May 19, 2022

Diane Francis

Cracks appear in Western resolve. Hungary sabotages the EU oil ban against Russia, France suggests a face-saving off-ramp for Putin, Senator Rand Paul slows arms shipments to Ukraine, and German and Italian leaders propose a ceasefire to avert a recession due to war costs. But Putin and Russia, like the sociopathic murderer in Buffalo, deserve no mercy for an unprovoked attack on innocents based on twisted history and medieval sadism. Ukrainians are being murdered and their homeland destroyed by a white supremacist with an army that must be executed or permanently incarcerated. As President Zelensky says, there can be no surrender and no ceasefire as long as Russians remain in Ukraine. And a new sculpture in Kyiv encapsulates this righteous defiance, and is called “Shoot Me”. It depicts Putin with a gun in his mouth and the sculptor explains: “He’s a war criminal and has two ways: To sit in the dock or to shoot himself.”

Appeasement is not the solution, but the reason this barbaric invasion occurred, upending the world order and plunging economies into recession. Garry Kasparov, chess master and former political opponent of Putin’s, wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “If the goal is to save Ukrainian lives, as Western leaders say, then the only way to do it is to arm Ukraine with every weapon President Volodymyr Zelensky wants as quickly as possible. A ceasefire that leaves Russian forces on Ukrainian soil would only allow Mr. Putin to continue his genocide and mass deportations undercover, as he’s been doing since he first invaded in 2014.”

This week, Ukraine was unequivocal that it will never make concessions or agree to a ceasefire without troop withdrawal. And there is little doubt that Putin has committed war crimes, that he lies and misleads, intends to assassinate Zelensky and his government, destroys the country’s infrastructure, and targets civilians, residences, industries, schools, and hospitals.

“There are still signs that some Western leaders haven’t yet learned that isolating Mr. Putin and responding to him with strength is the only way to make lasting progress,” wrote Kasparov. “I’ve long said that Mr. Putin is a Russian problem and must be removed by the Russians. But the West needs to stop helping him. Every phone call that legitimizes his authority, every cubic meter of gas, and every barrel of oil imported from Russia is a lifeline to a dictatorship that is shaking for the first time.”

Ukrainians are proving the tide can be turned with sufficient Western weaponry and support, which is why “hanging tough” is essential now. Putin’s scheme is a flop so far. Estimates are that one-quarter of Russia’s ground forces have been killed or wounded. Strategically, his war has backfired and resulted in a more united and strengthened Europe and NATO alliance. Worse for him, a backlash is beginning to build in Russia. Some 3.8 million Russians have left the country, along with hundreds of western corporations and billions of dollars in investment capital. Store

shelves are beginning to empty, banks are shuttered, and a dozen attacks on Russian military-recruiting offices indicate growing opposition toward his war.

Significantly, a candid interview on Russian television by a credible military analyst, Mikhail Khodaryonok, bluntly states that the war is going badly because Ukrainians “intend to fight to the last man”.

He changed the narrative and said: “we [Russians] should not take information tranquilizers,”; there is a “crisis of morale” in the Russian military and the “Ukrainian people are able to arm one million people and the reality of a million armed Ukrainians is coming”.  He added that this means “the situation for us will frankly get worse”, and that Ukrainians “intend to fight to the last man” and that the “ultimate victory in battle is determined by a high level of morale among personnel, which sheds blood for the ideas which it’s prepared to die for.” He concludes by saying that Russia is now politically “isolated” over this war and “that’s a situation we need to get out of.”

Kasparov, and another Putin expert Anders Aslund, argue that the Ukrainians must be helped to stay the course and rid their country of Russian troops altogether. A cease-fire would simply create another “frozen war” [like Donbas and Crimea in 2014] that allowed Russia to torment Ukraine politically and militarily. Aslund, the author of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism” and an esteemed economist, added in a recent piece that “the war in Ukraine has exposed the fundamental failure of Western audiences to appreciate the true nature of modern Russia. Many international observers still assume Russia is a rational actor and believe policies of appeasement can bring the conflict in Ukraine to an end. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“He wages wars of aggression and ruthlessly orders the destruction of entire cities. The West cannot compromise over crimes against humanity on this scale. On the contrary, Putin must be defeated. The only way to end the war conclusively is via a decisive Ukrainian victory that forces Russia to acknowledge its defeat and sees Ukraine regain all the land it has lost since 2014,” he wrote.

Clearly, America, Europe, and NATO must also stay the course and follow the lessons of history, wrote Kasparov. Weakness by President Barack Obama “led to [the first Ukrainian invasion of] 2014 when Mr. Putin was emboldened enough to cast off any democratic trappings in Russia, invade Ukraine, and in 2016 interfere in British and U.S. elections. In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project [after the 2014 invasion], increasing dependence on Russian energy when the opposite was needed. Perhaps Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel could tour Kyiv together to see the damage they helped cause and to apologize to the Ukrainian people.”

The more united and committed the alliance remains, the faster Putin’s removal can happen and the war against Ukraine stopped. Kasparov asks “Will they [Western leaders] help Ukraine win, destroy Mr. Putin’s war machine, and restore all Ukrainian territory? Will they keep sanctions in place to increase domestic pressure on Mr. Putin and to let his mafia know that there is no way back to the civilized world for them and their families while Mr. Putin is in power?” The answer is that the West must stay the course.