As people across continents witness the heartbreaking suffering of Ukrainian people under barbaric Russian attack, Western governments are at a decisive moment in history.
Do they take resolute action to finally stop President Vladimir Putin’s rogue regime, or do they stay under the optimistic assumption that limited containment will prevent direct military confrontation with Russia?
We believe that in order to answer this question, Western leaders need to be honest and straightforward with their nations about three key points.
One, Putin’s Russia has become an outlaw terrorist state threatening world peace.
Two, Moscow is seeking confrontation with the West because its main objective is to see the end of the Western-dominated international order.
Three, the West bears significant responsibility for enabling the rise of Putin’s aggressive regime, and as consequence, has a moral duty to defend the innocent victims of Russia.
After his failed blitzkrieg in Ukraine, Putin switched tactics to all-out terror and heinous destruction awakening the world to the vile nature of Putin’s Russia.
There is growing understanding that modern Russia is not just a captured state run by an authoritarian criminal mafia regime - it has also willingly become a true outlaw state, blatantly attacking the rule-based international order.
Today, Putin’s Russia is a terrorist state whose menace eclipses any other rogue actor on the planet since the Second World War. Russia’s threats of unprovoked use of nuclear weapons endanger humanity.
Moscow is seeking global revanche to restore its super power status by toppling the Western dominated world order. Russia is determined to achieve that status by redefining itself through direct confrontation with the whole democratic world.
Putin’s Russia is prepared to embrace the role of "Evil Empire" as long as it gains power to shape the world as it sees fit.
Overturning the world order
The last three decades have demonstrated that despite being (often undeservedly) welcomed into every available international cooperation mechanism, Russia was unable to find its place in the post Cold War reality. While lacking economic competitiveness, Moscow gained critical leverage over the West by exploiting existing vulnerabilities, and creating new ones.
In the mid 2000’s, after firmly consolidating power in Russia, and establishing a so-called "state capitalism" economy (which rewarded select loyal oligarchs with license to pillage the Russian people in exchange for acting as unofficial extensions of the Russian government abroad), Putin’s regime entered into a phase of active rivalry with the West.
Russia’s calculated strategy to undermine the West included creating a disruptive advantage in energy; co-opting Western business and political elites; corrupting international organizations; and building a world scale influence network, including global propaganda media to interfere with democratic process in western democracies.
Moscow’s strategy met no serious resistance.
On the contrary, the West - particularly European governments and businesses - actively engaged Russia, ignoring all obvious security and geopolitical risks.
Seeing how cheaply and quickly he could gain influence with the West, Putin became confident he could employ outright aggressive methods to regain dominance in the former Soviet space.
The West turned a blind eye to those actions.
Even after Moscow’s 2008 war of aggression against Georgia, Russia was still rewarded with membership in the WTO, and with European permits to build the Nord Stream gas pipeline.
Critically, the EU and NATO’s lack of vision for eastward expansion has effectively contributed to destabilizing the countries with democratic aspirations which strove to break away from Moscow’s influence. The West de facto treated them as buffer states in Russia’s "sphere of influence," crediting Moscow with a veto power over their pro-Western ambitions.
As a consequence of this Western complacency, Moscow created a belt of instability around its borders while preparing to shift efforts to destabilizing the West.
The West strengthened Putin’s regime
As Putin’s regime has shifted "red lines" without meeting meaningful consequence, the West itself funded this aggressive agenda via Russia’s revenue from Western markets and Western investments. It helped Putin’s regime grow stronger at home and bolder internationally.
This continued even though Putin’s belligerent ambitions were laid bare in his public speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference.
The West was not perturbed.
In order to operate under the threshold of perceptible threat on Western political radars, Putin kept signalling that his main interest is in restoring Russia’s "sphere of influence" in the former soviet space, not directly confronting the West.
A large portion of business and political actors in the West were willing to accept Moscow's backing for their mercantile reasons. Also, the West mistakenly still perceived Russia as a counterbalance to China’s rising global power. As a result, many of Putin’s sins were easily forgiven and forgotten.
The beginning of Russia’s undeclared and unlawful war on Ukraine in 2014 did not change much.
Despite destroying the post Word War Two security architecture in Europe by illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea, Moscow still kept its friends in the West willing to ignore all red flags of the Kremlin’s growing threat to the world.
The price for waging unprovoked war on Ukraine and occupying large portions of Ukraine’s territory in Crimea and in the Donbas region, as well as Azov and Black Seas, was very small indeed.
Worse still, the German and French brokered Minsk Accords in fact rewarded the aggressor with the spoils of his conquest.
By mid-2021, Russia de facto annexed occupied Donbas territories by almost entirely integrating them into the Russian state.
Russia’s war crimes and atrocities against the Syrian people were largely ignored, too. As well as interference in the political process of dozens of countries, most notably of the United States, and use of chemical warfare agents and political assassinations on foreign soil.
The symbol of this strategic corruption of the West is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – an energy weapon long defended by Russian friends in the EU as "just a commercial project."
Instead of setting deterrents for Putin’s criminal pursuits, the West dutifully provided Russian corrupt elites with the business and legal architecture for illegal enrichment and money laundering across democratic countries.
There shall be no doubt that the collective West bears full responsibility for financing and enabling the rise of the monster of Putin’s Russia.
Russia’s attack on the West is inescapable
It must be said loud and clear – Western political leaders failed their own citizens.
The whole world is in danger because a terrorist state is acting with absolute disregard for any moral, political, or legal limitations.
Today, Russia’s fascist state is pursuing the complete destruction of an independent democratic nation. It is waging a devastating war of terror on Ukraine from the territory of two countries - its own and Belarus, deliberately targeting and decimating civilian areas and critical infrastructure.
It is committing war crimes and resorts to nuclear blackmail.
The West has responded to Russian aggression with belatedly providing Ukraine with a limited arsenal of lethal weapons and a long-overdue extensive package of sanctions against Russia. The hope is to wear down Putin’s regime in the mid-term so he will be deprived of resources for future conquests.
But what remains ignored is that for Putin, it is not just about Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin is seeking to overturn the Western dominated world order. He earnestly believes that Western power is declining, and he is the one to steer its demise.
Putin has great disdain for the West. He believes it is weak and corrupt. He wants to challenge the U.S.-led financial system and dethrone the US dollar in international trade. He believes he can rely on the quiet support of China which will welcome the decline of Western power.
He thinks he can build his own axis of evil with depended ties to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America to sow instability whenever he needs to extort anything from the international community.
According to Putin, it is Russia that must set the rules of the World order as it sees fit, while rules-based international order which equally serves all, should be destroyed.
This is why Putin aims to humiliate the West in Ukraine.
He is also certain he will be able to destroy the EU and NATO by exposing their inability to defend one of its Member states, like Lithuania.
Let us put it plainly: Russia is already at war with the West.
And if Putin’s regime is not stopped in Ukraine, it will strike the West militarily.
Furthermore, he is keen to do this as soon as possible.
Moscow is not going to wait until its resources are depleted by western sanctions. A military attack is the only response Russia has to plunge Western economies into chaos. Putin does not care about being "provoked" – he has shown he can resort to the crudest of lies to contrive false justifications for his actions.
So the only real question for Western leaders is this: will you stop Putin in Ukraine and save thousands of lives from peril, or are you inviting Russian terrorism onto your own soil and putting the lives of your own citizens on the line?
Listen to your own citizens who demand that you act in Ukraine now. Listen to your hearts to help the suffering of Putin’s victims. Listen to your consciences to do everything in your power to stop the world’s greatest modern day evil.
As Russia attempts to erase the peaceful Ukrainian nation from existence, it is time to acknowledge that the Russian regime has no moral boundaries on its belligerent ambitions. Putin’s regime must be stopped to prevent more destruction to the world.
Roman Sohn, legal expert, Chairman, Direct Initiative International Centre for Ukraine
Ariana Gic, political and legal analyst, Director, Direct Initiative International Centre for Ukraine
Hanna Hopko, Chair, National Interests Advocacy Network ANTS, MP and chairwoman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ukraine, 2014-2019
A short version of this article was published with the Macdonald Laurier Institute, a think tank based in Ottawa.