June 24, 2024

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Timothy Snyder: "We should think that Russia cannot lose, but…"


The cult of invincibility, created in the seventies by Leonid Brezhnev, has become a tradition and continues in modern Russia. However, Russia may lose this war, says Timothy Snyder.

Russian intimidation serves its purpose – the West must think that Russia cannot lose. And many of us believed in this during Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine. In February 2022, when the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor's territory, everyone agreed that Ukraine would fall within a few days, publishes CNN edition opinion of Timothy Snyder, one of the most famous researchers of European history.

Even today, with Ukraine holding its position for more than two years, the prevailing view among Russia's friends in Congress and the Senate is that Russia must ultimately win. Moscow’s success is not on the battlefield, but in our heads, says a Yale University professor:

“Russia can lose. And it must lose for the sake of the world and for its own sake.”

Further own opinion of Timothy Snyder, professor of history and global affairs at Yale University, author of Bloodlands, Black Land, On Tyranny and the forthcoming On Freedomwithout notes.

“The idea of ​​an invincible Red Army is propaganda. The Red Army was formidable, but it could be defeated. Of the three most significant foreign wars, the Red Army lost two. In 1920, it was defeated by Poland. It defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, after which as it almost collapsed in 1941. (In this case, it won as part of a larger coalition and with crucial American economic assistance.) Soviet forces found themselves in trouble in Afghanistan immediately after the 1979 invasion, and had to withdraw a decade later.

And the Russian army today is not the Red Army. Russia is not the USSR. Soviet Ukraine was a source of resources and soldiers for the Red Army. In this 1945 victory, the Ukrainian soldiers of the Red Army suffered enormous losses – more than the losses of America, Great Britain and France combined. A disproportionate number of Ukrainians fought for Berlin in Red Army uniforms.

Today Russia is fighting not together with Ukraine, but against Ukraine. It is waging an aggressive war on the territory of another state. And it lacks American economic support – Lend-Lease, which the Red Army needed to defeat Nazi Germany. There is no particular reason to expect a Russian victory in this constellation. Instead, one might expect that Russia's only chance is to prevent the West from helping Ukraine by convincing us that its victory is inevitable so that we do not use our decisive economic power. The past six months bear this out: Russia's minor military victories have come while the United States has been delaying aid to Ukraine rather than delivering it.

Today's Russia is a new state. It has existed since 1991. Like Brezhnev before him, Russian President Vladimir Putin governs on nostalgia. He refers to the Soviet as well as the Russian imperial past. But the Russian Empire also lost wars. She lost the Crimean War in 1856. She lost the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. She lost the First World War in 1917. In none of these three cases was Russia able to keep troops in combat for more than three years.

There is great nervousness in the United States about Russia's defeat. If something seems impossible, we cannot imagine what might happen next. Therefore, even among Ukraine supporters there is a tendency to think that the best solution is a draw. This kind of thinking is unrealistic. And behind the nerves a strange American vanity is revealed.

No one can fight a war this way. And nothing in our previous attempts to influence Russia suggests that we can exert such influence. Russia and Ukraine are fighting for victory. Questions: who will win and with what consequences?

If Russia wins, the consequences will be dire: the risk of a wider war in Europe, the greater likelihood of a Chinese adventure in the Pacific, the weakening of the international rule of law as a whole, the likely spread of nuclear weapons, the loss of faith in democracy.

It is normal for Russia to lose wars. And in general, this forced Russians to think and reform. The defeat in Crimea forced the autocracy to put an end to serfdom. Russia's loss to Japan led to an experiment with elections. The Soviet Union's failure in Afghanistan led to Gorbachev's reforms and thus the end of the Cold War.

Russian peculiarities aside, history offers a more general and even more encouraging lesson about empires. Russia is waging an imperial war today. It denies the existence of a Ukrainian state and nation, and commits atrocities reminiscent of the worst of Europe's imperial past.

Peaceful Europe today consists of powers that lost their last imperial wars and then chose democracy. Losing the last imperial war is not only possible, it is also good not only for the world, but also for you.

Russia can and must lose this war for the sake of the Russians themselves. Defeated Russia not only means the end of the senseless loss of young life in Ukraine. This is also the only chance for Russia to become a post-imperial country where reforms are possible, where Russians themselves can be protected by law and be able to vote meaningfully. Defeat in Ukraine is Russia's historic chance for a normal life, as Russians who want democracy and the rule of law will say.

Like the US and Europe, Ukraine celebrates the 1945 victory on May 8, not May 9. Ukrainians have every right to remember and interpret this victory: they suffered more from the German occupation than the Russians and died in huge numbers on the battlefield.

And Ukrainians are right in believing that today's Russia, like Nazi Germany in 1945, is a fascist imperialist regime that can and must be defeated. Last time fascism was defeated because the coalition held firm and used its superior economic power. The same is true now.”



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