Now we know without a doubt that Vladimir Putin was lying, over and over again when he told the world that he had no intentions of invading Ukraine. In the words of Ukraine’s President Zelensky, “Ukraine wants peace; Europe wants peace; the whole world says it doesn’t want war; and Russia claims it doesn’t want to intervene; someone of us is lying.”
We also know our intel was right when it reported that Russia was going to use false-flag operations as a pretext for invading Ukraine. Now the world realizes that Vladimir Putin is a small 69-year-old man with a Napoleon complex, trying to make the perception of his accomplishments in the world seem larger than they are, and trying to recreate the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at all costs no matter the carnage or damage even to his own economy. How easy he has made it to now characterize him, in mid-life crisis, as a psychopathic thug.
At the time of this writing his ultimate goal in invading Ukraine is still unclear, except for two things: one, his ambitions are much greater than just annexing the two regions in eastern Ukraine; and two, that he at a minimum seeks to overthrow the democratically elected government of Ukraine and install a puppet, quisling regime.
It does seem clear at these early stages of this evolving land war in Europe that despite the superiority of Russian forces, this will be a bloody war with thousands of civilian and military casualties. The guerilla-type resistance that will fight back, inspired by proud, patriotic civilian and military forces, will not be easy to overcome.
There is a reason, however, for expansive worries in the world writ large. What happens if collateral effects of the invasion (shells, explosions or damage to electrical grid or water resources) spill over into NATO countries, with enough impact to trigger Article 5 of the NATO alliance, e.g., “that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary…”
What is Xi Jinping thinking as he reacts to Putin’s aggression relative to his own ambitions with respect to Taiwan? Are these two premeditative partners in crime? As the Chinese leader moves in a more isolationist direction with increased state ownership of production and a more inward oriented economy, is now the time in the midst of this global chaos for him to advance on Taiwan in the Pacific? Would this be just the kind of chaos that invites North Korea’s Kim Jon-un to join the hostilities by aggression against South Korea?
To say that this is a potentially combustible global situation is no longer hyperbole. A land war in Europe is frightening enough, but the sickening possibilities of this spreading globally must now be a part of the strategic calculations of the democratic western world.
In a recent essay in the New York Times, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recalls her first visit with the newly installed Vladimir Putin in early 2000, and what she wrote down about her impressions of him as she flew back to the U.S. She wrote: “Putin is small and pale, so cold as to be almost reptilian. Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and is determined to restore its greatness.” How prescient.
What western leaders need now is to have a resolute and steady hand at the helm, then:
1. Enact the strongest possible sanctions. Russia’s economy can not function over time without being connected to Europe.
2. Kill the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, crushing Russian revenues.
3. Detach Russia from the SWIFT global financial transaction system.
4. Regard any pronouncement, pretext, or promise from Putin as pure fiction.
5. Draw a bold red line around all NATO countries, especially those coterminal with Ukraine, over which any abrogation of that boundary would trigger decisive NATO military defensive action.
6. Finally, be ready militarily and signal readiness for every possible cascading effect that might occur in the Pacific.
These are indeed the kind of “times, that try men’s souls.” How ironic that the last meeting of western leaders before the outbreak of war in Ukraine was in Munich, Germany. Appeasement of historically villainous characters like Vladimir Putin will not serve democracies well. Make no mistake, Ukraine stands at the battlefront for democracy. The ramparts are weak in this non-NATO territory of Europe, but how the U.S. and its allies respond will likely set the stage for this post-cold-war period across the globe. The world should be worried.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.