Whatever Putin’s motives, nothing justifies Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is not crazy. He has not lost touch with reality. He is evil, a KGB thug, murderer and war criminal, and he knows what he is doing. Many believe that he will stop at nothing to recreate the Russian Empire. Others believe that Putin is vehemently opposed to NATO expansion.

Whatever his motives, nothing justifies Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. It is a flagrant violation of international law that has resulted in a humanitarian disaster. It seems strange now that anyone ever imagined that Putin might not invade Ukraine.

The West is told that Putin has made a strategic mistake in thinking his military could overwhelm Ukraine, capture Kiev within 72 hours, decapitate the Ukrainian government, install a pro-Moscow puppet regime and face little popular resistance. But he knows he can achieve his objectives by behaving badly.

On Aug. 8, 2008 Russian forces began the invasion of Georgia, marking the start of Europe’s first war of the 21st century. The conflict itself was over within a matter of days, but the repercussions of the Russo-Georgian War continue to reverberate.

The international reaction to Russia’s military campaign in Georgia was remarkably muted. It minimized Russia’s bad behavior, with Moscow suffering few negative consequences. The invasion of Georgia should have been a wake-up call to the international community.

Understandably, Putin interpreted this accommodating approach as an invitation for further acts of aggression in what he perceived as Russia’s traditional sphere of influence. The 2008 invasion of Georgia was a Beta test for future aggression against Russia’s neighbors and a dry run for the tactics and strategies that would later be deployed in the 2014 invasion of Ukraine: launch a cyberattack, a disinformation campaign, and an all-out effort to meddle in a country’s domestic politics. Six years after the Russo-Georgian War, Russia embarked on a far more comprehensive military campaign against Ukraine which again went unchecked.

Even after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the launch of Moscow’s war in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe still failed to acknowledge that Russia had become a revisionist power seeking to establish its dominion over the eastern half of Europe.

One can only speculate whether firmer Western responses in 2008 and 2014 could have prevented the tragic events of 2022. Now Ukrainians are paying the ultimate price. Based on the West’s behavior, Putin could only have concluded that the benefits of invading Ukraine would exceed the costs.

Europe and the U.S. keep learning the wrong lessons; their weakness begets weakness. Showing restraint and searching for a diplomatic solution encourages Putin, who has no retirement plans, to exploit the West’s vulnerability and double down.

Putin is holding the world to ransom. Few thought he would actually invade Ukraine, but he did just that. Why would you put anything past him, including widening the war leading to a nuclear Armageddon? An economically cornered Russia coupled with continued Ukrainian resistance could cause Putin to escalate.

Putin understands that the U.S. and Europe will not resort to measures such as a no-fly zone that could lead to direct conflict with Russia and risk nuclear war over Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. He knows full well that nuclear brinkmanship has prevented the West from bombing his army into the ground. The result would be World War III. After all, Russia has nearly 6,000 nuclear weapons, with an estimated 1,600 active and deployed.

Will all this end with a diplomatic solution in which Russia withdraws its forces in exchange for Ukraine’s neutrality? Who knows? It is too early to start considering the shape of things to come. As Yogi Berra famously put it: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” This is especially true when your calculations depend on the actions of an evil man.

Prime Minister Trudeau went too far in dealing with Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’

The “Freedom Convoy” of trucks that converged in Ottawa on Jan. 28 began in response to the Canadian government’s requirement that Canadian truck drivers crossing the U.S. border be fully vaccinated to avoid testing and quarantine requirements upon their return. Then it evolved into a protest against all public health measures aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers said they would not end their protest until all pandemic-related public health measures were dropped.

After three weeks of protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergency Act to deal with the blockades. It was the first time the law had ever been used, and it was invoked even though there were plenty of other laws on the books to deal with peaceful protests. It was a classic example of using a machete when a scalpel would have worked just fine.

The Act gave the Canadian government broad powers to restore order, ranging from placing significant limits on peaceful assembly, to prohibiting travel, to requiring financial institutions to turn over personal financial information to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and freezing the bank accounts of protestors and anyone who helped them.

The Act also gave the government broad authority over businesses, such as dragooning private tow truck companies to provide services against their will. Insurance companies were required to revoke insurance on any vehicles used in blockades.

The Emergency Act is only supposed to be invoked in a genuine crisis, such as in wartime. The War Measures Act, its predecessor, was last invoked under the current prime minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau, in response to the 1970 October Crisis, when a group of militant separatists who wanted to create an independent socialist Quebec engaged in numerous bombings and kidnapped and murdered a cabinet minister.

There is a very real difference between invoking a law against violent terrorists using it to combat a largely peaceful protest by Canadian citizens tired of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

Riot gear-clad Ottawa police, with provincial and federal help, towed dozens of vehicles that were blocking Ottawa’s downtown streets, retaking control of the area around Parliament buildings, and using pepper spray and stun grenades to remove demonstrators. Ottawa’s streets are now back to normal; there is only snow and silence in the country’s capital.

All this could have been done under existing law. As Alberta Premier Jason Kenney put it, “We have all the legal tools and operational resources required to maintain order.” Put simply, the prime minister could have restored and maintained public order without marginalizing substantial segments of the population.

Trudeau, born and bred elite, first described the truckers as a fringe minority who held “unacceptable” racist and misogynist views. He refused to meet the protesters or negotiate with them, and he was not interested in hearing about the mandates’ impact on their lives. Many of these truckers had spent the last two years keeping the supply chain running.

Instead of finding ways to defuse the situation, Mr. Trudeau issued the emergency order, which he called a “last resort.” After a conservative member of Parliament and descendant of Holocaust survivors asked him tough questions about his handling of the truckers’ protest, Trudeau denounced conservatives who “stand with people who wave swastikas and confederate flags.” These comments came from someone who spent his youth wearing blackface.

The role of government is to maintain public order while respecting civil liberties, including the right to peaceful assembly. Many protests are disruptive and often unlawful, so it is reasonable to impose limits on the right to assemble.

But a real leader and statesperson would have gone to the protesters and said: “I’m here. What do you want to say?” Seeking out and meeting with protesters and pursuing dialogue is a far more strategic way to restore the rule of law than imposing martial law.