(Editor’s note: This post is in response to Vladimir Putin attacking Ukraine on 24 February 2022.)
In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, my friend David Brownstein brought me a gift from Berlin – a piece of the wall, streaked with orange paint that had been anti-Communist graffiti. That little piece of concrete represented more than liberal democracy’s victory over totalitarianism. David had hacked off a piece of the Evil Empire.
Take that, commies!
Our generation knew East Germany and the entire Soviet Union was a ridiculous system based on a distorted reading of human nature – the Russian take on German romantic construct, with none of Karl Marx’s idealism and all of Stalin’s brutality. American presidents Reagan, Kennedy, Johnson and Eisenhower used anti-communism as their North Star for foreign policy. They often got it wrong, but ultimately, the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight and corruption, spending itself to death trying to compete with the West.
Here we are 43 years later, and a Stalin fanboy is trying to restore the USSR. But it’s an historical anomaly. A tragic (in the Greek sense of the word) but temporary sideshow.
That said, I’m afraid we’re in for dark days of a prolonged tit-for-tat urban guerrilla war as the Ukrainians fight off the Russian occupation. In the West, we have to start thinking proactively to bloc Vladimir Putin’s goal of restoring the Evil Empire, which includes – in addition to Ukraine – the Baltic States, the Stans and Belarus.
Here’s what has to happen:
• The European Union needs its own military drawn from member states. Even though Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland represent the wealthiest countries in the world, Europeans have never been willing to invest in their tiny armed forces. They just talk while depending on NATO and American troops, airlift, multi-launch missile systems and intel satellites to keep Putin at bay. Then came Trump, who sees in Putin a kindred spirit, and all that was put in jeopardy.
If European countries had synchronized training, weapons systems and deployment, Putin wouldn’t be in Ukraine.
• Europeans need to stop always trying to reach consensus and immediately cut business ties with the Russians. Russian oligarchs close to Putin own massive amounts of real estate in Belgravia, Mayfair other ultra-wealthy London neighborhoods. Ditto for Geneva, Monaco and Paris. European banks house Putin’s assets. That needs to end. Thank goodness, this process has already begun as the West begins to lock Putin out of the global financial system.
• Tech companies need to cooperate with European governments in a coordinated effort to block Russian hackers.
• European airlines need to boycott Russia as the first step to cutting Putin off from the rest of the word.
Putin is a dictator, but the days of one-man rule are over. It takes an entire sclerotic system of oligarchs, ossified bureaucrats and spies to keep him in power. They can be isolated, and it will be hard for them to wriggle out of this because their system is not conducive to innovation.
While the rest of the West is enjoying the biggest economic boom in history, creating new amazing technologies (and limitless wealth) in healthcare, quantum computing, solar power, robotics and communications, Russia survives by sucking oil out of the ground. That’s it. Oil makes up 60 percent of exports. So that’s basically their entire economy. Which makes Putin – no matter how rich he is – vulnerable.
Ask any of the Russian entrepreneurs living here in the Netherlands, in Germany or in France. Do they want to go home?
Why? Because if Putin notices your business is doing well, he takes it. Which is why, by many estimates, he’s the wealthiest person in the world. In Europe and the United States, the freedom to innovate and enjoy the fruits of our labor is a big motivator. In Russia, not so much.
We are entering a new and uncertain age of nationalism, but at a moment in time when the rest of Europe can cross open borders, isolation will not go down well with Russians, who – and maybe I’m wrong – put up with Putin but don’t exactly love him.
Europe is now, more than ever, a freedom fortress and we’re all warriors.
You can read more here on Dispatches about Putin’s threat to the international order.
About the author:
Terry Boyd is co-founder of Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Boyd has been a military reporter, business reporter and an entrepreneur, founding Insider Louisville, a pure-play digital news platform, in 2010. He’s originally from Fisherville, Kentucky.
Boyd & Family are long-time expats and have lived in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.