Faced with the now massive war launched by Putin against Ukraine, it would be a disaster to give the head of the Kremlin today the spectacle of our irresolution and weakness. The crisis in which we now find ourselves was built on our successive surrenders. Today, Westerners must rediscover two long-lost virtues: courage and lucidity.
Meditating on the causes of the First World War, Paul Valéry wrote: “History is the most dangerous product that the chemistry of the intellect has developed. Its properties are well known. It makes people dream, intoxicates them, generates false memories, exaggerates their reflexes, maintains their old wounds, torments them in their rest, leads them to the delirium of grandeur or to that of persecution, and makes nations bitter, superb, unbearable and vain.”
These reflections come to mind when one remembers President Putin’s speech broadcast two days before he launched, on the night of February 23 to 24, his armed forces in the assault on Ukraine. Those who might have allowed themselves to be won over by cowardly relief, imagining that the crisis orchestrated by the head of the Kremlin could be resolved once the Russian bear had torn off another piece of Ukraine’s body, will have been brutally drawn back to reality. The victim of the ongoing war is the whole country, not just a limited part of its territory. Because the content of Putin’s speech was not in doubt: it is the Ukrainian state that he is after, he wants to be master in Kyiv and free to take his revenge on the phantasmal Ukrainian “fascists” who have been hated for so many years.
To justify this unprecedented aggression, he has recourse to a history reconstructed through the prism of his imperial aims and his personal complexes, in which he believes with all his heart. Explicit in his words, he has nevertheless for a time moved forward masked, letting the West believe that all his bellicose rhetoric was only preparing the ground for a camouflaged annexation of Ukrainian territories. Today he is throwing off the mask. His declaration of war leaves no doubt: he intends to install his satrap in Kyiv and organize a gigantic purge in Ukraine, in order to decapitate the country definitively by eliminating its national elites, as Stalin had done before him.
But Putin’s words go further. He clearly implies that through Ukraine it is the Western countries that he is targeting. For those who are indifferent to the fate of Ukraine, let’s remember that Putin’s catalog of ambitions does not stop at the conquest of Kyiv. The Baltic States and Central and Eastern Europe are also on the menu. As for Belarus, it is in fact already occupied and Moscow’s bloody grip weighs on Minsk. It is the whole European security order that Putin wants to upset in order to ensure a preponderant place for Russia on the continent and to eradicate the freedom of the European peoples, applying the methods that have succeeded him in Russia: intimidation, demoralization and terror.
It would be a disaster to give Putin the spectacle of our irresolution and weakness today. The crisis in which we now find ourselves has been built on our successive surrenders. Today, the West must rediscover a long-lost virtue: courage. But there is no courage without lucidity. We must measure what is at stake today. Cowardice is contagious. Ukraine needs to see a courageous West to keep its spirits up and resist. We witnessed the horrendous session of the Russian Security Council, where the high dignitaries of the Putin regime had to humbly express their allegiance to their power-drunk leader. In Russia, more than anywhere else, courage will be needed for those who oppose the war to make themselves heard and to organize. Who knows, maybe some patriots will be emboldened and get rid of a tyrant who is leading their country to the abyss. But how will they act if the West, which is risking much less, continues to procrastinate and adopt measures that come too late?