Dear Partners in Thought,
As the war in Ukraine goes into its second month, three key themes should be stressed for today and tomorrow.
While the West and the world should always keep hoping that Putin sees the light and stops the onslaught in Ukraine, there are realistically not many ways to deal with him given his clear dynamics and lack of rationality – whatever noble basis exists in his mind for the invasion. It is clear to all students of history and international affairs that there is only one way forward, however drastic.
The West should not hope for the best while unwittingly displaying weakness if it wants to stop what should no longer happen in Europe. Weakness resulting from not standing firm to a dictator from another age will only be useless and counter-productive in its objectives.
As and when the guns cease to be heard – and while it will take time to stop sanctions against Russia and restart normal relationships – it will be crucial for Europe to define what should be a new continent with the end of history as we knew it.
Regime change is indeed key: When President Biden finished his Warsaw address on March 26 stressing that Putin “cannot remain in power”, he went off script. He was quickly corrected by White House officials stressing that the US position was not regime change. Many Western leaders, like Emmanuel Macron, stressed the same, underlining that we should try finding a diplomatic way forward, and thus not corner the Russian leader. All these well-meant backtracking moves only showed indecision combined with weakness, and further emboldened rather than cornered a lost Russian leader. Whether he spoke off script, Joe Biden was right and said from the heart what every Western leader and most if not all their citizens thought. While we can still boldly hope for a rational diplomatic outcome to the crisis, regime change, given the Russian dynamics at play, is indeed the only way to not only stop the Ukrainian tragedy, but one day to resume normal relationships with a new Russia. Regime change is to happen with patriotic and farsighted Russians leading it for their own good and the future of Europe and the globalized world as we know it.
Weakness is to be avoided: History has shown, notably leading to what became WW2, that weakness or accommodations with warmonger dictators do not prevent wars or their escalations in the end. The West, through its strengthened if not reawakened key transatlantic alliance, should remember the lessons of history and avoid easy self-deceiving options to resolve the crisis. Wishful thinking will not save Ukraine, Europe and what we call globalization – which is another potential victim of Putin’s Ukrainian move. While sanctions are justified and may also hurt temporarily the West and global trade, they may not be enough. Nuclear weapons and their largest world arsenal are not reasons to let Putin’s Russia do what it wants and invade sovereign countries in the heart of Europe or anywhere. A lack of resolve in supporting Ukraine will only embolden a Russia that may go further in its delirious imperial re-building that would only result in more wars across Europe. Red lines should be stressed and this time enforced as the only way to stop the Kremlin nightmare.
A new Europe in the making: This war, when eventually over, should also gradually help redefine a new Europe where another Russia is not the adversary of the West but is an integral part of it. It should be a time when we change the dynamics that have been Europe’s since WW2, even if there had been a pseudo-transition since 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union. Like other great European powers of the past (Britain, France, Germany) Russia under a new leadership should once and for all espouse the democratic and liberal tenets that define what a peaceful Europe and the Western world are today. A more unified Europe, without an ever potentially-threatening Russia, would make for a more stable world in which productive and sensible globalization could be pursued with climate change being the common enemy, and actors like China and India being part of it – without the constant threats of a new Cold or Hot War involving perennial foes from another age. It would clearly be the best unwitting medium-term outcome arising from Putin’s follies.