A month of Putin’s war: Ukrainians deserve not just to survive, but to win | New York Daily News | March 25, 2022


This article is a reprint. You can read the original at the New York Daily News.

By Garry Kasparov

“Almost exactly eight years ago, my op-ed on Putin was titled ”Stop this man.” Putin was not stopped and, as I’ve often said of dictators, they do not stop until they are stopped. We are now one month into his all-out war on Ukraine, an invasion and bombardment of a sovereign European nation of 44 million people.

Now that’s probably closer to 40 million, as millions of refugees, mostly women and children, try to escape the destruction of their homes and lives. Many thousands have not been so lucky, although it will be a long time before the bodies can be recovered and counted in places like the southeastern city of Mariupol, which Russia has besieged and battered into rubble. One month ago, it was a city the size of Honolulu or Manchester.

The smoking ruins and fleeing civilians are reminiscent of Putin’s other wars in Syria and Chechnya. Murdering thousands of innocents and bombing schools and hospitals with modern weapons is not “indiscriminate,” by the way. It’s an intentional strategy designed to demoralize and terrify the target population into capitulating.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Metzel/AP)

Putin’s initial goal was to take Kyiv quickly, behead its leadership — perhaps literally — and install a puppet regime as he did in occupied Eastern Ukraine in 2014. Based on initial responses, it seems that the U.S. and other powers were equally confident that this would happen in a matter of days. Instead of preparing Ukraine for the invasion with weapons and sanctions, they prepared for negotiations and a quick return to their comfort zone of useless diplomacy.

Perhaps they were listening to the “experts” who wrote before the war started that no amount of weaponry would help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion. Putin’s instincts about Western spinelessness were once again accurate. Following his old formula, previously employed in Eastern Ukraine as well as in the Republic of Georgia and Syria, he would use force to gain territory and concessions and the West would rush to accommodate him with diplomacy.

The only problem? Someone forgot to tell the Ukrainians. As the Russian joke going around puts it, “We are now one month into the two-day operation to capture Kyiv.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky refused to flee, reportedly responding to American offers to evacuate him with, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.” A former actor and comedian, Zelensky’s resume included Ukraine’s “Dancing with the Stars” and a TV show about accidentally becoming president. Since the war began, Zelensky’s Churchillian leadership has inspired the world via remote video addresses to parliaments, his countrymen, and even directly addressing the Kremlin and the Russian people — who of course aren’t allowed to see them thanks to Putin’s near-total media blackout.

Europe and the U.S. were also pushed to act by global public opinion, which mobilized very quickly in support of Ukraine. The media documented the unfolding horror in real time, with no doubt who the villain was. The exception being Tucker Carlson and some of his Fox News colleagues, who are so adept at parroting Kremlin propaganda that they should be paid in crackers.

The next surprise came on the battlefield. The Ukrainian military has fought well and hard, with the passion of a people defending their country. Meanwhile, Russia’s forces have proven inept and uncoordinated, rotted through with corruption. Russian soldiers’ morale is as low as the morals of their leader. Casualty numbers are likely in the tens of thousands, slowing Russia’s advance and making it harder for Putin to cover up the catastrophe back home. Dead Russian soldiers are left on the battlefield, unclaimed and unidentified.

Despite its surprising resilience, Ukraine is still badly overmatched. Putin has been building up his war machine for a decade, investing the hundreds of billions in profits from the Russian oil and gas the free world lined up to buy despite his crimes. (And many are still buying it, by the way.) Unable to defeat the Ukrainian military, Putin has continued with his usual modus operandi of turning on easier targets: civilians and infrastructure. Long-range missiles, more than 1,200 so far, heavy artillery, and aerial bombardment are directed against cities unable to bring in supplies or be evacuated. The short-range anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons the West has supplied, categorized as “defensive weapons,” are of little use against such attacks.

These are also war crimes, beyond the military invasion itself. I hope Western leaders keep this in mind as they begin to look for offramps and de-escalation options. Stopping the violence is the priority, yes, but if it is done by rewarding a war criminal with territorial conquest and reducing sanctions, it will only be a pause in Putin’s war.

Wars, plural, is more accurate. As I wrote in 2014, when Putin first invaded Ukraine, it was only the front line of his larger war against democracy and the liberal world order. Ukrainians are dying for the values of liberty and democracy the U.S. and other NATO nations profess to treasure. We must not let their sacrifice be in vain.

Sanctions will slowly eat away at Putin’s ability to fund his war and at Russians’ support of it, but thousands more Ukrainians will die without more immediate protection. Lack of food and electricity is affecting more major population centers by the day, a situation that will grow worse regardless of the short-term military balance.

The Biden administration has been late and is still behind Europe in sanctioning Russia and aiding Ukraine despite having excellent advance intelligence about Putin’s invasion. The West was ready to help Ukraine fight a guerrilla war against occupiers, as if it were Afghanistan fighting off the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Much more is needed, including jets, drones and other weapons that can counter Putin’s vicious and cowardly long-range attacks.

A new mindset is required as much as new weaponry. Ukrainians deserve not just to survive, but to win. It would repeat the mistakes of 2014 to allow Russia to continue to occupy an inch of Ukrainian territory, to let Putin claim victory and transition back to holding fake negotiations in nice hotels while he rearms and reloads to prepare for his next assault.

Putin has said repeatedly that Ukraine is not a legitimate state. Does the West agree with this assessment, that it’s nothing more than a buffer between Putin’s dictatorship and free and prosperous Europe? If not, why are they conceding Ukraine’s sovereignty? Ukrainian land, skies, and sea do not belong to Putin. He is an invader. Zelensky is pleading with NATO and its member nations for more direct assistance, including a no-fly zone over the country. They have refused because such a step could lead to the direct engagement of Russian forces — as if NATO was created to issue memos instead of fighting to defend democracy.

It is constantly repeated that there is no NATO obligation to defend Ukraine, a non-member. But neither is there a prohibition against the coalition or individual nations taking action to stop a genocide on NATO’s doorstep.

As for escalation, Putin will do that anyway and it’s more likely the more confident he is the West will not intervene. Dictators like Putin don’t require provocation to escalate. This new war came after years of Western collaboration and negotiation with Putin, not deterrence and strength. We must finally learn that lesson. As Zelensky said in his video address on Thursday, “freedom must be armed.”

Putin is capable of anything, but he and his commanders are not suicidal. He blusters about nuclear weapons because he knows the effect it has. We must be resolute and do everything possible for Ukraine to achieve victory. If you’re so afraid of what a dictator will do if he loses that you’re helping him win, you should reevaluate your strategy and your character.

This war will not truly end as long as Putin is in power. He must be isolated completely, with no way back. There can be no place for Russia in the Iran deal or anywhere else. His commanders, cronies, and ordinary Russians must be forced to choose between normal life and life as a pariah under Putin.

Putin has survived this long because he keeps raising the stakes and his opponents keep offering him lifelines. It’s time to pull up the rope. It’s time to live up to the ideals Ukrainians are dying for. By doing so we will not only help save Ukraine, but save ourselves.

Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.”


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