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What Have We Lost and Where do we Go
As of 24 February 2022, our world has changed, changed negatively, perhaps irreversibly. We lost much of the international security structure that our grandparents and the post WWII generation spent their lives building. Many people have long regarded the United Nations as a joke. Today it truly is. It was established at the end of the war to enhance the ability of nations to prevent general war in the future. Russian and Chinese Security Council veto power renders what was designed to be the highest level of international diplomacy meaningless. But the UN was not the only structure created in 1945. There are dozens of other institutions and agreements that all, in one way or another, helped establish checks and balances that allowed nation states to negotiate differences in ways short of conflict.
Stalinist Russia, although a party to creating the UN, began working, as soon as the war ended, to establish its control over as much of Europe as it could. It also used its intelligence, diplomatic, military and propaganda tools to foment revolution and exacerbate internal differences everywhere it found an opening. The Soviet state’s ideological drive was assumed to be the driving force. In fact, as I and all my colleagues found, it was rare to meet and compete with any Soviet KGB officers, Soviet diplomats or Soviet military officers who actually believed any of the Marxist-Leninist drivel. They all knew it was about power – an endless drive to extend and enhance Russian power. Ever since the leaders of the tiny medieval Moscow state began to absorb their neighbors, Russian policy has been one of expansion and aggression. Why should anyone believe this is going to change?
We, meaning the republics that negotiated and established the entire post war security structure, were naïve. The Soviet Union was never going to be a reliable partner and Russia is not going to be one today. Ukraine negotiated in good faith with Russia to obtain its independence when the Soviet monster imploded and fell apart 30 years ago. Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons in return for Russian guarantees that it would be left in peace by Russia. That is just one of the agreements referred to above. Russia’s current Czar, Putin, shredded that agreement in 2014 when he brutally seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. What he is doing today is just the second phase. What comes next: take over the Baltic republics? Try to interfere in Poland? Finish off the tiny republic of Moldova?
Listing all the agreements that Moscow, whether Soviet Moscow or Putin Moscow, has broken would be an academic exercise. I am more interested in where we all find ourselves today. Putin engaged in naked aggression against Georgia and got away with it; he used cyber warfare against Estonia and got away with it; he murdered one man and almost succeeded in murdering 2 others in the UK using highly toxic nuclear materials; he grabbed the Crimea and parts of two oblasts in Ukraine and got away with it. Where does it stop? If he halts his offensive against Ukraine today or tomorrow or next week are we supposed to just negotiate with him? He is not just a killer, he is a serial killer and his word is meaningless.
Once again: As of 24 February 2022, our world has changed, changed negatively, and perhaps irreversibly. We need to think seriously about what kind of world we want for our children and grandchildren and how we can get there. What is clear is that we can no longer view Russia as just another European nation and a responsible member of the international community.