Let us be honest: After over two years of war in Ukraine, Western nations have continually run away from hard decisions. American support has assured Ukraine’s survival, but only in the short-term. But it is a lasting Ukrainian victory over Russia that must be our goal, which means Vladimir Putin’s defeat. The law of international relations is immutable: weakness invites the catastrophic, while strength deters.

It has become obvious that Western sanctions have failed to inhibit the Russian dictator. China, Iran and North Korea have all joined Russia’s alliance of authoritarian regimes opposed to any rules-based international order. Hence, they are doing their level best to infuse Russia with the means necessary to win the war. (Tellingly, one-third of all Russian trade is with China.) Their shared hatred of the West and its geopolitical influence ensures that this axis of evil will only assert itself more aggressively in the days ahead. Ukraine, then, becomes decisive. The stakes could not be higher.

We stand at a moment very similar to that of 1938/39 when an air of appeasement pervaded Europe. In September 1938, Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain and Edouard Daladier of France signed the Munich Pact, which forestalled war with Germany but allowed part of Czechoslovakia to be annexed, ultimately handing the nation over to Germany.

Let us be clear: a new fascism threatens the international order. Putin started the war in Ukraine based on a vision of a revived Russian empire that will not be contained. In year three of the war, Russia has doubled down on efforts to erode Western support and eviscerate Ukrainian morale. The latest aggression has been directed at Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. As Kharkiv’s mayor has warned, the city could become a “second Aleppo” (referring to the Syrian city partly destroyed a decade ago by Russian and Syrian forces). The Kremlin’s goal is quite simple: to make Kharkiv uninhabitable, forcing its 1.3. million residents to flee. The desperate need, of course, is air defenses, without which nothing will prevent the city from becoming a bombed-out husk like Mariupol.

Putin must be held accountable for his criminal aggression against Ukraine; for his outrageous massacres, forced deportations, millions of refugees, and murder of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians; and for the unrelenting attacks by Russian forces on any and all points of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.

For these reasons, and more, Ukraine’s victory is necessary because the alternative, Vladimir Putin’s victory, would mean our defeat. Sadly, as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board put it, the Biden administration’s strategy has been “a plan for Ukraine to lose as slowly as possible” – defeat, shall we say, “on the installment plan.” Alas, “as long as it takes” has been shown to be imprudent and foolish, an utter failure. Rather, “whatever it takes” is needed. Putin must be defeated.

We in the West seem unwilling to recognize – or acknowledge – that a failure to deter socio-political evil in Ukraine will only contribute to a larger, more catastrophic war with Russia. Putin’s success will produce momentum to reverse the Soviet collapse of 1991 and embolden him to reclaim to the motherland ‘historically Russian’ lands.

Anything less than Ukrainian victory will, given the crumbling foundation of post-WWII internationalism, embolden the entire axis of chaos. 

The time has come to allow Ukraine to defend herself properly. Half-measures, which up until now have characterized Western strategy, are not enough. Ukrainian victory and not merely her survival must be our goal. Western nations (and especially the U.S.), have forgotten what it means to fight an existential battle, argues professor of strategic studies Philips O’Brien. Until now, we have controlled what weapons and strategies Ukraine can and cannot utilize; we have dithered, we have said no, then yes, then maybe. We fear escalation, which gives the Russian dictator confidence to wreak havoc just up to the point of nuclear conflict. Ukrainian President Zelensky’s criticism of the allies in mid-May would seem justified: we seem to have greater fear of Russia losing the unjust war it started than winning.

As the Atlantic Council’s Peter Dickinson argues, we must rid ourselves in the West of our self-deterrent mindset and realistically come to grips with the ramifications of a Russian victory. While speaking publicly of reclaiming “historically Russian lands,” Vladimir Putin has compared himself to the late 17th-early 18th century Russian Tsar Peter the Great; in Putin’s world, Russia does not “seize”; she “reclaims” the lands rightfully hers by right of conquest centuries ago. Hence, according to the Russian dictator in a June 2022 speech, “It has fallen to us, too, to reclaim and strengthen” the empire.

Encouraging news has emerged from European leaders in the month of May. During a May 2 visit to Kyiv, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron announced that Ukraine may use British-supplied weapons to strike targets inside Russia. “Just as Russia is striking inside Ukraine, you can quite understand why Ukraine feels the need to make sure it’s defending itself.” On May 27, NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly gave voice to ending these restrictions as well. Representatives of all thirty-two member states adopted “Declaration 489 – Standing with Ukraine until Victory.” Three days earlier NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had declared that “the time has come” when Ukraine’s allies should lift these restrictions.

On May 28 French President Emmanuel Macron announced in a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Ukrainian forces are allowed to use French cruise missiles to strike targets inside Russia, provided these are military targets. Even the U.S. has finally lifted its restrictions in the most recent policy shift, with President Biden approving Ukraine’s partial use of U.S. weapons against military targets inside Russia, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed in Prague on May 30 at a NATO foreign ministers meeting. These are all positive developments towards manifesting the international force of will necessary to meaningfully alter Putin’s continued plans for Russian dominion of eastern Europe and wherever else he can sink his teeth into.

Given the untold suffering and evil that have been inflicted upon Ukrainians by Russian forces, no one could want peace more than this beleaguered people. Important questions thus confront us in the West. Will the U.S. uphold its commitment, as a signee of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, to honor and defend Ukraine’s right to “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity”? At the most basic level, can we acknowledge the reality of geopolitical evil? In the battle between good and evil – and it is precisely that – good must prevail.