This week witnessed the six month mark of the war in Ukraine.
The dream by Russia’s military that it would be quick war has vanished. Political leaders, journalists and others are no longer asking themselves is Putin a strategic genius? The answer is a loud no.
Putin has made it clear that since 1991 he has lamented what he considered to be the unjust dismemberment of the Soviet Union at the hands of the democratic West.
The 2014 Maidan Revolution was a triumph for democracy in Ukraine, but a poke in the eye for Putin. Even worse for him was the election five years later of Vlodymyr Zelensky as Ukraine’s president.
Ukraine is only one step in Putin’s oft proclaimed desire to build a shield and sword to safeguard his autocratic regime and create fear in the hearts of the democratic world.
The West’s first response was the right one; to help Ukraine militarily and thereby send a message to the Russian people that tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are dying for a cause that is not theirs, but the creation of Putin and his leadership circle. This may take time, Putin controls the media and dissidents are being routinely arrested. But the digital world of today knows no borders and Putin’s gag order will fail.
Putin is currently trying to find support wherever he can. Luchashenko in Belarus is already a convert. But Belarus is more of a liability than an asset for Russia. The same can be said about Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei. Except for sending attack drones, a sanction-stressed Iran has little to offer Putin. That leaves Narendra Modi, India Prime Minister, and China’s President Xi JinPing. But India and China are wary of each other and unlikely to come to Putin’s aid, other than buying Russian oil at a cheap price.
The two potentially soft spots in Europe, Victor Orban in Hungary, and now the hard right of Giorgia Meloni in Italy, are not likely to encourage their countries to leave the European Union or give up the EU’s financial largesse in favor of Putin’s hollow blandishments.
In the face of the West’s overwhelming economic superiority with a GDP more than 40 times Russia’s, things are not looking up for Putin. The West’s advantage is even greater on a per capita basis. Putin’s war with liberal democracies can be likened to the amateur climber starting up Mt. Everest, wearing only high top sneakers, short pants and a t-shirt. Despite Russia’s efforts to build a modern military and to increase petroleum production, its economy remains well below Western standards. Moreover, both its industrial complex and petroleum industry are dependent on imports from the West.
Putin’s last hope is that the West will grow weary of the struggle, weaken its support of Ukraine and pressure Zelensky to surrender a corridor in Eastern Ukraine extending from the Donetsk region to Crimea, giving Putin “cordon sanitaire” that will protect Matushka Rossiya (Mother Russia) from the encroachment of liberal democracy.
The West’s greater danger may lie within liberal democracies themselves. In France, Marie La Pen would, were she successful, threaten France’s democratic tradition. And, let’s face it, the United States is not immune. Putin’s intervention in the 2016 elections was not an aimless missile shot. Trump’s presidential victory led four years later to the armed assault on the Capitol with insurrectionists shouting “Hang Mike Pence” and “Shoot Nancy Pelosi.” If the insurrection had succeeded, it would have put an end to liberal democracy as we know it in America.
In short the battle field is not only in Ukraine. It is also closer to home.
This has special meaning for Israel, a nation that was founded as a liberal democracy. It has a huge stake in the outcome of the battle between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes. This is no time for Israel to “go wobbly.” Tactical considerations in Syria should not mask the bigger challenge Israel and other liberal democracies face.