History will judge us based on our response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The us means everyone, not just the western democracies but the rest of the world, including India, China and the Russian people. Everyone on the planet has a stake in Putin losing in this wholly pointless aggression. The only way to make sure that conflicts do not escalate into a catastrophic event for mankind is for all nations to accept the notion that you cannot seize the territory of other countries through military aggression. Nothing else on the world’s agenda is more important than making sure that Putin suffers a humiliating defeat in Ukraine. This is more important for the planet than combating climate change. It is more important than economic growth. It is more important than combating inflation. It is far more important than any domestic political agenda.
The NATO nations seem to have accepted the notion that they will not directly confront Russia by imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Absent that kind of intervention, the only hope for defeating Putin appears to be arming the Ukrainians with every conceivable weapon to defend themselves. Economic sanctions, including a complete boycott of Russian oil and gas exports, are important because they will help the Russian people understand that their government is engaged in something terrible and that Putin is keeping that information from them. These sanctions also gradually degrade Putin’s ability to sustain the invasion.
What should Ukraine and the rest of the world demand of Putin? A piece of paper will not do. Russia already agreed, in 1994, to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. In return they received all of Ukraine’s nuclear weapons. Thanks to Putin, we have all seen how much Russia’s word is worth.
At a minimum, Putin needs to withdraw all of his forces from Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas region. He needs to publicly acknowledge to the Russian people that Ukraine is a separate sovereign nation. He needs to publicly acknowledge that Ukraine is free to pursue its own future, free of Russian interference, even if that means joining the EU and NATO. He needs to acknowledge that all of the former Soviet states have that same freedom. He should pay Ukraine reparations for the loss of life and property he has caused.
The sanctions should remain in place until Putin accepts these conditions or is no longer in power. The west should continue, indefinitely, arming Ukraine so that it can defend itself against this aggression and potential future aggression from Russia. This latter step is necessary because only military force can prevent Putin from going back on his, and his country’s word, again.
I don’t believe that Putin will accept these conditions. That means that we will need to continue supporting Ukraine in its efforts to repel the Russian invasion and continue to impose the maximum possible sanctions on Russia until the Russian people decide to remove Putin from power.
In the end, it is important that the Russian people, and not just the rest of the world, understand that nothing is more important than a humiliating defeat for Vladimir Putin.