The Russian attack on Ukraine has not emerged out of a clear blue sky but rather has been fomented for years in a veritable swamp of spiralling Russian belligerence.

As I write this, Russia is attacking Ukraine on multiple fronts.

Several countries, most notably in terms of alleged geopolitical clout, the US and the German and French arbiters of the European Union, have expressed shock and outrage at Russia’s decision to – to use Putin’s absurd propaganda terms to justify the attack – ‘demilitarise and de-nazify’ Ukraine. This has prompted a raft of sanctions targeting several facets of the Russian state, civil society, private enterprise and its financial dealings around the world. 

This is apparently ‘the world holding Russia accountable’ as Biden put it.  

As one darkly humorous joke went on Ukrainian social media, the Russians will be sanctioned all the way to Kiev. As much as the EU might now bleat about Putin’s criminality, it remains effectively joined at the hip with the Russian state and its economy, especially when it comes to energy.  

The reality is that such sanctions are not going to be enough to save Ukraine. 

This is something understood days ago by Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy when he remarked that such sanctions, if they were truly what the US and EU believed would counter Putin’s military aggression, ought to have been put into place before the attack began.  

They should have been put into place years ago. The Russian military intervention in Ukraine has not emerged out of a clear blue sky but rather has been fomented for years in a veritable swamp of spiralling Russian aggression geared towards a distinct ideological agenda of concretising itself as a major hegemon of global illiberalism.

Since the era after the US’ catastrophic and self-defeating Global War on Terror, Putin has emerged on the scene with a message of unashamed defiance to the liberal democratic world, but unlike the current rhetoric-mongers of Washington and Brussels, Putin has put this ideology into practice.  

The same Western media that mostly and rightfully opposes Putin's assault on Ukraine to annihilate its sovereignty and self-determination, rarely if ever mentions that Putin's Russia is still intervening violently on behalf of the kleptocratic tyrant Bashar al Assad against what was a popular revolution for self-determination, liberty and recognition.

Since 2015, Russia has been a party to what many would describe as a genocide against Syrians, committing a myriad of crimes against humanity.  It's hardly likely that the world has forgotten about Russia’s brutally murderous intervention in Syria, one that saw the flattening of entire Syrian cityscapes and the deliberate targeting of civilians in their homes, shops, hospitals and schools.

The terror rained upon Syrians by the Russian air force has led to the cleansing of millions of civilians, fomenting, some would say by design, a ‘refugee crisis’ that has led to the rise or bolstering of pro-Putin forces around the continent.  This isn’t about digging up old graves – Russian brutality in Syria is a clear and present danger, where further escalations initiated by Assad and Russia, especially in the last rebel-held province of Idlib, could occur at any time. 

This is not a case of some monomaniacal desire of mine to bring Syria into everything, but rather a grim observation of the fact that the Russian intervention in Syria and the Russian intervention in Ukraine are stitched together by the desire of Putin to use military force to trample the seeds of self-determination in Russia’s sphere of influence.  

Allowing Putin to get away with murder so easily in Syria has led to Putin assuming, correctly it seems, that he can get away with attacking Ukraine.   

Again, one hardly must make grand geopolitical leaps here – Russia had already illegally annexed part of Ukraine, which led to a raft of sanctions that were supposed to stop it from going any further. It then stoked a proxy war in the eastern Donbas region, where it set up the separatist puppet states that it now uses as launchpads for an attack into the rest of Ukraine. Even under those sanctions, Russia saw fit, to intervene in Kazakhstan – albeit at the invitation of the Kazakh government.   

In 2013, with Russia mobilising to diplomatically defend Assad after his regime gassed to death over 1,000 civilians in Ghouta, how did the liberal democratic West react? With the absurd appeasement of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement, which served only to green light genocide and ultimately led to, within two years, Russia’s massive intervention to decisively destroy the fierce resistance of opposition forces.   

Russia has not been hiding its agenda and the pattern of its emboldening in the face of global appeasement and inaction is hardly far-fetched. It has acted decisively at every step according to its ideological interests – these interests are irredeemably hostile to liberal democracy, whether it’s in Damascus, Kiev, Georgia and who knows where next? Possibly Estonia? Maybe Lithuania?  Putin, in his speech justifying the attack against Ukraine, conjured, as he has done in the past, the glories of the Tsarist and Soviet empires and lamented their breakups.   

Sanctions have done nothing to stop Russia and given the gravity of Russian crimes in Syria and the egregiousness of its actions in Ukraine, I think they have in fact become a way for the divided and weakened liberal democratic world to do something without doing anything – to act as if they’re defending their democratic allies while abandoning them to the whims of violent authoritarian adventurism.

Today is not just the darkest day for millions of Ukrainians who aspire, like Syrians before them, simply for basic liberty and self-determination, but for those who aspire to freedom globally. Russia will almost certainly triumph in Ukraine and while I doubt Russia will stop there, so to speak, Putin isn’t the only shark circling the increasingly doomed vessel of liberal democracy in the world.

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