By stopping an aggressive, revisionist Russia dead in its tracks, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world, Aleksandar Đokić writes.
On 3 October, Russian special police arrested and beat up a Russian Orthodox monk, Ilya Sigida, in his temple in the southern Russian town of Slavyansk-on-Kuban in the Krasnodar region. Sigida is not an ordinary monk but also holds the title of aide to the regional archbishop.
However, the Russian state felt confident to assault him because he wrote an article for the site of the bishopric about the way in which Christianity and Christians should view the unpleasant topic of war. The Russian army or its leadership weren't even mentioned in the piece.
Sigida's fate is just the latest example of why Russia simply isn’t the traditionalist Mecca it tries to be for the Western alt-right — while at the same time, it's neither the ideological descendant of the communist superpower, the Soviet Union, with the Kremlin's actions clearly showing it's become the polar opposite of its anti-fascist convictions of the past.
Yet, today, the number of those opposing the continued aid to Ukraine keeps growing, especially among the increasingly polarised extremes who see Vladimir Putin as the ultimate truthteller.
In turn, the conviction of the extremes has caused a ripple effect with the more moderate citizens of Europe and the US, and governments throughout the Western world are being made to justify their continued support of Ukraine.
This is why a shift has to be made from a purely emotional narrative at the outset of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 towards more rational geopolitical arguments about why supporting Kyiv actually means ensuring the future of the democratic world as a whole.
'As long as it takes' starting to irritate?
After almost 20 months of Russia’s total war against Ukraine, one thing is certain — the conflict is set to march on at least into the next year, with no end in sight.
While many in the West had high hopes after Ukraine’s swift rout in Kharkiv and less swift, but nonetheless effective, victories in Kherson, the reality of war saw Moscow muster enough manpower not to allow a quick and painless breakthrough of its main defensive lines.
In political terms, this means that the cost of aiding Ukraine — both in military and economic terms — continues to rise, all amidst a crisis of democracy not seen in the Western world since the 1920s and 1930s.
The “as long as it takes” catchphrase of US President Joe Biden’s administration is starting to irritate a part of the domestic electorate, a feeling also present throughout Western Europe.
These voices are not prevalent, but they cannot be ignored, in a way that they present great peril, not only to Ukraine but to the prestige and position of the collective West in an increasingly fractured world.
Support for Ukraine reached maturity
Yet, the unprecedented polarisation of American society, coupled with the end of "Pax Americana" — the period of relative peace in the Western hemisphere that saw the US become the dominant political, economic and cultural power — is something that Ukraine’s leadership and all those that support the struggle of its people for freedom from foreign occupation have to contend with.
And we are now at the stage where the global movement to help Ukraine reaches its maturity.
It now goes well beyond posting flags next to personal accounts on various social networks; it is not merely a feel-good cause one can carelessly stand behind, nor is it a social fad.
Aid to Ukraine is a strategic political, economic, military and societal decision, which will shape the future of the Western world alongside Ukraine itself.
The Ukrainian cause is just, moral, and essential as a legitimising factor for the Western brand of democracy, along with the European Union and NATO.
After many blunders and dubious interventions in places like the Middle East, the Western world has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate its own values, resolve and strength.
Placing our bets on David vs Goliath
If the West were to allow Ukraine to be left alone against the much more powerful aggressor, it would most probably receive new chances to support a just cause, only this time it would likely be the Baltic states or Poland.
In other words, abandoning Ukraine would be like extending an invitation to a resurgent and revisionist Russia to march on further into Eastern Europe.
Let us not forget that, for Putin’s regime, the die has been already cast and there is no going back.
If the Kremlin isn’t stopped in the Ukrainian steppes, it will advance towards central Europe, destroying NATO's reputation every step of the way. The West is invested in this war — a war it most certainly didn’t desire, but a war that brings advantages as well.
This is why the favourable rational aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian War should be pushed to the front of the debate in Western polities.
There has been too much emphasis on morality, tapping into the altruistic motives of societies driven most often by self-interest.
This moral narrative, while true, has shaped the war through the eyes of the casual nominally powerless Western observer as a hopeless, albeit valiant, struggle of David vs Goliath. But in the real world, it’s difficult to place your bets on David.
Defending the borders of the democratic world
Since Russia’s war in Ukraine is now also a conflict of strategic importance for the West itself, the main legitimising narrative of supporting Kyiv's war effort and wrecked economy cannot rely mainly on arguments of morality.
Putting into play rational geopolitical arguments would actually provide an understandable set of strategic goals which the democratic Western world aims to achieve by aiding Ukraine.
The main and rationally achievable aim has to be the containment of Russia. Its power projection needs to be clipped, its aggression curtailed in such a manner that it will not be able to convince anyone that it represents anything other than a regional power with delusions of grandeur.
The whole autocratic world is watching and, while the US has lost the stomach for unwise and audacious foreign military interventions after erring greatly in the Middle Eastern theatre, investing in Ukraine is precisely the initiative needed to help stave off the geopolitical sharks that have sensed the scent of blood in the water.
Not a single US soldier has died in Ukraine, the cause is perfectly just, one anyone can stand behind without later feeling remorse, and it represents being on the right side of history.
But it's more than that: this is a genuine opportunity for both the US and a united Europe to prove that they can defend the borders of their democratic world.
The Ukrainians are willing to fulfil this role, not because they are bellicose fanatics, but because their own survival and their core cultural and national identity are in grave danger.
Ukrainians are fighting against getting wiped from the face of the Earth and then being reconstructed in the Kremlin’s own image, piecemeal.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians know what is at stake
This is no one’s proxy war. Instead, it is a case of intersected interests.
For Russia, it is a battle to protect the regime in the Kremlin, to prolong its lifespan, and a great revanchist leap which would prove to the West once and for all that Russia is mightier even than the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire put together.
Amidst that, Putin wants to reign until his natural death and to be viewed as a fearsome emperor.
For Ukraine, it is a matter of survival — both physical and spiritual. Russia would not only murder and repress Ukrainians, it would reconstruct the historic, cultural, national and even religious identity of the remains of the Ukrainian people.
Ukrainians don’t need Biden or NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to tell them to fight. They know what is at stake.
For China, this war is an opportunity to tie a weakened Russia closer to itself to further exploit it. Beijing would also like to see a weakened Russia trapped in this conflict forever since it would drain both the Kremlin’s resources and those of the West.
The West has an interest to stop an aggressive, revisionist power in its tracks, crippling it for decades, and putting Russia in such a position that it won’t matter who’s in power. It may become democratic, or it may not, but it won’t pose a danger to its neighbours.
And by achieving this goal, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world.
Now is the time to explain this to electorates
It falls to the leading political figures and parties of the Western world to explain to their electorates that investing in Ukraine is synonymous with investing in their own future.
It doesn’t matter if one is on the side of the progressives or the traditionalists in the great values-based divide of today. Aid to Ukraine works to the general advantage of the West as a whole.
It would really help the debate if the Western traditionalist electorate was more familiar with the ideological eclecticism of Putin’s Russia, which can propagate Joseph Stalin as well as any tsar, and which isn’t above misusing the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran for the gain of its propaganda.
Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.
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