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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  1. David Sperber on February 24, 2023 at 11:42 am

    Thanks David. We need to strongly stand with Ukraine.

    • David Perlstein on February 24, 2023 at 11:50 am

      Agreed, David. After all, they’re doing all the fighting while we watch the news.

  2. RONALD EATON on February 24, 2023 at 1:11 pm


    I think that I am the friend of whom you are writing. I believe my point still stands, but before explaining why, let me make one thing clear. I also support our continuing to robustly aid in the defense of Ukraine, not only for Ukraine’s sake but for our sake and the sake of the whole of the West.
    My contention was and is that we need to look at things through Russian eyes in order to wisely deal with Russia. Although I cannot give you chapter and verse, I understand the following to be mostly true:
    After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the West assured the Russians that NATO would expand no more than into a united Germany. NATO continued to grow, taking in Poland, the Baltic Republics, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. There was serious talk of Ukraine’s entrance.
    It is my understanding that the whole of the Russian defense extablishment, from conservative to liberal, considered Ukraine’s entrance into NATO a direct threat. We may consider NATO a purely defensive alliance, but the Russians have reason to be skeptical.
    Perhaps NATO has no aggressive intentions towards Russia, but no Russian defense planner could forget that Germany was defeated and broke in 1919 and invading Poland just twenty years later in 1939. We almost went to war with the Soviet Union when it put “defensive” missles into Cuba.
    There is a Russian historical memory. Their planners know that the West intervened in Russia during the Revolution. While not defending Russia’s invasion, I think that the West’s failure of diplomacy and lack of intellectural empathy made it much more likely. If a neighbor exhibits signs of paranoia—expecially if there is good reason for the paranoia—a prudent man will take that into account when dealing with him.
    “Those fixated on the past have no future.” Isn’t there an irony in a Jew’s quoting this? What other people celebrate a military victory which took place 3,500 years ago? Won’t a prudent diplomat remember the Holocaust when dealing with Israel; wouldn’t the Arabs be wise to remember it?
    Our present is shaped by our past.

    • David Perlstein on February 24, 2023 at 2:08 pm

      Ron, I actually agree that NATO’s expansion was not the wisest thing to do. That may explain Russian concerns but not its invasion of Ukraine. Or the Soviet Union’s manhandling of Eastern European nations who sought freedom, i.e. Hungary in 1956.

      As to observing Passover (3,250 years ago) and the Holocaust in the last century, Jews do. But we also look forward. I hope that someday both Israelis and Palestinians look forward to living together in a way that eliminates the desire to destroy Israel (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran) along with preventing Palestinians from having a real homeland, albeit with some very pragmatic security adjustments.

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