Why does Putin invade?, by Joan Tapia

We are already in horror. Russian troops destroy and kill. The invasion advances despite meeting resistance. Putin warns the Army of Ukraine to depose the legitimate government and to surrender in order to “negotiate” later. And tens of thousands of Ukrainians are leaving their homes and taking to the roads of the west in search of the border with Poland or Slovakia. Fear makes them flee.

To do? Nobody reasonably wants, for fear of a military conflict with Putin, who boasts of nuclear power, to intervene in Ukraine, which does not belong to NATO and therefore there is no legal obligation to defend. Some countries send weapons, knowing that Russian victory is inevitable and will increase the cost in human lives and destruction. European countries are preparing to welcome a wave of refugees that can reach up to five million. And harsh punitive economic measures are being taken that will hardly change Putin’s plans, whose priority is to control Ukraine as the first step -Biden ‘dixit’- to reconstitute the Soviet empire.

But economic sanctions – the least the West should do – are a double-edged sword because they will rebound us with an increase in the price of gas, oil and cereals (Russia and Ukraine are large producers). In short, with still more inflation and worse economic expectations. Russia must be punished, even if we hurt ourselves, but within limits. That its effects no longer disturb societies already shaken by the populist protest of the extreme right.

This is the situation when Putin, in his attempt to recover the Soviet empire whose fall he believes was the great misfortune of the 20th century, reminds Hitler of 1938 when, 20 years after the German defeat in the First World War, he demanded more living space. Ukraine is the Austria of today, with the serious difference that Putin makes his way to Kiev with blood and fire when Hitler’s journey to Vienna was a military walk.

Russian troops advance, Ukrainians flee, and the West decides on economic sanctions. But helplessly witness a catastrophe

Could the invasion of Ukraine have been prevented? It is true that Biden and the European governments have reacted energetically and have not given up like Daladier and Chamberlain in Munich with the excuse of preserving peace. But, in retrospect, it is clear that The West was naive to Putinperhaps because free societies are reluctant to believe that autocrats will not hesitate to resort to brute force.

The Eastern countries that are part of NATO -starting with the three Baltics- cannot be like Ukraine today because they enjoy the protection of its fifth article (any attack on a member country will be repelled as if it were against all the countries of the organization ). And it was those countries that, fearful of the Russian bear, asked to join NATO.

Ukraine is not a member, despite the invitation suggested by President Bush 2 in 2008, because the countries of the Alliance believed, rightly then, that it was not convenient to take initiatives that could arouse Russian alarm. And the Putin of 2008 did not look like the Putin of 2022. But the attitude had to change in 2014 after the violation of the borders by military force and the annexation of crimea. So, in 2014, the West, in addition to expelling Russia from the G-8, it should have allowed Ukraine to join NATO. That was the obligatory reaction -no Munich- to Putin.

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Today the Baltic countries and other Eastern European countries like Poland are not calm and tremble in the face of Russian expansionism, but they are protected by their membership in NATO. If in 2014, as Putin’s punishment for Crimea, Ukraine had entered NATO, today we would not be powerless in the face of the serious shock to the world order – and its economic consequences – that is the invasion of Ukraine.

Why didn’t the West react as it should in 2014? Because their leaders obama in United States, Merkel in Germany, david cameron in Great Britain and Hollande in France, they were focused on their internal problems -of different magnitudes- and on weathering the social discontent that followed the serious economic crisis of 2008. And populism was already gripping democracies, as was seen shortly after with Brexit and the victory of Trump in the 2016 elections. A Trump who, by the way, has just applauded Putin’s courage in invading Ukraine.

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