James Sherr: “It is time we stopped praising Ukraine for ‘exercising restraint’”

Can we please bury the progressive myth of “international law”?

Where will Putin stop? The answer is simple: when he achieves his objectives or when he is prevented from achieving them. A number of Ukraine’s Western partners understand this, but some do not.

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Where Ukraine is concerned, Carlyle’s dictum deserves repeating for the umpteenth time: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’ As an outsider, I am baffled by the authorities’ failure to formally declare that a state of war exists. The Armed Forces and the country need to hear this. Ukraine has been attacked and invaded. Its assets and military bases have been seized, centres of power have been occupied, and its navy has been destroyed. Although the new authorities are becoming more decisive, there still is a perilous lack of clarity.

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KP: So, you agree with the view of Putin’s former adviser Andrey Illarionov who said that if Ukraine wants the West to defend it, Ukraine should start defending itself?

JS: Ukraine is getting assistance from the West now, more than most people realise, and it will continue to augment. But assistance will come much more readily if Europe sees that Ukraine is taking the hard and necessary steps—and not just military ones— to defend itself. More importantly, Russia needs to see that Ukraine will defend itself, whatever it takes.

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Ukraine and the West have a few months to change the dynamic: not to prevail, mind you, but change the dynamic. If we do that, our struggle becomes easier, and Russia’s becomes more difficult. Russia’s strengths are short-term. Like Hitler, Putin fights short wars. He is a treacherously agile tactician who tries to gain strategic advantage from tactical steps. But in a prolonged contest with Ukraine and the West, Russia’s weaknesses will prove telling.

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We now need to show Russia: you take Crimea, you lose Ukraine; you take more of Ukraine, you lose Europe. I think it’s eminently feasible.


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