On February 24th, 2022, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation announced an unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. Aiming to decapitate its leadership and people's resilience, the invasion was planned for one week. One year and five months later, Kyiv stands proud, independent, and victorious, resisting the still ongoing "special military operation" (as Kremlin spokesmen call it). This conflict will significantly impact the future of international relations and diplomacy worldwide. The implications of a Russian victory in Ukraine are not to be underestimated and must be carefully considered by political actors in the United States and the EU. Western financial and military support to Kyiv has never been as crucial: helping Ukraine win this war will not only serve justice to the thousands of soldiers, civilians, and government officials who died for freedom and independence, but it will also provide critical feedback to Western leaders and their militaries.
From a moral perspective, ignoring Kyiv's requests for help would have been a terrible mistake. The nature of this invasion is one of complete erasure of Ukrainian leadership, culture, and people themselves. Massacres perpetrated against civilians in the very first days of the war are evidence of the unrestrained violence allowed by the Kremlin. The rhetoric used by the Russian propaganda machine against Kyiv is a call for genocide. "Nazis", "conmen", "fake country", "inferior", "greedy", "homosexuals", and "puppets": this is just a short collection of what an average Russian prime-time talk show describes Ukrainians these days. The United Nations, as powerless as it is, would never intervene.
Moreover, attempts to cease hostilities would have been blocked immediately by Russia, a Permanent Member of the Security Council. It was our place, as the West, to step in and help Ukraine resist the invasion. It was our place to defend freedom and democracy. And it was our place to stop Vladimir Putin from getting what he wanted.
The intent of this war, in the mind of the President of the Russian Federation, was evident. After Euromaidan, Ukraine had turned its back on Moscow and was prepared to start the European Union and NATO accession processes. Though both would be long-term goals, Ukrainians' longing for peace, freedom, and democracy was set in stone. Vladimir Putin was scared that letting Ukraine go down the path of several other post-Soviet countries would convince Russians to do the same. The stability of his regime was in play. There is no reason to believe the West provoked a war against Kyiv. Like the EU, NATO's expansions to the East did not happen through coercion or blackmailing. The Baltic states, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, abandoned the declining, authoritarian, and aggressive Russian model and instead opted for freedom and democracy. Doing so voluntarily, which did not violate any existing treaty with the Russian Federation, should have never been an issue for Moscow. Moreover, NATO never suggested attacking Russia, especially since the alliance is a defensive pact between countries seeking protection, not expansion. Since the start of the war, all these excuses were meant to hide the actual goals of this invasion: erasing Ukrainian identity, expanding the borders of the Russian Federation, and establishing a world order based on force.
If, for some people, saving countless lives and defending a country's independence is not enough, the West has a genuine interest in having Ukraine win this war. Russia wants to re-establish a dystopian geopolitical Darwinism: a world order where nuclear powers can coerce their neighbors into submission and are owed a sphere of influence (even if against the subject countries' own will). By saying that "the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century," (NBC), Putin indicated that he would consecrate his Presidency to recover the territories and re-establish Russian dominance over Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The war in Chechnya in 2000, the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the blackmailing and sabotage of Baltic countries in the early 2010s, the setup of the Donbas independence movement and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, and the interference in American and European elections were clear signs of his intentions. In Europe, leaders preferred appeasing Putin with illiberal treaties like Minsk I and II so that they could keep buying Russian gas. In America, foreign policy was becoming less of a priority as internal polarization divided the country. These mistakes led Putin to believe, with evidence, that the West was too divided and dysfunctional to defend Ukraine from a full-scale invasion. He was wrong.
This war will decide whether conflicts between countries will be resolved through diplomacy or force. A Russian victory would convey that aggression is the best tool to pursue national interests abroad and would destroy decades of diplomatic work. It cannot be allowed to happen. The People's Republic of China has been on the sidelines of this war, refusing to condemn Russia but never actively supporting the invasion. Beijing is observing whether its objective to regain control of Taiwan within 2050 is feasible. If Russia were to fail, as it is, the PRC might have to tone down its rhetoric over Taiwan and withdraw its plans for a military takeover. On the contrary, if Russia succeeded in breaking Kyiv's resolve, China, like many other authoritarian countries worldwide, would see an opportunity for military action to pursue its interests. The consequences on global stability would be catastrophic.
There is also a much less discussed reason why the West should invest in and protect Ukraine: concrete feedback on the preparation and quality of our military and defense systems. This war showed Western powers' terrifying lack of preparation for conventional warfare. The change in military strategy made our armed forces specialized and high quality but also restricted, undersized, and unable to perform in contexts like full-scale conflicts. Most of the West needs an adequate number of weapons or a big enough stockpile of ammunition to sustain a conflict of such immense scale. Our industrial systems cannot implement adequate ammo production that could replace equipment lost on the ground.
Moreover, they lack solid, prepared military reserve forces like the Ukrainian Territorial Defense. Thanks to its heroic resistance, Ukraine is helping Western countries identify the problems in their defense strategies, providing time and suggestions to fix them. At the same time, we are testing the Russian military, observing its weaknesses, and degrading its already faltering chain of command. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are not the second strongest military in the world, probably not even on the same podium as the United States. The main characteristics of the Russian armed forces are the unpreparedness of its generals, the lack of equipment, and the obsolete strategies, not strength, resolve, or quality. All this is even more reason to stop the world's most destabilizing force, as the 2017 US National Security Strategy report describes, so it can no longer threaten freedom and democracy worldwide.
Слава Україні, героям слава!
(cover image from Associated Press)