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As Ukraine burns

Americans have good reasons to care about Russian aggression

Smoke and flames rise near a military building in Kyiv, Ukraine, after a Russian military strike on Thursday. Associated Press/Photo by Efrem Lukatsky

As Ukraine burns

As I write these words, Russian tanks and troops are making rapid thrusts into Ukraine, while Russian artillery fire and missiles rain terror on Ukrainian cities and Russian commandos move inland after landing ashore from the Black Sea. Murky dispatches from the front lines and the fog of war render any snap tactical assessments immediately obsolete—or otherwise impossible.

What can be said is this: Vladimir Putin has launched the largest military campaign and first interstate war in Europe since World War II. His immediate goal is the conquest of Ukraine; his larger goal is nothing less than reversing the United States’ victory in the Cold War, restoring the boundaries of the Soviet empire, dismembering the European political order, and striking a blow to the foundations of the free world.

If you doubt that, just listen to his own words. Putin bemoans the loss of the Soviet Union. He complains that Ukrainians have torn down monuments to the first Soviet dictator, Vladimir Lenin. He declares the very existence of democratic nation-states in Europe (and Ukraine’s aspirations to join them) a mortal threat. He inveighs against the “Anglo-Saxons” because he detests and fears the Anglo-American traditions of ordered liberty and democratic capitalism.

Why should Christians in the United States care about Ukraine? There are several reasons.

First, it is a longstanding U.S. strategic principle to prevent either Europe or Asia from being dominated by a hostile power, because, in addition to dismembering our allies, the hegemon could then marshal the resources to severely damage the U.S. economy and threaten the United States itself. In World War II, Japan’s aggression in Asia and Nazi Germany’s aggression in Europe both soon enough targeted the United States.

Second, the United States’ 75-year run of leading the free world of nation-states—leadership that has protected our own peace, liberty, and prosperity—has depended on upholding international principles such as non-aggression, freedom of the seas, and not changing borders by force. Putin seeks to overturn this order and replace it with a Russian- and Chinese-led world safe for marauding tyrants (just as Xi Jinping is paying careful attention to our response on Ukraine as he weighs his own designs on Taiwan).

The United States should lead the Western alliance along two fronts: deterring any further Russian aggression into neighboring countries and inflicting as much pain as possible on the Russian occupiers of Ukraine.

Third, the Ukraine war is almost certain to lead to humanitarian calamities such as massive refugee displacements, starvation, and thousands of civilian deaths. The Ukrainians are our fellow human beings who, as bearers of the divine image, should not be subject to violence and oppression. They are our neighbors in need.

I should add as a parenthetical that American Christians not be seduced by Putin’s cynical appeals to social conservatism. This is a man who murders his political opponents, supports genocidal dictators, persecutes Baptists and other religious minorities, and presides over one of the highest abortion rates in the world. North Korea, Iran, and the Taliban also do not embrace the radical sexual agenda of contemporary progressivism; that does not make such regimes our friends.

What should now be done? Punishing economic sanctions—including ending rather than just suspending the Nord Stream 2 pipeline—are necessary but not sufficient. Sanctions may lessen the resources available to Putin and induce some discomfort among the Russian people. But sanctions will not reverse the invasion, nor will they by themselves prevent Putin from further aggression, especially since he has amassed some $600 billion in hard currency reserves to insulate the Kremlin from economic pain and holds the whip hand of oil and gas exports to Europe. Rather, the United States should lead the Western alliance along two fronts: deterring any further Russian aggression into neighboring countries and inflicting as much pain as possible on the Russian occupiers of Ukraine.

This means mobilizing a large deployment of U.S. and other NATO forces in the front-line states of Poland and the Baltics, to block any further Russian invasions. It means an urgent effort to supply natural gas from the United States to Europe (which would also be a boon to U.S. energy producers) as a bulwark against Putin’s use of Russian gas supplies to blackmail Europe.

To impose costs on the Russian military, the United States should lead a massive resupply effort of weapons and aid to bolster the Ukrainian conventional forces as long as they can fight, while disrupting Russian command and control with offensive cyberoperations and preparing a covert action to support a Ukrainian insurgency in resisting the Russian occupation.

All of this should be accompanied by multifront political warfare against the Kremlin, including supporting Russian dissidents, undercutting the Kremlin’s propaganda with independent news broadcasts and reports of Russian casualties, exposing Putin’s personal corruption and ill-gotten gains, and freezing the assets of Putin’s cronies in the Russian oligarch class.

The United States did not choose this battle—nor should we deploy U.S. military forces in the fight—but we can and must support the Ukrainians. Because what happens in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine.

William Inboden

William Inboden is professor and director of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida. He previously served as executive director and William Powers Jr. chair at the William P. Clements Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House, and at the Department of State as a member of the Policy Planning Staff and a special adviser in the Office of International Religious Freedom.

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