In 1932-1933 Stalin, among his many other crimes, starved close to four million Ukrainians to death because they did not take kindly to forced collectivization. The Ukrainians, despite having some citizens who were Communist supporters, became independent from Russia in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin considered the breakup a disaster—the loss of empire. Ukrainian support for joining NATO was not high at first but skyrocketed after Russia invaded the Crimea. At the same time, Putin’s opposition to a free Ukraine increased dramatically. Why?
The Russians claimed that the formation of NATO was not for defensive purposes but an act of aggression that threatened Russia’s safety. Of course, Putin knew very well that NATO was formed for defensive purposes and that the member nations had no desire or ability to invade them. Napoleon and Hitler tried it and met with disaster. Further, no country in their right mind would want to take over Russia even if they could. Russia has been ruled for centuries by dictators, starting with legions of Tsars, then by the Communists, and now by the post-communists. The Russian people have always been willing to obey dictators of some kind including Stalin, the worse mass murderer of the lot. The Russians never embraced the enlightenment in the realm of government at all. Anyone who dared to speak up was and are killed or imprisoned. Who would want to run a country like that?
So, what was Putin afraid of? He will never be voted or pushed out of office unless his own military turns against him. He is a dictator with unlimited power in Russia. What he fears is not just NATO’s defensive armaments but their ideas—most fundamentally, America’s arms and ideas, specifically the concept of individual rights. Putin knows that the faint-hearted Europeans alone could never standalone against his militarily might but with America’s help they could. We are a block to his lust for power. A free Ukraine would be terrifying because it lies within Russia’s traditional sphere of dominance and could set an example for others to follow. Putin wants his empire back would like to enlarge it. Ukraine is only the beginning. (See The Mind of the Dictator).
Given the above, what should we do or have done? It needs to be a package. Here are four key elements.
- President U.S. Biden gave a speech Thursday revealing his plan. It focused mainly on economics. He gave a list of economic sanctions. These are fine but they may have a limited effect. The problem is that politics is ruled by political/moral philosophy. (See The Afghanistan Fiasco was Based on a Philosophical Error). There have been many discussions in the press to the effect that economic sanctions alone do not change a dictatorial regime. I think this is basically correct. The Russian communists gave up their dogma because they could not keep their secular promises and thus lost confidence in their total philosophy, but they did not give up dictatorship. As Ayn Rand said, “The power of morality is the greatest of all intellectual powers.” That is why socialists in Cuba and Venezuela did not give up their dictatorships when they caused mass poverty. They thought they were doing the right thing which was actually to destroy capitalism. So, hurting Russia’s banking sector or whatever will not necessarily stop Putin’s imperialistic desires. Putin does not have to worry about losing votes since he runs a one-party system, and he can and does arrest protestors. The sanctions may not even have a huge economic effect. Russia has a very healthy budget situation much (better than ours) and could work with their soulmate, China, to deal with practical problems like banking.
- However, it does not follow that there should be no sanctions. But sanctions should be made in the context of an explicit moral judgment. Biden’s critique did not go far enough. Make clear that Putin’s imperialism represents a moral failure and why. His conquest was a gross ethical violation– the destruction of a free nation. There was no consent such as through voting. It was rule by the gun—an admission that the conquered people do not want anything to do with your country and that you could only take over by threats of death and actual slaughter. It reveals that you cannot persuade them to join you through reason. This is an admission that you are a criminal nation. It is a regression to barbarism.
- Combine the economic sanctions with social isolation, viz. you are bad, so we are going to, in some form, separate from you. There are many ways to do this aside from monetary actions, e.g., send home scores of diplomats, withdraw ours, close or drastically pare down embassy staffs, stop exchange programs in music, sports, and education, etc. Bar them from the next Olympics which will be in the US. (They have been fanatical Olympics cheaters since the 1950s). Make them persona non grata. Propose (even if flutily) that they be banished from the UN (and they should not be the only ones. (This is not an endorsement of the UN).
- Biden did note later in his talk about the need for military preparedness by NATO. It is clear that Putin would like to take over NATO countries. All are a threat to his imperialistic goals. He will do whatever he can get away with. So, there must be large-scale military might to crush any invasions and the willingness to use it. It would put us in a very bad position to be the only free country left in the world. But we would need to insist that all NATO members pay their fair share of the cost and build up their own militaries which they do not do now. (The same principle should be followed with respect to any Asian allies). We should not prop up regimes that are not willing to fight for their freedom. (See Today’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).
There is no automatic movement of world history toward freedom and rights. You have to fight for them or lose them.
The Mind of the Dictator
The core problem in opposing dictatorships is the moral self-doubt of our politicians and that of other free countries.
Today’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Four countries have the desire and potential to destroy the free world and bring us to a new Dark Age with them as rulers—a real Apocalypse.
Why is the Chinese Government Terrified of Tennis Player Peng Shuai?
The disappearance of WTA tennis player, Peng Shuai, demonstrates that dictators cannot even tolerate a single critic.
The Afghanistan Fiasco was Based on a Philosophical Error
The disintegration of the Afghanistan army after the U.S. withdrawal should not have come as a surprise to anyone. It was based on a philosophical error.