So it’s finally happened—after a slow, weeks-long build-up of forces, Russian troops on February 21 invaded Ukraine after Moscow recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Moscow is using words that normal countries use, like “genocide” and “fascist” and “peacekeepers,” in an Orwellian fashion to signify the opposite of what they really mean. The pretext Putin is using—that Ukraine, surrounded by 190,000 Russian troops, was planning to launch a major attack on the Donbas and invade Russia—is so transparent and ridiculous as to defy belief.
It seems very clear to me that the free world must apply maximal sanctions now. There can be no talk of a “limited” incursion that would merit a proportionate response. These sanctions must be applied massively to the whole Soviet elite, who in the future will have to buy fancy residences in Beijing rather than London. Germany has announced that it is halting certification of the Nord Stream II pipeline, which is a good thing and more than I expected them to do. We’ve seen Moscow slicing the salami for fifteen years now, and it is the height of naiveté to think that it will stop at whatever point materializes in the coming days.
Putin's recent speech lay bare his intentions. Like the article he published last summer, he once again asserts his position view that Ukraine is not an independent country, but part of a greater Russia. This time he imaginatively blames things of Vladimir Lenin. Missing is any consideration of the wishes of the people who actually live in Ukraine.
Putin is right that Ukraine in its current form poses an existential threat to his vision for Russia. It does not and cannot threaten Russia militarily, nor does it threaten the Russian people. Rather, it is a threat to Putin himself, because it wants to be a Western-aligned liberal democracy, which Putin thinks is impossible for a Slavic people. If Ukraine can democratize, then there is no reason Russia could not democratize as well, which would mean the end of Putin and Putinism. Russia does not need a “sphere of influence” or a security buffer; it needs to demonstrate that democracy will fail anywhere and everywhere in its neighborhood. To concede a Russian sphere of influence over the territories of the former Soviet Union is to consign forty million Ukrainians to dictatorship and repression.
Even if Russia goes no further than Donbas in the next few days, everyone should be aware that Ukraine as a whole is still in mortal danger. Putin wants to strangle the country economically. Already, the level of tension has led many Western investors to cancel deals or put investments on hold. Airlines across the board have canceled flights into Ukraine, and Russian naval exercises in the Black Sea are strangling a country that depends on its Black Sea ports for its substantial agricultural exports. Russia will be able to maintain a heightened level of tension and constant guessing about its future intentions, in ways that will wreak continuing damage on Ukraine’s economy.
Americans must stand firm in support for Ukraine. No American is being asked to fight on its behalf; what we need to do is help the Ukrainians fight for themselves, which they are more than willing to do. American Purpose was founded with the intention of defending classical liberalism, whether the threat was from domestic populism or authoritarian government abroad. In this we are firmly committed to support Ukraine and other countries that want to create and cherish democratic institutions. It is indicative of America’s current sickness than voices on the right (as well as some on the left) are actually siding with the Kremlin over Ukraine. Others are simply indifferent, and regard the invasion as someone else’s problem.
I do not believe that a liberal order at home can be sustained in a world in which authoritarian government is advancing and succeeding internationally. Putin has stated clearly in the past few weeks that he wants not just to snuff out Ukraine as an independent state, but to reverse the entire democratic order that unfolded after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. If we do not resist at this point, not just the rest of Ukraine but the whole of Eastern Europe will become Moscow’s next target. So we must apply maximal sanctions now.
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