Putin’s actions in the last month in Ukraine constitute a violation of the UN Charter, a litany of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and an abrogation of the norms of war and state behavior that have been in place since the end of World War II.
That they were perpetrated in a country who shares a border with a NATO member state, and in Europe no less, the source of both of the world wars, makes those actions even more poignant. The contemporary order is filled with war, tyranny, and cruelty, but for many decades the world has not witnessed a dictatorship invade a democracy, even a flawed one, simply for the purpose of territorial expansion and the strategic annihilation of a nation state. For this reason, the West responded with unprecedented, if still critically incomplete, sanctions in order to isolate Putin and signal that upending this order is unacceptable.
The opprobrium with which Biden’s simple statement that Putin ought not to be in power has frankly been met with an outcry mostly from those who would excuse war crimes, and appease the monsters who wish to end the modern American led democratic world order.
The invasion of a fellow sovereign state in order to wipe it from the map is inexcusable, and should be recognized as completely unacceptable to any law-abiding, UN member, and especially to democratic states. That any head of state, or person for that matter to think otherwise is abhorrent.
Because Putin’s actions can not be tolerated, by extension, Putin’s regime can not be excused for its actions.
Regardless of whether Putin orders his invading troops to retreat from Ukraine because of their grievous losses, the sanctions implemented against him can and should never be reversed until the end of his dictatorship. Such relief would indicate that shattering of the world order is tolerable as long as it is not protracted. It would legitimize the totalitarianism of Russia, the war crimes, and the disrespect of the international order by his regime, simply because he is aware that his aged nuclear arsenal keeps the modern Russian state from being decimated.
Even more, it would allow Western trade to fund the rearmament of his expansionist regime, which will inevitably put the West in an even more precarious position if he is left in power, and repeats this in the next 5-10 years while learning from the mistakes he has made, potentially attacking NATO itself.
Saying that Putin must go is simply saying he is an illegitimate leader and that we can not tolerate the this behavior. It carries no implication that the US is actively fomenting revolution. Blinken’s unnecessary clarification that the United States is not actively seeking regime change simply states that the US is not plotting his overthrow, but is altogether separate from whether Biden should sit with Putin at a negotiating table and grant concessions to a man he has himself labelled as a war criminal, granting him legitimacy, and implying that responsibility for those crimes is superseded by short term interests including returning to the pre-2022 order as if this never happened and restoring oil prices.
What it does imply is that as a war criminal who has engaged in an illegal invasion, that firstly Putin can never be given concessions without signaling a tacit acceptance of this illegal invasion. This includes any form of sanctions relief, regardless of his future actions, because those sanctions were for the shattering of the order, not for the perpetration of violence itself. Such actions would essentially signal that the previous world order has ended, as Russian state media like to keep repeating, and that in this new order, nuclear armed tyrants can impose their will on weaker states, while the West gets on its knees and rewards violence so that they can maintain commodity prices.
The reactionary response of US and European officials is frightening to say the least. Statements from the UK like the reiteration of the Russian propaganda line that Russians must decide on Putin’s future, as if Russia has not reverted to a Stalinist dictatorship where political dissidents are regularly exiled, imprisoned for life or assassinated, is as inane as it is sycophantic. Richard Hass insisting that the US must continue to “deal with Russia,” still laboring under the naive calculation that American diplomacy plays one iota into Putin’s calculations over whether or not to recall his troops is frankly the same juvenile strand of realpolitik engagement that led to America’s disastrous detentes with its two hostile rivals that led it to its critical weakness in the first place.
The United States, or any other country for that matter, while able to indirectly inflict costs, has virtually no ability to influence when Putin ends this conflict, at least directly through its frail diplomatic flailing, such as through its months of fruitless failed peace talks. Even Ukraine’s positions in these talks makes no difference.
Putin will only end the war if he decides that continued war will destabilize his country more than conceding, and there will be no exception to this. Neither the United States, nor even Ukraine itself can directly affect this calculus through any amount of speech or dialogue, only through arms and death.
What the US can do its makes its position clear, one which is increasingly shaky as Biden debases his office begging dictators across the Middle East to increase oil supplies, that the United States stands as the sole state who has the courage and resources to maintain the world order.
When everyone from allied states, to opposition party members, to those in his administration undermine this and tacitly endorse the legitimacy of Putin, they fundamentally make allowances for further violations of the world order. They also open the door for the US and its allies to act to grant concessions to tyrants, selling democracy and the world order for oil.
May god have mercy on their souls.