War damage in Avdiika as the Ukrainians retreated.

Moral and Strategic Clarity Needed to Save Ukraine

The fall of Avdiivka, in the same week as the death of Alexei Navalny, demonstrates the political and military realities of the Ukraine war. The West faces a clear strategic and moral choice: support Ukraine through to victory or accept a major European war in the next five years.

As aid stalls in Congress and the Biden administration scrambles to contain multiple crises, the White House’s best strategic bet is to ensure the Europeans retain policy cohesion. If that succeeds, Ukraine can win with or without Washington over the long haul.

Navalny was an imperfect standard-bearer for the Russian opposition, a function of his historical position as a citizen of a post-imperial Russian state. This explains, despite his unrelenting opposition to Vladimir Putin, his 2012 view that Russia should pursue integration with Ukraine and the formalization of the Russian World as a matter of policy.

It explains his statement that Crimea, unlike “a sandwich,” cannot be passed around – a remarkable statement from a Russian liberal concerning another state’s sovereign territory. Most notably, in 2008, Navalny supported Russia’s war against Georgia, which in retrospect was both a grave political misstep and a moral red flag.

Navalny undeniably retained the chauvinistic impulses of his urban Russian education. Yet Putin’s regime murdered Navalny. It’s irrelevant whether he was poisoned, tortured or simply executed – or he simply expired after months of deprivation and years of imprisonment.

Putin’s fear of him stemmed from Navalny’s understanding of the Russian system and his alternative vision for it. Indeed, despite his flaws and political mistakes, Navalny offered an alternative to the kleptocratic decayed imperial model of Putin, Patrushev and their coterie of security force members – the siloviki – and oligarchs.

Navalny’s model would have had growing pains, not in the least over Ukraine. But it pointed to a different political end-state, one in which Russia might join the community of nations absent pretensions to special status, and without commitment to a messianic historical mission.

This idea has some popularity in Russia, albeit perhaps not enough to succeed in the absence of supreme political skill. After all, while Boris Yeltsin sought a similar end-state, he ultimately supported the idea of Russia’s special rights in European security.

As Yeltsin saw it, even the threat of a changed political culture in Russia must be eliminated, despite its low chances of success.

Read the rest at AsiaTimes.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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