Support Ukraine today or fight Russia tomorrow

The Russia-Ukraine War is not only a struggle for Ukrainian independence against resurgent Russian imperialism. As Vladimir Putin himself frequently states, it is also a war to destroy the existing world order.

By now, it should be apparent to any objective observer that unless Putin’s invasion ends in defeat, Russian international aggression will not be limited to Ukraine. Since February 2022, the Kremlin dictator has placed the entire Russian economy on a war footing and begun actively preparing Russian society for a long war. He has created an anti-Western alliance of fellow autocrats, and routinely portrays his invasion as a fight against the collective West.

These actions underline Putin’s commitment to an ideological showdown with the Western world and make a mockery of suggestions that he can be bought off by territorial concessions at Ukraine’s expense. In reality, Putin firmly believes he is on an historic mission and will not stop until he is stopped.

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Many in the West have yet to recognize the scale of the threat posed by Russia. Amid growing complaints of “Ukraine fatigue” in Western capitals and talk of a stalemate on the Ukrainian battlefield, it is vital to understand that military aid to Ukraine is not charity. Instead, every single delivery of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine is an investment in the future safety of the democratic world and a safeguard against the collapse of the international security system.

Putin makes no secret of the fact that he wants to bring the curtain down on the post-1991 world order and usher in a new era marked by insecurity and aggression. There are already growing indications that he is succeeding. The weak Western response to Russia’s Ukraine invasion no doubt encouraged Hamas to launch its unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel; the same can be said for Venezuela’s recent threats against neighboring Guyana. This trend toward greater international instability will continue to intensify until Russian impunity is challenged.

Countering the Russian threat is not easy and has already resulted in significant political and economic costs for populations throughout the democratic world. Nobody is more acutely aware of these costs than the Ukrainians, who have suffered unimaginable trauma and destruction since the start of the invasion in February 2022. If other European nations wish to avoid a similar fate in the coming years, they must back Ukraine now before it is too late.

At present, the Western response to Russia’s invasion lacks any sense of urgency. Strikingly, the debate over Ukraine’s NATO integration has not significantly evolved in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion, despite the complete transformation of the European security situation. Likewise, discussions over the delivery of weapons to Ukraine remain subject to endless hesitation and extended delays, even as the bloodiest battles witnessed in Europe since the days of Hitler and Stalin rage in eastern and southern Ukraine.

This underwhelming response could have disastrous consequences that will be felt far beyond the borders of Ukraine. If a lack of Western resolve allows Putin to occupy and subjugate Ukraine, he will be greatly encouraged to go further. Crucially, he will also have both the additional resources and the momentum to do so.

Moldova and Kazakhstan would be likely initial targets and would be particularly vulnerable to Russian invasion. With NATO demoralized and discredited by the fall of Ukraine, an emboldened Russia may also decide to press home its advantage by threatening Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, or Poland. At that point, NATO leaders would be faced with the grave choice of either sending troops to fight Russia or accepting the demise of the Alliance.

All this can still be avoided by arming Ukraine adequately and advancing the country’s NATO integration. In the short term, Ukraine must be given the tools to defeat Russia’s invading army. Looking further ahead, the only way to achieve a lasting peace is by acknowledging Ukraine’s status as one of the cornerstones of European security.

The world is currently at an historic crossroads. Putin is leading a revisionist Russia in an escalating confrontation with the West that will define the future of international relations. This Russian threat can no longer be downplayed or denied. Instead, the choice facing Western leaders is simple: Support Ukraine today or fight Russia tomorrow.

Oleksandr Zavitnevych is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament with the Servant of the People party and Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament’s National Security, Defense, and Intelligence Committee.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: A Swedish-made Archer self-propelled howitzer of Ukraine’s 45th separate artillery brigade fires at Russian positions in the Donetsk region, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, December 16, 2023. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)