This Is Our War
If We Don’t Fight it Now, We Will Lose it—Like the All Previous Ones
Ukraine protest, November 30, 2013, Kyiv. Image Courtesy: Mstyslav Chernov
Ukraine is at war. Europe is at war. America is at war. The world is at war. A criminal regime, that of Putin, has unleashed a war against the world, of which Ukraine is, once again, the victim. But let us not forget that Putin’s war against the fundamental principles of freedom and humanity is still going on in Syria. It is also present in Belarus, where the Russian dictator has lent a hand to the one in Minsk—and Belarus is actually occupied by Russian forces.
This monstrous and already tragically deadly attack by Russian forces on Ukraine is only ever an intensification of Putin’s wars. But it comes now without any surprise: it was not only announced several months ago, but actually for many years. We did not only know when and how it would happen. Everything was not only predictable, but had been planned. It would be uninformed and unthinking to not see it coming, even if some bastards were complacent.
In reality, this is not a new war, but an old war that has been going on for 22 years: clearly announced in Chechnya in 1999-2000, it has undergone a new stage with the invasion and predation of 20% of Georgian territory by the Kremlin’s forces in 2008, then by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the occupation of part of Donbass in 2014, and perhaps even more so, in 2015, by the even more massive war crimes committed by Putin and his minions in Syria. I wrote about it even then: these crimes of the Russian regime are literally changing the world order.
So the war is here, again, in Europe. In reality, this war was already there, but we just did not want to see it. We have pushed it out of our field of vision and, in fact, out of our understanding.
For 22 years, Putin has only moved forward and the free world has only moved backwards. He has always retreated, and he has lost all his wars because he lacked the intelligence to fight them. After the war crimes in Chechnya, about which Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, Boris Nemtsov and so many others had alerted us, and paid with their lives for their duty to tell the truth, the outrage of the world quickly subsided.
George W. Bush, after his administration apparently pledged his support for the legal government of Georgia, has only ever verbally condemned the 2008 aggression against Tbilisi. This did not prevent Barack Obama from launching his reset in March 2009. The same Barack Obama refused to enforce the red lines he had defined in Syria, thus letting Assad and Iran, and then Putin from 2015, massacre hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians. He also made it clear to Putin that he had a free hand—and less than a year later Putin attacked Ukraine. The master of the Kremlin was not mistaken: the reactions of the West were, as he had foreseen, inconsistent and poor. Then, with impunity, Putin’s Russia was to spread terror and death in Syria from 2015 onwards—and this continues today. Russia also aids the bloody regime of Maduro, uses its militias in Africa and, together with China, supports the Burmese junta in its policy of all-out repression.
We have refused to understand. We have accepted defeat. We have no excuse for our past behavior—for a failure of mind is no excuse for a leader.
We wanted to avoid war, but the more we in the West tried to prevent it, the more we rendered it inevitable and the more difficult we made it in the future to win. The more we pretended to avoid the risk, the closer we came to its realization. The more we sought to appease, the further we moved away from peace. The more we wanted to limit our deaths, the more we prepared to increase their number.
Some seem to be waking up now after too long a sleep of reason. Let’s hope that one day they will apologize not only to those who warned them and whom they dismissed, but above all to the world. But that is for tomorrow. The time has not yet come for the harsh judgment of history. The emergency today is the war—the war we must fight. Our war.
A new union is welcome, but for what?
Much has already been said about the Western reaction, and even beyond, to the war that Putin unleashed against Ukraine. After some initial dithering and missteps, the free world has become more cohesive and united. Consultation processes have multiplied; isolated and uncoordinated words have become rare; and above all, for the first time, strong sanctions, which really bite Putin and his accomplices, have been decided. They could certainly be stronger and much improved, but they must be welcomed for their magnitude. It is only regrettable that they were not decided long before, as many of us recommended—but these days it is not the time to deplore past mistakes, but to build new mechanisms, at the international level, to stop Putin’s criminal enterprises.
It is also noticeable that, at last, the leaders are beginning to give up the inane rhetoric they sometimes used in the past about stable and predictable relations with Putin's Russia—indeed, they were looking more at an abstraction, “Russia,” than at the actual reality, that of the regime—or at their grand abstract plans for a stable order for the European continent that would include this regime or an “architecture of security and trust” with it. These fads have cost us a lot of time, but they are behind us forever - or so we hope.
Finally, some organizations are gaining legitimacy. First of all, this is true of NATO: as much as the discourse claiming that it had become useless with the disappearance of the USSR had never been anything other than a propaganda speech propagated by the Kremlin, its absolute cohesion could be questioned. Today, it appears as an organization that is not only necessary, but also unique and indispensable. Anything that weakens NATO threatens European security. While the United Nations will have difficulty functioning optimally as long as the Chinese and Russian regimes remain as they are, the unity shown in the overwhelming vote of the General Assembly in favor of a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has slightly restored the organization's battered image. Finally, the European Union not only began to assert itself as a power that could count—even if, here too, there is still a long way to go—but showed that it could be seen as a fundamental bulwark for countries threatened by the Kremlin. The candidacies of Kyiv, Tbilisi and Chisinau are proof of this.
I must admit that these developments are a miracle. The leaders of Europe and the free world have matured in a few months, while many were still far from having reached the age of reason at the end of 2021. They have given up that form of youthful innocence which had made them lose all lucidity.
However, the last and necessary step remains: that of effective action. Are the Western leaders, undoubtedly sincere, totally serious in their defense of Ukraine? Will they accept what this means in reality? Are they really going all the way in understanding the extent of the threat from the Putin regime? How do they themselves see the future? Emmanuel Macron summarized twice in early March 2022 how he saw the coming days and weeks: “The worst is yet to come.” What would it mean to ward it off?
The necessary sanctions may have a medium-term effect on the Russian regime, but it is highly uncertain to rely on the resolve of the first circle of oligarchs around Putin to bring him down. Similarly, the courageous protests of large factions of Russian society will not have a quick effect on the fall of the current power. For the time being, Putin can rely on a brutal apparatus of repression and a caste of hardliners, not the least of whom is Patriarch Kirill, a rabid apostle of war and destruction. We certainly expect the Western leaders to adopt the resolution to prosecute all the crimes ordered and committed by the Kremlin in Ukraine by a special court for which I also pleaded. But by then, Kyiv may have already fallen and Ukraine under the yoke of the criminal Russian regime. Finally, the increasing number of arms deliveries to Ukraine—and this is good news—will remain insufficient, given the disproportion of the forces.
We cannot just sweep aside the prospect of a Western military intervention in support of Ukraine. It is with gravity, conscience and seriousness that we must perceive why it has become indispensable. It is by this yardstick that the unity of the Allies can ultimately be assessed.
Risk of inconstancy and constancy of risk
The alliance of democracies against the Russian regime runs a double risk: that of inconstancy and that of inconsistency.
The inconsistency is proper to some, most often involuntary, indirect allies of Putin's designs that we are beginning to hear. They seem to have already mourned Ukraine, as they had already mourned Georgia, Crimea, Transnistria and Belarus, not to mention their addiction to massive war crimes in Syria. Some say that it is too late for Ukraine, but that the red line will be for NATO member countries, protected by the security guarantees of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty—although the implementation of this guarantee, which requires the unanimity of the Alliance Council, is not automatic.
But if the democracies do not show the will to defend Ukraine, how can they be credible vis-à-vis the criminal Russian power in their resolution to protect, for example, the Baltic States? All in all, would there be more risks, including the use of nuclear weapons by the Russian government, if the Allies came to the aid of Ukraine today than if they invoked the clauses of Article 5 tomorrow? It is undoubtedly in Ukraine that Putin is testing the Allies’ ultimate resolve to defend a NATO ally under attack.
Certainly, no one can penetrate Putin's mind with certainty and claim to know what he would be capable of today. The analysis of history and his ideology shows that he is a priori ready for anything and that his destructive purpose is limitless, including in terms of the destruction of his own country. As much as I am ready to clearly ask for the application of a no-fly zone and protection of the Ukrainian territory against missile attacks, whatever the type of launcher and the place of origin of the attack, I know that this proposal can be legitimately contested. I will not blame the leaders of the NATO member countries who, as they did on March 4, 2022, have—at least for the time being—ruled out the implementation of this no-fly zone and official assistance in the implementation of a missile defense on Ukrainian territory.
I only plead that each of the leaders of the free world, with the same gravity and the same torment of the soul that lead them to appreciate the risks of a more global confrontation with the induced nuclear risks, should assume the consequences of what this means: the possible disappearance of Ukraine as a nation and massacres whose extent we cannot appreciate today. One can have reasons to be inconsistent in one’s proclamations; however, one must weigh the responsibility that this implies.
This is also the case with the policy of welcoming—absolutely necessary—Ukrainian refugees. As much as I salute the rather extraordinary mobilization of European governments and peoples in this policy of reception—Syrian refugees, in particular, or Afghan refugees more recently, did not benefit from such generosity, even though, in the first case, the aggressor was largely the same—we all know what the “humanitarian” management of a war means: the refusal to fight the causes and to act decisively against the aggressor.
But I can also imagine another scenario for the future that would add inconsistency to inconstancy. We can only welcome the sanctions, as we have said, while deploring their tardiness: implemented with the same force before—we already had every reason to do so in 2008, even more so in 2014 and even more so because of Putin’s war crimes in Syria—they could have changed the course of things. But let’s assume—which I think is unlikely—that Putin backs down, some governments might be tempted to weaken or even lift them. They might want to re-establish SWIFT, reopen Russia to the euro and dollar capital markets, and abandon the sanctions against those close to Putin, which are still far below what is necessary in some countries. In short, they could “let go” before Crimea and the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk are returned to Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia and Transnistria to Moldova. Some may again look away from its actions in Syria. Some already believe that it would be foolhardy to prosecute Putin and his clique for war crimes before an international criminal court.
In short, in the name of so-called stability and illusory security, they would ask that the crimes be forgotten and seek normalization. No doubt, for many, this would be immoral and undignified: in fact, it would be an insult to the Ukrainian, Syrian, Georgian and other victims. Above all, it would lead to the further dismantling of the principles of international law and the fundamental principles that underlie them. It would be a boon to all international criminals far beyond Russia. Finally, it could lead to a return to our former erring ways of letting our guard down in the name of a supposed normality or rationality of Putin’s regime.
The small strategic victory that we seem to have acquired since the beginning of 2022 would go up in smoke. There too, Putin would eventually triumph, and we would have betrayed, in addition to the Ukrainians, the Syrians and the Georgians, the hope that Russian dissidents once again place in us. I will never stop repeating the message they entrusted to me: never give in; never compromise on anything.
Holding to draw the principled lessons of Putin(s criminal war against Ukraine, I believe it is necessary to propose three simple conclusions. To put it the other way around, if these conclusions were not drawn, everything that the somewhat hard-of-hearing political leaders have more or less learned in the first three months—or at least that they have accepted to see now when they have not done so in the last twenty years—would be immediately swept away.
For having sounded the alarm for years, as have a few others, I have been called radical, excessive, a warmonger, to mention only the relatively kind labels. All those who have been calling for action against Putin’s regime for years have been treated like this. But all those who used to treat us this way would probably be well advised to listen to some radical proposals today.
The first is that there can be no compromise, agreement or “middle ground” with Putin. To put it in military language, there can be no armistice, only an unconditional surrender. Putin has always won so far; now he must lose—totally. His defeat must be complete and radical. No part of the world that he has conquered so far can remain in his possession.
The second is that the fate of the world depends not only on the ability to contain Putin's regime, but on our willingness to stop it. It is certainly not up to us to do this by force of arms; that is up to the Russian people alone. But we can and must help them much more than we have done so far. Many of us have said it: as long as Putin is in power, there will be no peace, no security, no prospect of lasting freedom in Europe and far beyond. The leaders of the democracies must stop pretending that it could be otherwise.
The third conclusion, if we want our will to rollback and not only containment to be seriously understood, is to include the threatened countries in the main political and security alliance systems of Europe, specifically the European Union and NATO. Of course, we all know that this will take some time, and that the countries concerned, especially Ukraine, are not yet ready, especially in view of the indispensable requirements for bringing them up to EU standards. But the perspective must be clear. In terms of defense, the fate of Ukraine is decisive not only for the people of that country, but for all those of Europe. There is a kind of security continuum between the NATO countries and Ukraine—and also Moldova and Georgia, and tomorrow Belarus. This security continuum is inseparable from our ideals of freedom and those of these countries.
The attack on Ukraine is an attack on every European country; every Ukrainian murdered by Putin’s regime is a murdered European—just as every Syrian child murdered by the same Putin was a direct attack on the humanity of which each of us is a custodian.
This is our war—and we know what it would mean to lose it in Ukraine. Our historical consciousness would be doomed to sink into ineptitude if we remain in the middle of the ford.