If you don’t condemn Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as a villainous tyrant, if you don’t call for regime change in Russia, and if you don’t demand that the rest of the world arrest and prosecute him on charges of mass murder, you may as well call him Vladimir the Great and prepare to applaud his next conquest. In a speech he was giving in Poland on March 26, 2022, Bystander-in-Chief Joe Biden inadvertently said something sensible when he went off-script and blurted, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Here he echoed Senator Lindsey Graham, who, on March 3, stated during a television interview: “Somebody in Russia has to step up to the plate. Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?” Graham doubled down: “The only way this ends, my friend, is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country a great service and the world a great service.”
Meanwhile, Hungary, which has forgotten Russia’s invasion in 1956, has re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, (born in 1963), a proud Putin puppet, to a fourth consecutive term. Strategically, Hungary lies along Ukraine’s western border, so Russia has an ally within NATO and the European Union from which to attack Ukraine on what would otherwise be its safe side.
Putin has greater plans. He has tested the resolve of the rest of the world and found it timid. Hungary has his back. The United States has turned its back, mumbling the word “sanctions.” Joe Biden’s handlers have cautioned us against taking the President at his word. The American news media, in order to steer our attention away from the single enduring crisis of a lifetime, have turned up the volume on Disney’s social activism and some non-incident of resounding insignificance at the Oscars.
Could a true leader — if there were one — rally the responsible nations of the world (assume NATO) to stand up to Putin? Could we not call his bluff on nuclear weapons? We’ll never know. There is no leadership, only hand-wringing and calls for “diplomacy.”
A Little History
Before World War One a map of Europe showed four bordering empires (in addition to some countries you’d expect to see such as France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain). These four empires were all ruled by monarchs, not parliaments. Some of the modern-day countries that were partly or entirely ruled by these monarchs were:
- the German Empire
- part of Poland
- the Austro-Hungarian Empire
- the Czech Republic
- part of Romania
- part of Poland
- the Ottoman Empire
- part of Syria
- part of Russia
- the Russian Empire
- part of Latvia
- part of Poland
The end of World War One (1914-1918) left Europe and the eastern Mediterranean with a different map. Standing as countries with distinct or near-distinct borders were:
And standing, with reduced borders at the end of World War One, were:
- Turkey (the core of the Ottoman Empire)
Russia has nothing like the concise ancient history of Egypt, China, Great Britain, or Italy. The city of Kyiv, anglicized until recently as Kiev, was founded by Kyi, a Slavic knyaz in the 500s. Knyaz is a title which we loosely render in English as “prince.” No one knows for certain, but the root of the name, Russia, (they pronounce it Ross-E-ya), may have arisen in the 800s from a word used to describe the Viking invaders and pillagers, also known as the Varangians or the “rus” (pronounced “roos”), who plied the rivers between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The largest of these waterways, the Dnepr River, runs through the center of Ukraine. Those raiders rowed their boats along these waterways and conscripted others along the way to do the rowing as well, and the rowers may have been called rus. The people in the region of Kyiv were known as the Kyivan Rus by the time of Knyaz Oleg in the late-800s.
Russia’s oldest city-state, Novgorod, at first a Viking outpost, began to take form in the late 800s as well. Oleg and succeeding grand rulers of Kyiv appointed rulers over Novgorod from the late 800s until about 1020. It was in A.D. 862-863 that the Greek missionaries Methodius and Constantine (later calling himself Cyril) traveled into Ukraine and, among the local people, are said to have stumbled upon the rudiments of what is now the Cyrillic alphabet, the same alphabet currently used in one form or another for the languages of Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, and some other Slavic countries. (A possible origin of the alphabet that Cyril developed further is a theme in my 2017 novel of Ukraine and Khazaria, Fire, Wind & Yesterday.) Methodius and Constantine became the patron saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, in part for their contribution to rendering the Holy Scriptures in the languages of the Slavic people.
A century later, V. V. Putin’s namesake, Volodymyr, the ruler of the Kyivan Rus, adopted Byzantine Christianity in A.D. 988 on behalf of what was becoming a confederation of regions, the Rurik Dynasty, which for most of the next three centuries would be the largest and most powerful state in Europe. When the Mongols invaded the lands of Kyivan Rus in the 1200s Moscow was an insignificant trading outpost, easy to miss where it lay deep in the forest. The Principality of Moscow, also called simply Muscovy, became significant starting in the late 1200s. The first Russian to call himself “tsar” (derived from “caesar” and presuming the same level of self-importance) was Mikhail of Tver in the early 1300s. Continuous use of the term, tsar, by those ruling Muscovy, came a couple centuries later and lasted until 1917.
The Russian Revolution and subsequent upheaval (1917-1922), which deposed the tsar and imposed dictatorial rule, saw the brief existence of an independent Ukrainian People’s Republic. This was quickly overpowered by the Russia which found it prudent to include Ukraine as a founding republic in the formation of the new mega-nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — the USSR.
In the immediate aftermath of World War Two (1939-1945) the USSR, pretending to be the voluntary union of like-minded (socialist) republics, usurped several countries along its western border, or at least installed puppet governments in many — among them Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the eastern third of Germany — and moved in military hardware, thus drawing across Europe what was known for more than forty years as the Iron Curtain.
For the brief existence of the so-called Union of (Soviet Socialist) “Republics” (1922-1991) several countries were wholly or partly mismanaged and aggressively exploited by the totalitarian (self-described communist) regime centered in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin cites a thousand-year history in which Ukraine (the Kyivan state) was a region of Russia. This is a distortion of the facts typical of the Lenin-to-Putin dynasty ruling Russia. He is counting the period beginning with Vladimir’s adoption of Christianity in A.D. 988. Ukraine didn’t arise from Russia. Russia grew out of Kyiv.
Putin claims that his mission is to de-nazify Ukraine, which is about as logical as if he intended to de-Disneyfy the country. Finland, a region within imperial Russia before World War One and not currently a member of NATO, may need to be de-nazified next. And maybe Sweden needs to be punished soon afterward, for its army’s incursion into Moscow in 1610 and subsequent battles over the 90 years after that.
Negotiating a Settlement
Ukraine must declare flatly: “We are interested in nothing but Russia’s complete removal from Ukraine’s sovereign territory. We will negotiate nothing with Vladimir Putin. What we will consider are proposals for Russia’s reparations.”
Diplomacy is the art of assuring that justice is set aside so that aggressors don’t whine afterward — if diplomacy reaches a conclusion and there is an afterward. To do justice for Ukraine, diplomacy must be set aside and a settlement imposed upon Russia. How? By a united world telling Russia that this is the way it will be and that if Russia fails to abide by it, the rest of the world will suffocate Russia until its people overthrow those remaining in power.
An opening premise:
Spain is a sovereign nation. Poland is a sovereign nation. Israel is a sovereign nation. Canada is a sovereign nation. The same must be said for Japan (which once tried to rule China), India (which was once under British rule), the United States, and you can name many more.
A second premise:
Ukraine is a sovereign nation and should be enjoying the continuing peace that it recently knew and which every other nation expects for itself. Ukraine’s boundary as established under Soviet rule was recognized by Russia when the Soviet Union was dissolved and the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics became, once again, separate countries. Other sovereign nations on Russia’s border include Finland, Mongolia, and China. (Belarus has voluntarily remained a vast region under Russia’s command since the breakup of the so-called USSR and never stood alone as a sovereign nation.)
A third premise:
The map of the world at the beginning of this millennium, which describes the boundaries of a relatively stable world order, defines the nations which mutually recognized one another’s sovereignty at the time, the aspirations of some to possess others notwithstanding. The rest of the world recognized Russia’s boundaries from 1992 onward and Russia supposedly had relinquished claims to its former Soviet Republics. Others wish to possess Israel. North Korea and South Korea wish to possess one another. China wishes to possess Taiwan. We get that. We live with but do not recognize the claims that create those tensions.
A fourth premise:
Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory was unprovoked and unwarranted. In so doing Russia, apparently indiscriminately, committed crimes of aggression against innocents. Russia owes Ukraine reparations as well as the severed heads of those in power who ordered it done.
The only sensible settlement of Russia’s war against Ukraine will have these provisions:
- The borders of Ukraine will be those which it had at the fall of the USSR. This includes Crimea and the eastern steppe.
- The Russian perpetrators of the war will be brought to trial in Ukraine on charges stemming from the consequences of their actions. Those perpetrators include V. V. Putin.
- Russia will pay the cost, either in money or in needed resources, to restore the infrastructure of Ukraine and the housing of its people to a reasonable semblance of its pre-war status.
- Russia will disavow all present and future claims to any portion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Russia will likewise disavow all claims to the sovereign territory of every other nation in the world.
- Ukraine will disavow all claims to any portion of Russia’s sovereign territory and to any other nation’s sovereign territory.
- Ukraine will pledge never to launch a retaliatory war against Russia.
- Either country may cede territory to the other at the assent of the other with no un-negotiated strings attached.
- Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, is free to associate with any other nation in any way it may deem prudent or useful. This includes the liberty to join NATO and the European Union.
- Russia and Ukraine make no restrictions on the actions and free associations of one another so long as those actions and associations do not interfere with the other’s free actions and associations.
- Diplomatic relations between the two nations may be established according to the will of the people in each country as expressed through the government each population retains in power.
The world’s failure to impose these terms will assure future aggression on the part of the demons who currently rule Russia. The world’s failure here will also serve as an invitation for China to overrun Taiwan at its leisure. It will also be tantamount to a declaration that, should the United States re-interpret the history of North America to its advantage, then the U.S. is just as right and free to add the sixteen provinces of Canada into its union of states. Mexico will be just as right to reclaim Texas. Germany could re-annex its territories of the 1890s. The examples are endless and most don’t require a distortion of history for justification.
Any settlement that leaves Russia any authority over one square meter of Ukraine, that does not prosecute those responsible, and which lets Russia walk away owing nothing, is a crime committed by the rest of the world. It’s sad to realize, though, given the history of diplomacy, that precisely such an inadequate settlement is the most likely outome if any settlement is reached at all.
A Parting Thought
The following is an excerpt from a tribute I wrote to my Uncle Woody, who, as a frightened kid in uniform, was killed in Korea in 1952. A version of this also appears in the novel, Cold Morning Shadow:
I have this idea about war. It’s like, if the bully punches you once, but you’re not prepared to resist, then you’ve been warned, and you’d better be prepared for the very next punch. If, sooner or later, the bully punches you again, and you’re still not prepared, by default you have decided to accept whatever he decides to deliver, because life isn’t fair and the strong decide how the rest will live.
Once a bully hits you, though, he has forfeited all his rights: the right to choose your response, your weapon, the setting, the timing, the intensity, and the duration of your response, whom you enlist to help you, and whether he survives or is reduced to dust.
If the bully is a kid on the playground, you can surround yourself with protective friends or go to the principal. If you’re a nation and the bully is another nation, you have no one to run to. It’s up to you, and you had better not be ducking around and trying to find your escape route and protecting you nose while he rearranges your internal organs. You’re sure as hell an idiot if you’re trying to talk peace while he dislodges your teeth.
If you’re a nation, and a bully hits you, I think you should lay him out flat, suddenly, and with everything it takes to forever prevent the next punch. I know America doesn’t start wars, but when America gets sucked in by some tinpot dictator with a bad haircut and a pet word for God, (P. J. O’Rourke’s words, not mine), I cannot comprehend why we tiptoe around with so-called diplomacy and feed our soldiers to their bullying. If the bully punches first, I think he ought not have time to draw another breath before he gets knocked out cold instantly. The United States has had the ability to do that ever since the end of World War II.