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Hard truths. And still hope.
Recently, Ian Bremmer posted an excellent #quicktake that is a must watch. Of interest here, he made the observation that we are substantially at war with Russia, and that the 30-year post-cold war peace dividend that we all profited from, is dead and gone. That begs the question on everyone’s mind – where does this lead?
The hard answer is that it almost certainly leads to far more misery – far more anguish for the Ukrainian people – than we have yet seen. It may also lead to misery on an incomprehensible scale that needs to be considered. It may also lead to a better world.
The heroism of the comedian-turned leader of the free world, and his amazing people, is unprecedented in our lifetime. Truly inspiring and profoundly moving. And yet it is not to be a pessimist to say that their likelihood of winning is close to zero, for Vladimir Putin simply cannot lose. To be sure, in winning, he will, almost certainly lose (see below), but that won’t stop him from the depravity he has prepared himself for since fighting rats as a child in Leningrad.
He has lost the race against time. His blitzkrieg looks far more like a ‘sitskreig’ at the moment, but just as the French and British grossly underestimated the Nazis in the Phony War of 1939/1940, it would be fatally wrong to underestimate the power of the Russian military. In these few days though, the brave Zelensky has had time to rally his people in the fashion of Churchill, and his military has been able to collect its post invasion wits and deploy and acquit itself in a most impressive fashion. There is simply no more that could be asked of either the leader, his military, or his people.
But we need to consider the taking of Ukraine ‘s cities, and the installation of a puppet regime as a given. Also a given is that Zelensky and his people will continue to resist in the most heroic fashion, suffering the tragic consequence of a massively disproportional and indiscriminate Russian response, while simultaneously triggering an emotive response from the western democracies that has simply not been seen in most of our lifetimes.
This is not to say that I don’t think we should be supporting the Ukrainian people as best we can. Indeed the opposite, for in war there are no certainties, other than that if you stop fighting, you have surely lost. There is always hope that fate may tip the scale to Zelensky’s benefit. In any event, as he has cast himself and his people, the role they now play is the frontline of democracy, and consequently they deserve the unqualified support of the peoples of the democracies. This includes historically crippling sanctions to be sure, but the west shall have to be exceptionally ingenious and innovative in fueling not only Ukraine’s capacity to resist, but also its capacity to live while doing so. We must steel ourselves for a rising tide of emotions in the coming days – of inspiration, despair, rage and almost certainly, revenge.
We must also consider the consequences of our actions. The unqualified support I note above, that is of pushing the boundaries of our support for Ukraine, very likely will produce unintended consequences. As NATO establishes supply routes into Ukraine from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, no matter how covert, their success will draw the disproportionate response of the Russians in shutting them down. What do we do then? In turn, the Turks have exercised their authority to close the Turkish Straits to warships of all nations subject to the 1936 Montreux Convention, the intent being to effectively deny Russian warships transit rights to the Black Sea. What if they choose to try and run the straights? What do we do then? What do we do when a NATO AWACS aircraft, flying reconnaissance on our side of the border of Poland is shot down by a Russia fed up with us supplying the Ukrainians from the intelligence we gather from such flights, what then will be our response?
Again, not to say we don’t do these things, but we must do so with our eyes wide open.
In the likelihood that the puppet master will soon be installing a puppet regime in Kiev, he will do so in the cold light of a new day. He will be revealed and globally reviled as the pariah that he is. This morning, as I write this, I’m proud to note that the Canadian government has petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate Russian war crimes. That’s great, but that adds to the emotional context in which our leaders are going to have make harder and harder objective decisions in how to contain, if not defeat, this pariah.
Many have asked why NATO doesn’t impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, or ‘take-out’ the 17 kilometre long convoy snaking its way to Kiev. It’s simple. Unlike Yugoslavia, or Iraq, who had no effective capacity to resist the no-fly zones imposed on them, Russia does. It has 1,600 strategic nuclear weapons, delivered by land, sea and air launched systems that could destroy human civilization in hours. More worryingly though, they have 2,300 much smaller, tactical nuclear weapons, and a ‘first use’ doctrine that says they should be employed if things aren’t going well for them on the battlefield. For some perspective, the US has just over 10% of that number – 230 weapons. I say ‘worryingly’, because in most cold-war nuclear war-fighting gaming scenarios, the first use of tactical nuclear weapons more often than not led eventually – and quickly – to the use of strategic weapons.
Either deployment is of course incomprehensible, but the spectre of either or both is today not unthinkable. Complicating what is already a gordian challenge, is the fact that it is very hard to read Vladimir Putin. Long considered cold and calculating, many observers see in him now an emotional irrationality that is unnerving to say the least (it could of course also be a ploy). I heard this parable this morning on the news, apparently often told by Putin. That, when he was a child living in Leningrad, he cornered a large rat in his bedroom. When cornered, the rat attacked Putin first – the lesson drawn by the future dictator being to always attack if cornered. And be it of his own making, whether by sanctions, domestic unrest or battlefield setbacks, Putin will be increasingly cornered.
So the reality is that the next several weeks or months are going to be very difficult for the world, especially coming off of the COVID pandemic. There is a certainty of conflict and of shared economic pain. The scale and scope of either is unknown.
But there is also reason to hope on a grander scale. As pointed out by many observers, of the many reversals he has experienced this past week, all have been ‘own goals’. Ukraine has been pushed far further into the embrace of Europe, and NATO and the European Union are united and committed as never before in their respective histories – the diametric opposite of Putin’s intent. More inspiringly though, Zelensky and his people have revitalized the interest in the liberal democratic order that so many have profited from in the west, and for which so many Ukrainians – including he and his family – are willing to die for.
It must be acknowledged that the many divisions in the west, from the Brexit and Trumpist ‘victories’ to the trucker convoys in Canada, have been purposefully engineered and amplified by principally Russian ‘active measures’ campaigns that should not unreasonably be seen as strategic ‘softening up’ efforts to destabilize the western democracies in anticipation of Putin’s efforts to reconstitute a new Imperial Russia. The fight for democracy, until now fought by too few in the shadows, is now out in the open. And the frontlines for those who believe in democracy is here, where we live. Putin and his nihilist neo-fascist sympathizers here have succeeded in undoing much of the discord that they have sown over the last 20 years. But all they have done and are doing is scurrying back into the dark. They are not going away. They haven’t changed their minds. Trump, Tucker Carlson and Victor Orban may be distancing themselves from Putin today, but one would have to be pretty deluded to believe their conversion to be sincere.
This is the time for all of those who believe in democracy to rally. To look into the face of true, real evil, and stop vilifying those around us who fundamentally share our own moral compass. To direct their energies to the substantive challenges we face. I offer as an example a ‘split screen’ photo making the rounds on LinkedIn yesterday, of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing what appears to be Sikh ceremonial dress, with the other panel showing Volodymyr Zelensky in combat fatigues. The various comments all related to Zelensky’s manliness and courage, and the implied absence of same in Trudeau. How silly. How divisive. How stupid.
If the former comedian Zelensky has proven nothing else, it is that courage can come from the most unexpected of us, and we all know in our hearts the same is true of cowardice. To judge Trudeau and share the meme is to do Putin’s bidding. We need to stop parsing those around us into grayer and grayer silos of enemies, and instead start seeing the great majority as allies in a common cause.
We need to remind ourselves what Ukrainians – and by extension we - are fighting for. They are desperately fighting for the society that we already have. They want to belong to the civilization of yes, so, so many wrongs – but also on balance of far more ‘rights’. A civilization paid for by the blood and toil of countless many, and today already threatened by a great many existential issues – from climate change to racial reconciliation to the future of work.
As we contemplate the near future and the vital need to prevail over evil, I would argue there is more reason to look into our collective history and find glory for the inspiration to create a new world of wonder, where all peoples look to the future and the infinite possibilities it holds for them and their children. There is a broadly humanist, globalist set of tenets that a majority of citizens in democracy’s implicitly agree with, even if they don’t know of its existence.
I have argued that we must assume that we have just 10 years to manage to our way through all of these issues, while under attack. And I have argued we have the tested roadmap to scale the solution – the civic movement – needed to combat and prevail over the bad actors, while successfully addressing all the existential issues that demand our attention. That roadmap is to be found in the work of Leaders Expedition, the four-year journey where nearly 1,000 members, from over 35 countries, invested 20,000 hours of time their time.
As you reflect on events today, see through the pessimism and concern that is absolutely warranted, and look through to that world of wonder, that can be, MUST be made real by 2035, and reflect on what you are prepared to do about it. To assure that in 20 years the tragedy of Ukraine can never, ever, ever be repeated and visited on any nation. It’s not naive, it’s not a dream, it’s not a fantasy. It can be.
Checkout our site at Boombigideas.com and check out our Mission and Core Assumptions tabs at the top. If you’re interested, click on the LEx Archive to see more information on Leaders Expedition.