After Russia invaded Ukraine one year ago today, a friend—while not okaying the invasion—suggested considering Vladimir Putin’s fear of the West. I did. And dismissed it.
Yes, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. During World War One, Imperial Russia suffered at the hands of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Alliances with Britain and France had dragged Russia into a war for which it was overmatched. The 1917 revolution followed.
And yes, the Russian historical memory runs deep, including the 13th-century Mongol invasion—from the east.
But “We’re victims” rings hollow. War long has haunted every nation in Eurasia and beyond. When it comes to battling for survival—not to mention expanding territory and influence—Russia is no exception in an all-too-cruel world.
As to Putin’s “rationale” that Ukraine is part of Russia, Ukrainians disagree. Regarding Kyiv being a neo-Nazi regime, some Ukrainian forces sided with Germany during World War Two. Almost eighty years later, Ukraine has undergone a major, if imperfect, transformation. It even has a Jewish president.
George Santayana famously wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. My corollary: Those fixated on the past have no future.
Throughout Western Europe, onetime enemies have become friends and allies. A region racked by war for—well, seemingly forever—has enjoyed peace.
No better example of looking forward can be found than in the relationship between Israel and Germany. Nazi Germany killed six million Jews. A free and democratic Germany began relations with Israel in 1952 and formalized those relations in 1965.
As to Russia’s dread of NATO, following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia’s immediate neighbors feared Russian ambitions. Eastern European nations looked to the European Union to advance their economies and to NATO for protection. Their strides towards democracy and open economies haven’t all been perfect, but twenty-eight European nations, along with the U.S, and Canada, belong to NATO. Their forces remain alert. But even after the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO never intruded on Russian soil.
Where does Putin’s invasion of Ukraine leave the United States? In the 1930s, many Americans balked at opposing Hitler. “America first!” Had Britain and France, with U.S. weapons and support, stood up to Hitler in 1938 when he sought to annex the Czech Sudetenland, World War Two might have been averted. After it started, American aid kept Hitler from forcing Britain to its knees.
In a perfect world, Americans would not need to spend vast sums of money supporting Ukraine while calculating the risk of nuclear war. But Putin’s ambition to become another Peter the Great must be accounted for. As important, Ukrainians insist that they will fight their own war and shed their own blood. They ask only for arms and ammunition.
Not providing Ukraine enough aid may bring dire consequences. “We’re modulating what we’re giving Ukraine,” said General Wesley Clark (Retired), former Supreme Allied Commander Europe. “We’re bleeding out the Ukrainians.”
History will judge the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—and its 2014 takeover of Crimea. A retreat to Fortress America—which no longer exists—will leave Ukrainian blood on America’s hands. If Ukraine falls, much of Europe may yield to Russian blackmail while China finds a tempting pathway to invade Taiwan.
May Year Two protect Ukraine.
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