Over 2 million Ukrainians have now become refugees – each one a part of the largest dispersal of Europeans across the continent in decades. Over 1,000 villages and towns are without water, electricity and heat, while medical supplies are rapidly dwindling, swelling a humanitarian crisis that is rapidly growing worse by the day. The question we must be asking ourselves now is this: for how long will we allow Ukraine to be decimated, tortured, battered, beaten, and bruised?
We can and should continue to economically isolate Russia as we have done, to bar Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, to freeze the financial assets of Russia's major financial institutions, and impose sanctions on Russian oligarchs, to ban all imports of Russian oil and gas, and so on. And when we have done all these things and more, where will Ukraine be left? How will this country even begin to find its footing again when it has had its soul ripped apart, when it has been violated, denigrated, and faced with extinction?
We in the West congratulate ourselves on supplying all the aid that we can to the beleaguered Ukrainians, chastising and punishing Russia with sanctions, while wisely maintaining our restraint, and not allowing ourselves to be pulled physically into the fray. Let us at least be clear with ourselves: we have nothing to be proud of while ordinary Ukrainians are spilling their blood to defend their homeland; we should be embarrassed and ashamed for remaining safely on the sidelines – and that, in the final analysis, is precisely what we are doing.
With every day that goes by our self-deception is becoming more palpable and more pitiful. We are deceiving ourselves every time we think that we are teaching Putin a lesson he is not likely to ever forget, every time we imagine that we are truly standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the brave people of Ukraine; every time we imagine that this horror unfolding across Europe is anything other than a harbinger of far greater calamities to come.
We have not even begun to see the waves of millions upon millions of refugees that will soon be desperately seeking safety and shelter for themselves and their loved ones. We have not even begun to see the true number of civilian casualties that this war will produce over the coming days. War is indeed a terrible thing – but it is made even more terrible when one side in the conflict is ultimately a peaceful nation that claims only the right to existence and self-determination; when it is being brutalized not for anything it has done, but simply for being, and for longing to exist as a free nation, proud, tall, and independent among the community of nations. By what right, by what authority does Putin decree which country is allowed to be, and which is not?
What Russia is doing is of course criminal in every sense of the word – but what are we doing by allowing this bloodshed, this naked aggression to continue, when Ukraine is calling out to us, and to the world, for the kind of help that may truly save their country from the block? We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by Putin's unhinged brutality and reckless threats. We should immediately increase the number of boots we have on the ground, especially in Poland, as well as Romania. This will, at the very least, clearly signal to Putin to not even think of authorizing a military incursion beyond Ukraine.
Most Americans oppose this idea, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to beg, understandably, for a no-fly zone. We should take his request far more seriously than we have; and indeed, unless Putin agrees to a comprehensive cease-fire within a certain timeframe, we should not hesitate in declaring a no-fly zone over parts of Ukraine – a move which Putin has said he will regard as tantamount to a declaration of war. It is easy to see why: establishing a no-fly zone would require, among other things, that the military destroy any ground weapons that could target its own planes. However, a no-fly zone need not and should not cover all of Ukraine, but could simply protect the areas around Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and other strategic points. At a bare minimum, a no-fly zone should be established to ensure the safe passage of refugees, including the humanitarian corridors to Lviv, for example.
The worry is of course that in entering an armed conflict with Russia – a country possessing thousands of nuclear warheads – we would be effectively inviting a horrific war that could escalate into a nuclear confrontation. This is an extremely unlikely scenario – but the fact remains that if we allow Putin to violate the sovereignty of his neighbors for fear of his reprisals then either a confrontation will inevitably occur, or we will be held hostage to a brutal thug apparently unwilling to stop at anything to restore Russia's global preeminence.
Putin's precipitous invasion of Ukraine has already begun to cool the warming relations between Russia and China – as China has historically stood on the side of stability, peace and the respect for sovereign borders, all of which were trampled on the moment Putin initiated this war of conquest. Biden should seize on this tension between Moscow and Beijing, using it to further isolate Russia and draw China closer to the West as the more reliable partner in furthering a new global era of stability, growth, and the rule of law. If the US begins to restore its relations with China this will further isolate Putin and lessen the prospect that he will opt to escalate this war or dare to start another.
The fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO should in no way stifle our determination to bring the Russian onslaught to a halt. The fate of countless millions of innocents is at stake, the fate of peace in our time is at stake, and the fate of righteousness, justice, and truth are at stake. Let us rise to the moment and take up our arms to defend our brothers and sisters from unspeakable cruelty. Unborn generations to come will with thank us and honor the sacrifice we made on their behalf.