The day after 9/11 I emailed George W Bush urging a moderate response. I was expressing the consensus view of my Saturday morning English conversation class in Bishkek. President Bush ignored that advice.
Yesterday I emailed Joe Biden with very different advice – too late for it to influence his State if the Union Address. Here’s what I wrote:
I am an Australia/British citizen with many friends in Ukraine and no rancour towards the Russian people. I understand the strategy of putting economic pressure on Russia’s businesses and population in the hope that Putin will be disempowered from within. But as we learned in WW2 the Russian people have the ability to withstand great hardship – as do the Ukrainians – and Putin has successfully mined a deep deposit of nationalism and perceived historical grievance.
Therefore I do not believe that sanctions alone will be enough to save Ukraine, the Baltic states (notwithstanding NATO Article 5) and perhaps other former members of Russia’s sphere of influence.
Like Hitler, Putin has made his wider intentions clear. If we choose to believe that he’s bluffing, or will be brought to his senses by non-military means, we are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Eventually we will have to fight him, just as we had to fight Hitler. Now is the best time to do it, while a significant part of his military machine is engaged in Ukraine.
I spoke to a German colleague yesterday, who said that any military intervention to save Ukraine could precipitate WW3. I replied that it’s already started. Putin fired the starting gun. If we (the ‘good guys’) dawdle he will only get stronger, and Xi Jinping will feel increasingly comfortable supporting him and fulfilling his promise to subjugate Taiwan.
My German colleague also pointed out the vulnerability of Europe to a nuclear attack. The logic of that argument is that we should allow Putin to do whatever he wants, because he’s the only leader mad and bad enough to make a first strike. That would mean that the MAD strategy has failed and we are living in a new world order in which freedom, democracy and the rule of law have no place.