Two op/ed pieces, appearing in recent days in the Wall Street Journal, take very different views of ending the war in Ukraine. Placing them side-by-side is instructive for American readers, given how the authors differ in terms of war-and-peace strategy. Walter Russell Mead, in “Its Time to Prepare for Ukrainian Peace” (12/13), argues that Ukraine with her allies should seek the goal of peace, and do so quickly. A drawn-out war only means greater destruction. Few people, of course, would quarrel with this conclusion. A “clear security framework,” Mead notes, should be in place. How that “secure framework” is to be enacted, Mead does not say. One thing he does insist on in the eventual peace is that “dismemberment of the Russian Federation” should be avoided; otherwise, chaos and anarchy will ensue.
Strangely, Mead does not make a case for preventing Ukraine’s “dismemberment,” which is the heart of the problem. Who, after all, is the real victim in this war, and who is the aggressor? Ukraine has found herself in a war that she did not choose, facing a formidable foe that, in the spirit of Stalin and Hitler, insists on annexing her – and if she resists Moscow’s advances, then dismembering her. In the end, Mead acknowledges the unlikelihood of (a) Moscow returning all land that was annexed and attacked, (b) the payment of reparations, and (c) allowing war-crimes investigations. Where, then, does that leave us in terms of a requisite just peace?
In a very different sort of op/ed piece, published two days earlier, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes the following argument: “For a Quicker End to the Russia War, Step Up Aid to Ukraine” (12/10-11). Johnson, who pulls no punches, is a realist: we must acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that the war in Ukraine can only end with – i.e., there will be no quick end and no peace apart from – Vladimir Putin’s defeat. Quite simply, there is no way that the Ukrainian people can conceivably accept any alternative other than the reestablishment of her pre-February 2022 borders (agreed upon in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by not only Russia and Ukraine but Great Britain and the United States). This is especially true in light of the utter savagery – the unthinkable – which Ukrainians have endured at the hands of Russian forces. There can be no negotiated “land-for peace” deal. Period. Since there is only one just way in which the war can end, the question therefore is this: How soon can we get to the inevitable outcome? Few in the Western world seem willing – or able – to face this moral reality.
Johnson is forthright in his argument: it is in everyone’s interest that “the curtain come down as soon as possible on Mr. Putin’s misadventure. Not in 2025, not in 2024, but in 2023.” Johnson hits the nail on the head. The problem is that the unrealistic (and unjust) hope for a “negotiated peace” exists in the minds of too many Westerners. “Prepare for peace”? Well, of course, but a true peace can only occur in the terms described by Johnson. The chief obstacle at this point in the war is the West’s lack of resolve and moral backbone. As it was prior to World War II, when Hitler proceeded to annex Austria in 1938 and then occupy Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939. The primary language of geopolitics was appeasement.
The world cannot be permitted to witness the continued terrorizing of the Ukrainian people through missiles and drones. Ukraine’s allies must provide her with the weaponry she needs now; delays simply guarantee cataclysmic consequences. Are we really going to allow Putin to regain leverage by means of the energy and infrastructure war? Will we allow evil to prevail? China, of course, is watching, as are Iran, North Korea, and every other despotic regime on the face of the earth. What does Ukraine need? Not valor, as Johnson reminds us, for she has demonstrated that splendidly to the world over the last ten months. She needs the sophisticated weaponry available in the West – in particular, air defense, long-range systems, armored tanks, and training to go with all of these.
Johnson’s rebuke needs amplifying. We in the Western world must see the “nonsense” of our “fear of escalation” in this “hideous conflict” and call it what it is. What was it, after all, that caused Putin to invade Ukraine in the first place? Alas, it was our passivity, appeasement, and moral laxness, which the Russia dictator has been watching for many years. In recent days Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has urged the allies not to fear a possible breakup of the Russian Federation as a consequence of war. Kuleba is well aware, of course, that not all allies embrace the goal of a full-fledged victory by Ukraine.
Western democratic nations find themselves confronted by this moment of truth. The stakes are great – greater than most of us realize. Putin will continue to wage war, advance military production, and do the unthinkable, regardless of the effects of any sanctions as they affect the Russian economy. This is one reality that Western nations are unable – or refuse – to accept. Putin believes that he can outlast Ukraine and her allies. And Moscow will continue to use the language of “liberation” to justify Russian atrocities. But the truth is that the Russian Federation under Putin’s tyranny is not – and cannot be – a “normal member of the international community.” What Russia is doing militarily and morally is an abomination.
If Putin outlasts the free world, there is no free world any longer to speak of. Every dictator and tyrant alive will be ascendant. Johnson is right: we must be “stronger and bolder.” The world and Ukraine depend on it.