Putin Is to Blame

A recently published article in The Atlantic tells us that Vladimir Putin, by invading Ukraine, has “revitalized the liberal world order”: “Although we in the West sometimes lose faith that our values are universal, Putin certainly believes they are. Otherwise, why attempt to conquer a country to prevent it from succeeding? And why threaten prison sentences for Russians giving aid to Ukraine?” 

John Zmirak at The Stream presents a very different view. He suggests the Western political establishment may end up putting George Soros, not Putin, in control of a liberated Ukraine and the world order writ large. We who are siding with the Ukrainians should avoid bringing about a “Soros win.”

Although Zmirak’s rhetoric is deliberately provocative, he may be closer to the truth than the far-left Atlantic. Onetime constitutionally limited governments will remain in the hands of woke elites throughout the West no matter what happens in Kyiv. Our onetime constitutionally guaranteed liberties will still be endangered in Canada, the United States, Germany, and other Western countries, even if we can force Russian armies out of Ukraine.

Moreover, many of those who are supporting the Ukrainian side (John Zmirak and I are among them) have no interest in buttressing the Western woke status quo. We would be delighted to see it fall and be replaced by the older liberal constitutional order that it supplanted. We are genuinely appalled by how LGBTQ+ and antiwhite racist groups have taken power and are suppressing open debate. We are profoundly bothered by how the COVID epidemic has been used by those in power to take authority away from parents and restrict our movements as once free citizens.

I’m also not quite sure what the “liberal order” is to which The Atlantic refers. But while I’m delighted the leftist government of Olaf Scholz in Germany is sending arms to the beleaguered Ukrainians, I also wish the condition of civil liberties in Scholz’s country, which I treat in my book on antifascism, was not as parlous as it is. Nor were those traditional liberties that the German government now scorns in the name of an exaggerated antifascism particularly honored in Zelenskyy’s government before Putin’s brutal attack. Although I am hugely impressed by the courage of Ukraine’s leaders in the face of aggression, let’s not pretend their government has been run by Jeffersonians. I, for one, would not have wanted to be among the bullied Russian minority living in Ukraine.

Lest there be any doubt, I unequivocally support the Ukrainians while the Russians are raining rockets on their cities and while the most vulnerable Ukrainians are hiding in subways or fleeing their country. Sometimes we are faced by a situation in which one feels impelled to make a necessary moral decision, even if the circumstances that led to that situation are morally muddied. The German minorities living in Poland between the two wars had every reason to protest the abusive behavior visited on them by Polish civil authorities and their Polish neighbors. But those abuses did not justify Hitler’s devastating attack on and brutal occupation of a neighboring country. Sometimes the reaction to an earlier abuse is so wildly disproportionate that one is forced to focus on the counter-violence.

Although we might deplore disastrous mistakes made by American administrations in playing off the Ukrainians against Putin’s Russia, it is Putin, not the United States or the Ukrainians, who in the end is responsible for this horrific invasion. And since Putin has not hidden his intention to bring back what he can of the Russian empire, we have every right to suspect that he is citing American indiscretions (such as helping engineer the February 2014 blue revolution in Kyiv) to justify his geopolitical ambitions. Also, far from insignificant was the decision of the Russian government in the Budapest Memorandum in December 1994 to cede Donetsk, Luhansk, and part of the Crimea to an independent Ukraine. In return for these border arrangements, Ukraine disastrously, as it turned out, gave up its nuclear weapons

There are many of us on the American and European Right who stand solidly behind the Ukrainians because of their present situation. (Although we are not for the use of American troops or for establishing a belligerent no-fly zone, we are open to means short of these steps to stop the Russian invasion.) Our support has nothing to do with wishing to bolster our disagreeable political and cultural elites. Least of all are we concerned that Putin does not allow gay instruction in Russian schools. The French Rassemblement National, the German Alternative für Deutschland, the conservative presidents of the Czech Republic and Hungary, and countries bordering Ukraine on the west stand behind this invaded country. 

We are with the Ukrainians because of their present plight, not because we approve of the motives of others with whom we are accidentally allied. A correspondent asked me mockingly whether I enjoy being on the same side with Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot. To which I responded that I would have been on their side during the fall of France. One doesn’t always pick one’s temporary allies.

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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

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