rhetoric, especially from our own rhetorician-in-chief.
“A barrage of sanctions … Putin must fail.”
And other empty words from Johnson for whom no one has much time, given his previous lies, false promises, and record of breaking agreements. So no, Katy Balls, (government apologist, writing in the Spectator today, 7 March), Boris Johnson will not be “… leading the international response”.
But the sanctions on Russia, its isolation and the support for Ukraine, from so many nations, will undoubtedly hurt Russia in the medium and long term.
But what of NATO? The strongest military alliance in the world (on paper) stands by, nearby, and just watches while Russia annihilates a friendly country and deliberately targets millions of people and several nuclear power plants? In a country which quite recently applied to join NATO. This looks immoral. NATO justifies its inaction by saying that it doesn’t want to escalate the war. This is a very feeble position to take. There are just wars and unjust wars. Putin’s war against Ukraine is undoubtedly unjust, and this has been confirmed by the United Nations, which called Russia’s actions unjustified aggression against an independent sovereign state. There are now moves to get Russia convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nothing could be more unjust than Putin’s war in Ukraine.
A just war would be one which prevented an unjust war from succeeding. The Allies eventually combined to prevent Napoleon succeeding in 1815, to prevent Hitler succeeding in 1939-45, and to prevent Serbia succeeding in Bosnia and Kosovo. The key word there is ‘eventually’. And eventually Putin’s Russia will have to be stopped. He wasn’t stopped in Georgia, or Syria, he hasn’t been stopped in Mali, Venezuela, or Libya. But he must be stopped now, before he commits genocide against the Ukrainian population.
As Sean O’Grady says in today’s Independent:
“If we do not want Russia eternally threatening its neighbours with war, and the rest of the world (and the planet itself) with its nuclear arsenal, then we have to stop Vladimir Putin at the earliest opportunity. We cannot just say ‘you can have Ukraine, but not another inch’ – because he knows we don’t mean it.”
President Zelenskyy of Ukraine is right. Peace in Europe is threatened. Appeasement of Russia is not the answer. It will be interpreted as weakness and will encourage Russia to continue its aggression. Bullies succeed by issuing threats, inducing fear. Only by standing up to them with a strong force will they be deterred. NATO has plenty of intelligence, analysis and firepower to call on to do this. NATO cannot just be a talking shop.