On Thursday, Germany invaded Ukraine. So did the Netherlands, Italy, France, UK and every other country that has funded Putin’s war machine for the past decade. Now they must help save Ukraine from the monster they helped create. My op-ed: https://t.co/jhrWomRTqo
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) February 25, 2022
This article is a reprint. You can see the original at the New York Daily News
By Garry Kasparov
“Early Thursday morning, Germany invaded Ukraine. So did the Netherlands, Italy, France, Great Britain and every other country that has supported Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war machine for the past decade. The missiles that slammed into Kharkiv, the helicopters attacking an airport near the capital Kyiv, every bullet in every Russian paratrooper’s gun — all were built or bought largely with money from the free world. That same free world now stands in shock that these weapons are being used to do what they were designed to do.
Europe bought Russian gas and oil and welcomed Putin’s oligarch cronies’ looted billions in IPOs, real estate purchases, and political donations legal and illegal. Even after Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, Europe tried to keep business as usual separate from Russia’s assault on European security and the global world order.
On Thursday, Putin repaid them in full for their years of appeasement. After weeks of posturing and dramatic calls for summits and negotiations made headlines around the world, he sent his massed forces into Ukraine on the schedule he set months ago. The preening shuttle diplomacy by France’s Emanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz was revealed to have been a waste of time for everyone but Putin, who used it to ready his forces for the attack.
That time could have been used to arm Ukraine with the weapons it badly needs to fend off Russia’s overwhelming military superiority. It could have been used to level sanctions to demonstrate that this time, for once, the West was serious about deterrence. Instead, Ukraine was treated like a beggar and sanctions were kept in reserve, as a threat Putin had little reason to expect was serious. After all, goes his thinking, if you have the power to stop me and choose not to use it, aren’t you giving me the green light?
It’s not as if Putin tried to hide what he was doing. Spies and satellites weren’t necessary to tease out that Russia was investing record sums in its military capacity and security forces; it was right there in the national budget for years. Russia may be falling apart and falling behind, but there was always plenty of cash for security forces and propaganda, the budget of a dictator.
Putin was so confident of his potential rivals’ obliviousness and cowardice that he brought nearly every mobile element of the Russian military to Ukraine’s border over the course of two months. There were barely any of the usual pretexts about “exercises,” even when Russia took the unusual step of moving a large force into Belarus, where they were poised just a couple hours from Kyiv as the tank drives.
Of course, this is far from the first time that the world has ignored Putin’s warnings, let alone mine. Five years into his rule in Russia, Putin infamously stated that “the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Few took it seriously or understood it to mean that Putin would try to reverse that catastrophe should he have the chance. Much the way Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was considered little more than hateful ranting when it was published in 1925, a clear warning was ignored.
Now a war of conquest has erupted in Europe, the greatest ever threat to the post-World War II order of borders and laws. Tanks are rolling, ballistic missiles are flying and jets are dogfighting above major cities. Putin has followed through on his promise to try to crush Ukraine, which he first invaded in 2014. My Daily News op-ed on Putin at the time was bluntly titled “Stop This Man.” Needless to say, Putin has not been stopped.
Eight years later, Putin and his war machine are much stronger. Instead of being politically isolated and economically cut off, his regime has profited from record gas and oil exports. Most profits are siphoned off into the private accounts that make Putin and his cronies the richest people in the world. Much of the rest has gone into a literal war chest, expanding and improving Russia’s military and internal security forces and filling a reserve fund to help them weather sanctions.
Time has made Putin’s grip on power in Russia stronger as well, with every significant critic dead, jailed or exiled. The last major protests, in 2020 on behalf of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, were met by an army of well-equipped riot police. Their shiny new helmets and batons were also paid for by the same European nations whose leaders meekly protested the brutality.
Putin is not invulnerable, nor is his army. Ukraine is fighting hard, and if the initial onslaught is repulsed, and aid arrives in time, Putin could find himself in a difficult position. He will have to either retreat or choose total war against an urban population, which could shock even sleepy NATO into action.
Russians came out to protest this war in the largest numbers since 2020, with more than 1,700 arrests across the country on the first day. Most Russians get their news from state-controlled television, unfortunately, where they are told this is a war of self-defense against the “Nazis” in Ukraine and their masters in America. (Really.) But the longer the war goes on, the more obvious it will be that Putin’s needless war on Ukraine is also part of Putin’s war on Russians.
Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and Putin invokes it regularly, but there is much that can be done to constrain him and save lives now. After years of my warnings and proposals being ignored, and now hearing “You were right, Garry!” all day, I’ll repeat what I said in 2014: Stop telling me I was right and start listening now. My recommendations:
Joe Biden’s Cold War background has prepared him better than most of his European peers. His grave tone and announcement of serious sanctions were a welcome start. Most EU leaders, even the ones in the East who grasp the danger Putin represents, are a generation removed from confrontation and conflict. But now they must help Ukraine fight against the monster they helped create.
This is war, a hot war, no longer deterrence, and time is of the essence to get weapons to Ukraine so it can fight the war for freedom that the rest of the world has preferred to pretend isn’t real.
We must acknowledge that there will be sacrifices involved. The price of stopping Putin has gone up since 2008, when he invaded Georgia, and since 2014, when he first invaded Ukraine, but it will only get higher if he isn’t stopped now. Failing to fight will only postpone the inevitable to another time and place.
Defending Ukraine from Putin is the defense of the free world. Defending Ukrainian lives is the defense of Western values. America used to care about such things, I recall from my life in the Soviet Union that Putin misses so much. It’s time to do what is needed and to do what is right. It’s time to fight.
Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.”