It was 30 years ago this Christmas Day that the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing an end to the long Cold War, and heralding what many hoped would be a new golden age of peace and freedom. If only it were that simple. But there’s great truth to the idea that freedom isn’t free, and every generation must defend it anew.
Today, while Americans are busy with the acrobatics of celebrating the holidays via the price hikes of Biden’s inflationary policies and the shifting maze of COVID rules, the game’s afoot abroad. In recent weeks, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has massed more than 100,000 troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, and with that implied threat of invasion is trying to bully NATO into bowing to his wishes. Putin is demanding that NATO end all military involvement in Eastern Europe and promise not to admit Ukraine to NATO membership. According to Putin, NATO constitutes a threat to Russia’s National Security. (That’s a lie, and quite a whopper.)
America is effectively the core player in NATO, with Europe’s welfare states — long on the dole and short on defense — relying on American firepower to back them up. That puts President Biden and his team in the lead… and a limp performance it has been. They are responding to Putin’s accusations and threats with a mix of diplomatic appeasement and threats to impose tougher sanctions on Russia — an approach that has failed to persuade Putin to relinquish Crimea since he seized it from Ukraine in 2014. Putin is now playing a game of chicken, not only over yet more Ukrainian turf, but over the basic rules of the 21st century world order — as he seeks to establish yet more precedents in which he can grab territory from another sovereign state, slap around NATO, bully the U.S. and broadcast all this as his rightful defense of Russian security.
It’s time President Biden and other elected leaders of the free world stepped clear of Putin’s clouds of propaganda, and spoke right past this KGB-trained dictator, to remind the world of the truth, and some important history. NATO is no threat whatsoever to Russia’s security, nor is westward-leaning Ukraine. No one seriously believes that either NATO or Ukraine is about to invade Russia; the threats run all the other way.
The real threat here — and it is a threat to Ukraine, to the U.S., and more broadly to the free world, is Putin’s driving ambition to reconstitute the old Soviet empire, in which Ukraine was the second most important of the 15 “Soviet Socialist Republics” after Russia itself. Putin isn’t looking to reprise communism, which beggared the USSR; he’s after a Soviet empire reassembled under his own dictatorship. The direction here is more fascist than communist. For the time being, he’s partnering ever more closely with China, the world’s two most dangerous, nuclear-armed, opportunistic despotisms.
So — here’s a thought — how about President Biden, and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and all the rest of our erstwhile national security team standing up to refute Putin’s propaganda loud and clear, for all the world to hear. Start with the history surrounding that Christmas Day in 1991, when Soviet party boss Mikhail Gorbachev, with the USSR disintegrating under him, found himself bereft of power and resigned — and that was the end of the USSR. Putin has called this the “greatest geopolitical catastrope of the century.” That alone is one of the most monstrous lies of our time. The Soviet Union was a sinkhole of human degradation and misery, spreading its methods of repression around the planet. The collapse of the Soviet Union was not a catastrophe. It was a deliverance.
How did the U.S. and its fellow NATO members respond? We did not rush in to seize territory and crush the people of the former Soviet Union. Instead, we arrived with generosity and help, we sent aid, we offered expertise in replacing the debris of communism with a functional polity and economy, hoping to help lay the foundations of democracy — a hope that Putin himself, since taking power almost 22 years ago, has since trashed.
We sought to welcome Russia to the high table of democratic nations. We invited Russia — unqualified though it was — in 1994 to join the G-7, and a few years later (after some highly misleading book-keeping) to the Paris Club of creditor nations. We treated post-Soviet Russia as a friend. We did not demand apologies for the devastating, bloody and ruinous trail of Soviet expansion, influence and trouble-making that bedeviled the world for generations and cost the lives of scores, perhaps hundreds, of millions — and to this day leaves us confronting communist rule in China, a totalitarian North Korea, a malignant dictatorship in Cuba, and an array of other despotisms and hostile movements that sprang from the grasping and cruelly repressive Soviet empire. We would have been wise to be more explicit way back in the 1990s, about the damage and devastation inflicted on the world out of the Soviet Kremlin. But America and its allies were in a great hurry to give even the worst heirs of Soviet communism every benefit of the doubt, while chucking the history and lessons of the Cold War down the Memory Hole.
What we got was the rise of Putin’s imperial dictatorship, freed of the self-impoverishing mechanisms of communism, but a vengeful, ambitious and corrosive influence on any free world order — once again threatening Europe, bedeviling America, snatching Crimea and hooking up with an increasingly totalitarian China.
In defending freedom, the U.S. and our NATO allies have nothing to apologize for, and plenty to be proud of. Trying under threat to appease Putin will only feed his appetites. Putin has no right to decide whether Ukraine — or any other country beyond Russia — joins NATO or not. The only major threat to peace along that border right now is the one Putin himself has created. Standing up to Russia, welcoming Ukraine to NATO, telling Putin he will get nothing for his threats, is what America’s leaders need to be doing — though so far they are not. It might look risky to draw that line now, but if we don’t, we face soaring risks of much worse to come. If we do, we are taking an important step along the path that leads toward a better world to celebrate, on Christmases to come.