The West Faces A Once In A Generation Opportunity To Stop Russia. It Needs To Take It

The west faces a once in a generation opportunity to humble Vladimir Putin’s Russia and prevent it causing further death, destruction and instability. This would not only consign Russia to relative insignificance but also deliver a much needed boost to the international rule of law.

This comes as Ukraine continues to make significant gains in its counter offensive. Its forces have re-taken control of the entire Kharkiv oblast, including towns seized by the Russians at the beginning of the invasion, including the strategically important city of Izium. Photos of the counterattack show countless numbers of tanks and other military vehicles hastily abandoned by fleeing Russian troops.

Russia has also reportedly begun pulling its forces out of Melitopol, the second largest city in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, which has been occupied since March. The Ukrainians have quickly outflanked Russian forces in the region, providing Ukraine with an opportunity to further disrupt Russian supply lines between the east and south of the Donbas region.

In under a fortnight, Ukraine has turned a stagnant conflict into a quick-moving blitzkrieg. As it stands, only winter will prevent Russian from being pushed out of most of Ukraine.

Since the invasion began, Russia has lost 80,000 casualties and 1,000 tanks. Russia is facing their worst military disaster since the First World War.

Nuclear weapons aside, this reveals Russia for what it really is under Putin, a corrupt, aggressive state that is incapable of subjugating a smaller neighbour.

But this hasn’t prevented Russia from causing chaos and suffering in its perceived spheres of influence.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine speak for themselves. It has bombed the port city of Mariupol to rubble, with the President of Mariupol television claiming that 87,000 civilians have been killed through both indiscriminate and targeted attacks. Massacres in Bucha and Irpin, where the bodies of 500 and 290 civilians were found respectively, is another example of the brutality that Russia willingly unleashes on innocent people. The liberation of the Kharkiv oblast has quickly revealed more mass graves, including a grave of more than 440 people in Izium.

Russia also attempts to attack the sovereignty of its neighbours through more covert means. Estonia and Finland are often the target of Russian cyberattacks and violations of their airspace. Estonia recently repelled a wave of cyberattacks, the biggest since 2007, allegedly in response to the decision to remove Soviet monuments. Finland was hit with a similar attack against ministry websites, while a Russian aircraft violated Finnish airspace. United States officials have also recently reported that Russia has actively attempted to influence the politics of other countries by transferring more than $300 to foreign political parties in more than two dozen countries since 2014.

Russia has also used brutal tactics elsewhere by assisting its ally Bashar Al-Assad of Syria in mercilessly bombing opposition forces and civilians in Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring organisation, has reported that Russian airstrikes have killed over 18,000 civilians since 2014 through the use of cluster munitions and incendiary weapons. This includes the deaths of 27 ‘white helmets’, a Syrian rescue group who were nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

While cries of hypocrisy have been directed at the west for civilian deaths, there is a fundamental difference. Russia uses a well-worn strategy of targeted attacks on civilians to achieve their military objectives. This is a distinct form of intended brutality seen time and time again by Russian forces in Grozny, Aleppo and now Ukraine.

Put simply, Russia is a bad international actor that ignores the rule of law and one that causes untold suffering.

But the recent success of Ukraine presents the west with an opportunity to humble Russia, thereby preventing it from committing future aggression and atrocities.

This can be done in three ways.

First, military aid should continue flowing so Russia is pushed out of or withdraws from Ukrainian territory.

The United States recently announced it was providing another $3 billion in military aid, bringing its total committed support to $25 billion. The United Kingdom has so far committed $4 billion and Poland $1.8 billion, while Germany has pledged $1.2 billion.

This aid is evidently working. Ukraine has been able to use modern weaponry to great effect with smart, mobile tactics that have wrongfooted Russian forces.

The hope of Ukrainians is that their recent success translates into more military assistance. This is warranted considering Europe’s six largest countries have offered no new military commitments since June, leading to concerns that Ukraine’s allies are suffering from conflict fatigue.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kubela has pleaded that “we are turning the tide and need more heavy weapons and ammunition from our allies to build upon the momentum, save more people, and liberate more of Ukraine’s territories faster.”

It is in the best interests of the west that that Ukraine receives the military equipment it needs to win the war and push Russia out of the country. This will restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and discredit the Putin regime and Russia’s military effectiveness.

If Ukraine is victorious, a peacekeeping force should be indefinitely stationed on the border of Russia and Ukraine. This will prevent Russia from illegally interfering in the domestic and foreign affairs of a sovereign Ukraine.

Second, the European Union needs to get off Russian energy and fast.

Russia’s economy is heavily reliant on the export of fossil fuels, with the European Union its biggest market.

Considering Russia has spent the summer sporadically shutting off the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, and the world inevitably transitioning to renewable energy, it is in Europe’s best interest to stop buying Russian energy.

The removal of the entire European market will economically cripple Russia and hamstring any future attempts at aggression.

Third, the west needs to maintain economic sanctions on Russia until its forces withdraw from Ukraine.

There is already evidence that sanctions are working.

While the high Rouble has been used to claim sanctions aren’t effective, it actually shows the Russian economy is in poor health. This is due to a huge imbalance between oil and gas exports and the complete collapse of its imports. Russia is heavily reliant on imports for manufacturing and technology and these imports primarily come from Europe and the United States.

Maintaining sanctions will put increasing political pressure on Putin’s regime and will prevent Russia from replacing military equipment, such as misses, aircraft and vehicles. This will help prevent Russian aggression in both the short and long term.

Russia under Vladimir Putin is synonymous with aggressive nationalism and a lack of respect for human life. It represents a direct repudiation of multilateralism, diplomacy and international law that the west, and the international community more broadly, represents.

For this reason, the invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes that followed needs to be the last time Russia acts with impunity, otherwise more human suffering will inevitably follow.

Chris Fitzgerald
Chris Fitzgerald
I am a correspondent, freelance writer and commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. I write articles, reports and op-eds on important global political and humanitarian issues, including human rights abuses, international law, conflict and displacement. My work is published through online publications, media outlets, not-for-profits and academic websites.