Staunton, April 22 – Vladimir Putin’s invasion in Ukraine should be defeated because it is a violation of international law and has involved numerous crimes of war and crimes against humanity, but history suggests yet another reason: unless Russia loses the war, it won’t change but will instead repeat what it is doing now at some point in the future.
Because Russia has nuclear weapons and because Putin has said he is prepared to use them, many in the West are trying to figure out what kind of a settlement can occur in Ukraine by which Ukraine will not have to give up and Putin will be able to save face. And then, it is assumed, the world will be able to move on.
But if any compromise is achieved in which the Kremlin leader gains something, even if it is not as much as he has been seeking, and thus is able to present it as a win for him and for Russia, then one consequence will almost certainly be that neither he nor his country will be forced to face up to the crimes they have committed and realize they must change course.
Russians need to recognize this as well rather than taking refuge in the notion that “only a lost war is worse than a war itself,” Moscow commentator Mikhail Pozharsky says, an attitude that makes it almost impossible to talk about ending the war, however horrible it is, and thus gives Putin a victory he doesn’t deserve (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6264C74F35251).
Russians should instead recognize, he continues, that defeat in a foreign war can lead to improvements at home, something that has happened again and again. Unfortunately, anyone who talks about “the benefits of defeat” is inevitably compared to Lenin and the Bolsheviks who have been discredited in the eyes of many Russians for “inventing Ukraine.”
But Russians today should recognize that what brought the Bolsheviks to power was not the war itself but rather the efforts of Russian elites to continue the war by establishing a new government. Had the Provisional Government not insisted on continuing the war, “the Bolsheviks would not have been able to seize power.”
And that provides a moral for Russia today: “admit defeat, make peace and move to reforms” as soon as possible. “The more you delay doing so,” Pozharsky says, the worse will be those who will emerge from the shadows to eventually take advantage. That also is a lesson for Russia’s opponents who don’t want to ensure that Russia is defeated and admits as much.