“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is an often cited quotation by George Santayana, and yet it seems especially appropriate considering the circumstances we are currently facing. Comments describing Ukraine as a nation that "many Americans can't find on the map" were once rather amusing considering the fact that many Americans list even their own country as one "they can't find on the map." However, I am reminded of Neville Chamberlain's 1938 comments describing the then-border crisis between Nazi Germany and Czechoslovakia as "a quarrel in a faraway land between people of which we know nothing." 11 months later, Britain was at war.
Today we see the same spirit of revanchism from Putin. With growing unrest, government corruption, and sanctions crippling the economy (with more potentially to come), the Kremlin needs to revive support by whipping up Russian nationalistic sentiments. Unfortunately for Moscow, Mr. Johnson has already taken “Operation Save Big Dog,” yet the tactics remain the same; create an enemy and you have an easy distraction. That enemy is us. The UK, the US, NATO, and its allies are the main antagonists in Russian state-owned media, which acts as little more than a thinly veiled propaganda machine for the “Big Dog” himself: Vladimir Putin.
The West cannot make the mistake of allowing Putin any negotiation room, especially when the sovereignty of other nations is at stake. Usually, our foreign intervention is an unwelcome nuisance and America has led countless wars in the name of oil and the military-industrial complex. Very often, the West exhibits the same behaviour as the Russians except our brand of imperialism is wrapped up in platitudes about "democracy" and "self-determination" while actively subverting the sovereignty of nations around the world.
This time, however, the Ukrainians are publicly calling for our help. When British troops were sent to Ukraine for training purposes, #God Save the Queen trended on Twitter in Ukraine and popular comments under videos by BBC News Ukraine use terms such as "BBC НАЙКРАЩIЙ!" (BBC is the best!) or "Слава Британії!" (Long live Britain!) Instead of burning American flags in the streets, the Ukrainian Armed Forces instead went viral for learning to sing our national anthem. Is a nation this appreciative of foreign intervention one we can abandon without exhausting all diplomatic avenues? It would be a betrayal not only to the values we claim to cherish, but also to the Ukrainians themselves who have sought friendship with us, their neighbours, for decades.
The general consensus across Europe is that military alliance is the only way to avoid a resurgence of Russian imperialism. Despots such as Putin never stop. Once the electoral boost from his current crusade fades, will he stop? Or will he simply move on to the next vulnerable target? The Baltic states are home to hundreds of thousands of Russian speakers. Where is the red line? Will we only defend democracy when contractually obliged to do so?
Xi and Putin have taken full advantage of their meeting at the Winter Olympics to fully back each other's expansionist plans and declare the West their mutual enemy. If the West is seen to blink first when it comes to Ukraine, it will only embolden Putin and Xi.
History is almost destined to repeat itself. The First World War was triggered from Sarajevo, the second at Warsaw. If we are to avoid a third war, we have to face the threat head on. If we turn and run now, the question will be not if, but when it catches up with us. If we want peace, I believe we need to prepare for war.