U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Washington believes Ukraine can win the war, and that Russia must be “weakened” for the foreseeable future. But to end a nationalistic-aggressive empire will require unity and courage by the West.
They are among the strongest words directed at Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During his trip this week to meet Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv and Western allies in Germany, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Washington believes not only that Ukraine can win the war, but that "we want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine."
It is a sentiment that had already begun to spread in Ukraine in the first days and weeks of the war, when it became clear that the Russian military could in fact be defeated. That the “victory” Ukrainians sought was not just to slow down Moscow’s tanks, not only to unseat the aggressor-in-chief in the Kremlin, but one that could eliminate the threat of their larger neighbor for decades and even centuries to come.
Even as a lineup of diplomats hope to be able to convince Vladimir Putin to sign a peace treaty, Ukrainians know the reality. You can't negotiate with a bear. You have to kill the bear.
It’s Not (Just) About Putin
This phrase sounds too bloodthirsty for modern European politics, and for democracies in general. But since Feb. 24, we are living in the new reality, where one has to fight to preserve the peace.
To be clear, “killing the bear” is not about the physical elimination of Putin … who cares! … but about the historical annihilation of a militaristic, expansionist and nationalist Russia. That’s the bear the world must dispose of.
Russia must be deprived of the possibility of war in principle.
In the days leading up to the invasion, many of the so-called “realists” in the West said that the great foreign policy mistake of Washington of the past generation was that it wanted to expand NATO and didn’t properly take into account Russian history and national pride. Evidently, it took it into account far too much. And that’s what Lloyd Austin and others at the Pentagon have finally realized.
Because of both pride and history, Russia must be deprived of the possibility of war in principle — just as the world imposed on the militaristic-expansionist-nationalistic Germany and Japan after World War II. And look at these countries now: Both economic powerhouses in their respective continents, and also world leaders in peace and disarmament. (A bitter irony of history for Ukrainians is that German culture is so centered around economics over military that it is falling short of its responsibility in standing up to Russia.)
A poster in Lviv with the phrase 'He Who Comes with the Sword Will Die by the Sword'
The Risks Of Escalation
Still, in Kyiv, some are asking if Mr Austin and his fellow Americans really understand what it will take to support his words? It will very likely mean the escalation of the conflict, it will take commitment from the world leaders, it will take enforcing a no-flights zone over Ukraine and a ready-to-respond nuclear attack protection.
Moscow is most dangerous because of its nuclear arsenal
To stop the war, the fall of Russia's current ruling party and Vladimir Putin's regime is necessary, and that can only happen if Europe and the U.S. put maximum economic pressure on Russia — and that means saying a hard ‘No’ to its oil.
And ultimately, as we saw by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s “World War III” posturing after Austin’s comments, Moscow is most dangerous because of its nuclear arsenal. How do we kill the Russian bear while it is waving its atomic threat in front of us?
None of these are easy questions, but that doesn’t mean we can avoid facing them. Russia’s military power, and nuclear capability, has for too long been a self-affirming argument for appeasement. Just like the attack of the bear on Feb. 24 finally showed us, one way or another, that it must be taken out — and Ukraine cannot do it alone.
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