Defining moment for freedom’s forces

Bill Sims Contributing columnist

Bill Sims Contributing columnist

What the Ukrainian people are fighting for is what we, some say, have come to take for granted — democratic ideals and the freedom of self-determination.

Ukrainian President Zelensky has exhibited incredible leadership, a determined captain of his sovereign “ship,” inspiring his people to resist as he stays in the thick of the battle to save Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. When western countries offered to help him escape, knowing that the Russians had targeted him for killing, his unforgettable response was, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

As my wife pointed out to me, Zelensky might as well have been preaching from Corinthians 4:8:9: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

Mr. Putin has dug himself a deep hole and he keeps on digging. Of course, he has the fire power if he decides to go all in to utterly destroy Ukraine, but these Ukrainian people are fighters and the Russians will, without a doubt, be facing a resistance of guerilla warfare that will cost Russia dearly. I’m struck by a couple of things separate from the government’s resolve.

One, when an invading army breaches the boundaries of a proud and prideful country, they face such fierce determination that its effects are almost impossible to factor into the attacking military’s calculus. That was a lesson we learned in Vietnam with the Vietcong. The motivation of a people to save a nation, a community and a family is a force multiplier that makes the prospects of conquering and holding a nation the size of Texas with 190,000 soldiers almost impossible.

Two, reports that the Russian soldiers are troubled with their mission — “We’re here but we’re not sure who to shoot because they all look like us,” — is further problematic for Putin. Why? Because these Ukrainians are of the same cultural extraction as the Russian people. It’s a big part of the reason that thousands of Russians are protesting in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. It becomes a problem for the Russian military as the will to fight against “people who look like us” withers over time. This is not culturally comparable to Russians fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they lost there over time as the body bags piled up.

There seems to be an expedient consensus building among leaders around the world that Mr. Putin has come off the rails and must be dealt with both militarily and economically. He has succeeded in unifying NATO and the European Union in ways no one could have imagined. The European Union has created a no-fly zone over all of Europe for Russian commercial aircraft. Non-NATO Sweden is sending anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. Decoupling big Russian banks from the global financial SWIFT transaction system is punishing, especially layered over other sanctions, including on Putin’s coterie of oligarchs, ceasing their bank accounts, their yachts, and their luxury estates. It’s affecting everything from Russian sports teams to international flights in and out of Russia, to diplomatic protocols, embassies and consular offices, and most damaging, the Russian ruble is spiraling down.

The country most resistant to cracking down on Russia, Germany, because of its tremendous reliance on Russian oil and natural gas, has changed its tune, now sending offensive weapons into Ukraine and canceling its commitment to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Turkey, by treaty, cannot stop Russian naval ships from returning home through the Bosporus Straits but they can stop them from going into the Black Sea and it is seriously considering Ukraine’s request to do so.

So far, Mr. Putin has succeeded in turning Russia into a pariah state and in unifying a western world that had become loose and somewhat complacent. The effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Mr. Putin’s country could become increasingly devastating. He’s seen by most all of the world’s leaders as increasingly unhinged, emotionally unstable, and disturbingly unpredictable.

As Americans, we watch this catastrophic spectacle in Europe unfold. There are a myriad of lessons to be learned, but at the very least, this is a defining moment for the forces of freedom and democracy. We must leverage our resolve by staying glued to our allies with tough and resolute policies and positions.

As domestic pandemic issues begin to wane, global security issues have begun to grow. We need to face these issues united. The story of David and Goliath is a useful parable, but Ukraine is no shepherd boy, as the past few days have demonstrated, and Putin isn’t 9 feet tall — at best he’s just 5 feet 6 inches in his elevated shoes.

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.

Bill Sims Contributing columnist Sims Contributing columnist