November 14, 2022
Ukrainians just recaptured Russia’s biggest war prize, the City of Kherson, and by so doing took a major step toward driving Putin out of their nation-state. Now the West must escalate, not negotiate, because Ukraine has demonstrated it can and wants to finish the job. Ukraine’s heroism, national mobilization, endurance, and willingness to take on the world’s most malevolent regime is upending the world order — for the better. Russia has been humiliated, its burgeoning axis of evil shredded, its stature in tatters, and its genocidal regime will eventually implode, liberating regions and nation-states now in its thrall, on its payroll, or enslaved. Putin is not welcome at this week’s G20 — an unforeseen outcome that began when Ukraine’s anti-corruption presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide victory in 2019 and said on election night: “I’m not yet officially the president, but as a citizen of Ukraine, I can say to all countries in the post-Soviet Union to look at us. Anything is possible!”
Zelensky’s remarks enraged Putin because he was the first leader of a post-Soviet country to have the guts to openly invite others to defy Moscow. His words resonated because he was an established entertainment superstar across the Russian world as a result of his movies and satires. Just one year later, Belarusians attempted to overthrow the rigged re-election of their dictator, but their mass protests were crushed by a vicious crackdown orchestrated by Putin. By contrast, Ukrainians had risen up in 2014, were partially invaded by Russia, but continued their fight. Then on February 24, Putin lost patience and invaded the country to stop its struggle for democracy and the rule of law. Ever since, Ukrainians have dug in and dazzled the world with their courage and commitment.
Former Soviet giant, Kazakhstan, has publicly rebuked Moscow for the invasion, and others in Central Asia have followed suit. Putin’s aggression has alienated his most important “ally” — China — which has refused to feed his war machine and has finally come out publicly against Russian threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Russia is now a global pariah. Western nations unite solidly behind Ukraine and the stunning recapture of strategically important Kherson portends the full expulsion of Russian troops from Ukraine.
NATO has been fortified and enlarged. Turkey, with the biggest military in Europe, has stopped playing footsie with the Russians and supplies weapons, drones, intel, and support for Ukraine. Ankara last week blocked the entry of more Russian warships into the Black Sea. The European Union is more united, and defensively-minded, against its common enemy. Ukraine is being fast-tracked into the European Union — which will help it build new institutions to dismantle its corrupt oligarchy and judiciary. And Ukraine, with untold casualties and deaths, is already a de facto member of NATO and willing to be, as Zelensky describes, “Europe’s Israel” or the continent’s permanent bulwark against Russia.
Geopolitically, the war’s effects are truly profound. It has showcased America’s technological and military superiority. It has demonstrated the aptitude, work ethic, and potential of Ukrainians. Washington’s alliance-building has been impressive and will make Europe, and the world, safer. American prestige abroad and at home has been enhanced for taking this moral stand. However, the most profound benefit, in terms of future global security, is that China has been chastened as it observes how the West has united and forcefully punishes a bully like Russia.
Putin is on the ropes, which is why Ukrainians must be further supported militarily. They are dismantling the world’s most venal military power by degrading its forces and destroying its arsenal of weaponry. Other beneficial knock-on results include the potential division of the Russian Federation itself, as well as the possible expulsion of Russians from Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Syria, the Balkans, and Venezuela where they foment violence and dissent. A defeated Russia also means an end to its “hybrid war” of bribery and corruption, espionage, troll farms, cyber warfare, and hacking, all designed to weaken its opponents’ economies, enterprises, and elections.
Inside America, support for Ukraine’s struggle unites an otherwise polarized society. Polling shows 75 per cent favor staying the course and voters in the U.S. mid-terms rejected Ukraine-quitters, who were also often election deniers. But the highlight last week was when China’s Xi Jinping publicly criticized Russia’s nuclear threats at a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. This condemnation, by the leaders of two of the four biggest economies in the world and that have been cozy in the past with Putin, truly marks the end of Russian imperialism.
Biden’s bilateral meeting with Xi at the G20 this week will concentrate on setting parameters for fair economic competition. The solid US-NATO-Ukraine alliance surely rubbishes any notion Beijing may have had of grabbing Taiwan or helping Putin. Economically, Russia is finished for decades due to the exodus of people, capital, corporations with technical expertise, and allies, not to mention sanctions. Its economy was only as big as New York City’s, but the fact that Russia is now “off-line” means that its exports of food, energy, metals, and minerals will be, and are being, replaced by commodities from the United States, Australia, Canada, Central Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, much of South America, and, eventually, a rebuilt Ukraine.
Kherson is a turning point but victory is only certain once Russia leaves. Pushing for negotiations would be a mistake and more military assistance is needed, as The Wall Street Journal points out. “Any settlement now would give the Russians a chance to regroup, reinforce their defensive positions, and prepare for a renewed attack. Every war ends with some kind of negotiation, but Ukraine has earned the chance to restore its Feb. 24 borders, at the very least, before it sits across from Mr. Putin.”
Kurt Volker, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, said in an interview with me in Washington DC, that Ukraine will win and regime change in Russia may be in the offing. “The death toll is hitting Russia hard and concerns are that there won’t be enough troops to defend Russia after the war.” He also doesn’t believe Putin will be replaced by a rival but more likely by the KGB and military combined and his departure will not be high-profile. “It might simply end up that Putin goes to Sochi and stays there indefinitely, surrounded by new body guards.”
Polls show that 85 per cent of Ukrainians want the Russians pushed out altogether. The Kherson capture is key to this goal. Russia’s most important southern and Crimean supply chains are now disrupted and Ukraine will be able to rebuild the city, its principal export and agricultural processing hub. Former U.S. Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges believes the liberation of Crimea, Mariupol and Melitopol will begin early next year. “HIMARs [long range artillery] will soon shoot from Kherson. Approaches to Crimea fall within its range.”
Soon the skies over Ukraine will be protected from attack and, hopefully, Europeans and Americans will send more weaponry and start confiscating Russia’s $64 billion in foreign exchange assets, already seized in central banks, to defray the cost of the war and rebuild Ukraine. Zelensky has stated he will talk with Russia only once his country’s 1991 borders are restored and if Russia agrees to reparations. This is only just. Ukrainians never did any harm to Russia or to Russians living there, but have been brutally attacked. They want their land and lives back, and they deserve no less because Ukrainian courage has given birth to a new, improved world order.