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Lessons From WWI: Why 'Canceling' Russia Will Be NATO's Biggest Mistake

How America Can Save the People of Ukraine Without Breeding Future Resentment Towards the West.

Article Written by Jett James Pruitt

History is on the verge of repeating itself.

On February 24, 2022, Russian military forces launched a full-scale offensive against the democratic state of Ukraine, crossing the border and raiding prominent cities. Hours prior to the incursion, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two separatist regions as a pretext to authorize a “special military operation” against Ukraine.

With Russian soldiers advancing toward the capital, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law and ordered a general mobilization of civilians. International viewers watched in horror as sirens blared in Kyiv to warn civilians of impending airstrikes. To date, a second cease fire attempt in the city of Mariupol collapsed late Saturday night.

While the conflict is still unfolding, violence continues to plague cities throughout Ukraine.

Given the sheer gravity of the crisis, the total number of casualties is hard to determine. The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on March 2 that nearly 500 Russian troops have died and nearly 1,600 have been injured; the Ukrainian government approximates 2,000 civilians have been killed. Despite this, both sides discredit each other’s findings, and the degree of destruction is still being assessed.

To make matters worse, more than 1.4 million refugees have fled the country. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reports that tens of thousands have flooded to the surrounding nations of Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and Moldova; smaller numbers have arrived in Belarus and Russia.

Ukrainian Refugees Flee to Poland

Fillppo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, commented on the developing humanitarian crisis:

“In just seven days, one million people have fled Ukraine, uprooted by this senseless war. I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one,” he said in a published statement. “Unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”

As most Americans know, Russia has received backlash from the international community for its invasion. The United States and the European Union imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia, including freezing international assets, barring banks from the SWIFT messaging system (which allows financial institutions to transport money around the world), and suspending Russian planes from flying in their respective airspaces.

Germany canceled the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and Taiwan announced it will restrict exports of semiconductors (which are used to produce everything from military equipment to laptops) to Russia.

Zelensky (L) vs. Putin (R)

Of course, private entities are also joining the economic fight against Russia. Liquor stores in Canada and the United States are refusing to sell Russian alcohol. FedEx suspended services to the country. Even MasterCard, Visa, and American Express announced they are canceling all operations within the nation.

Needless to say, these unprecedented sanctions and economic penalties are devastating the Russian people not Putin.

As reported by the Council on Foreign Relations, the value of the Russian ruble plummeted to that of one American cent. Meanwhile, interest rates have soared to 20 percent, and Russian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to take a nosedive in the following months.

The retaliation against Russia doesn’t end there. On March 2, an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution “deploring” Russia’s offensive against Ukraine and calling for an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. With 141 nations voting in favor, 35 abstaining, and 5 voting against, the resolution reflected Russia’s historic isolation on the world stage.

The four countries that joined Russia in opposing the resolution were Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria. In short, these countries view Western nations as responsible for heightening tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

On February 25, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reassured President Putin that Damascus remains an ardent ally of Moscow:

“[The invasion of Ukraine was] a correction of history and restoration of balance which was lost in the world after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” Assad reportedly told Putin in a phone call. “Syria stands with the Russian Federation based on its conviction that its position is correct and because NATO expansionism is a right for Russia.”

For context, Russia has assisted the Syrian government in warding off rebel forces in the country for nearly a decade. Several NATO allies, such as France, the United States, and the United Kingdom have intervened in the conflict to help remove Assad from power and facilitate a transition to democratic governance.

The Syrian Civil War continues to plague the international community, with over half a million killed and tens of millions displaced. Grimly, many international pundits fear the Syrian Crisis serves as an indicator of what can happen in Ukraine.

Aside from the four countries, however, an overwhelming majority of nations condemn Russia’s invasion. Serbia, which has historically been an ironclad ally of Moscow, voted in favor of the resolution. The United Arab Emirates and Israel, two U.S. security allies in the Middle East, shifted away from their usual stance of declining to criticize Russia and voted for the resolution. Even China — who recently declared that its friendship with Russia had “no limits”— abstained.

At this point, one may wonder if Russia will retaliate against the international community for imposing such harsh sanctions? If so, in what way?

"The realization of demands [to provide a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine] will bring catastrophic results not only to Europe but the whole world . . . [The world's] sanctions against Russia are akin to a declaration of war." — President Vladimir Putin

Put simply, it is too early to determine how Russia will move forward with its invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin is reportedly flummoxed by fierce military resistance from Ukrainian civilians. Some commentators such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggest that President Putin is acting "erratic." With President Putin’s mental state being questioned by many, Russia’s credibility on the world stage is withering. As a result, Ukraine is winning the hearts and minds of the global community, with mass anti-war demonstrations taking place in cities around the world.

Yet, even if the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine was unjustified and morally reprehensible, one of the most dangerous feelings is manifesting in Russia: Resentment.

History has taught us that when a group of nations comes together to destroy another country's economy in an effort to protect themselves, it rarely comes without consequences.

How Sanctions Imposed Against Germany After WWI Led to the Rise of Hitler

In January 1919, representatives of thirty victorious Allied Powers attended the Paris Peace Conference. Primarily led by delegations of the “Council of Four,” which constituted France (represented by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau), Italy (led by Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando), the United Kingdom (headed by Prime Minister David Lloyd George), and the United States (commanded by President Woodrow Wilson), the Conference aimed at creating a peace settlement to officially end World War I. Yet, despite the participation of such diverse nations, none of the defeated countries (Central Powers) wielded any influence in shaping the treaty.

One of the defeated nations that was excluded from negotiations was Germany. Despite serving as a major player in the First World War, Germany was in immense civil and political upheaval following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in November 1918.

By June, the Allied Nations formulated the Treaty of Versailles. Among other controversial provisions, the “War Guilt” clause specified that Germany (and other Central Powers) was solely responsible for starting World War I. As a result, Germany was forced to cede its territories, slash its military forces, and pay extensive reparations to Allied powers.

Architects of the Treaty of Versailles (1919)

Already beleaguered by regime change, political turmoil in Germany persisted into the 1920s. Hyperinflation crippled the German economy between 1921 and 1923. For its failure of paying reparations, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr region to enforce payments. While the 1924 Dawes Plan and the 1928 Young Plan allowed the German economy to recover, political extremism was rampant.

Since Germany was only one of over 30 nations that participated in the conflict, many Germans asked why did it have to take the most blame? At the very least, why couldn’t Germany have a say in negotiating the treaty? Humiliated, many Germans were resentful.

Then, the Great Depression hit. The United States recalled its loans (which were provided to the German government to help pay off the reparations). Unemployment skyrocketed. Poverty soared. The German economy literally collapsed.

In the midst of economic turmoil, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party exploited the Great Depression to consolidate support. Appealing to racism, Hitler called for Germany to become a world power. Desperate for change, German voters coalesced around the Nazi movement.

After the 1933 elections, Hitler became the German Chancellor. By March, the Weimar Republic (the government that succeeded the Kaiser regime) was abolished; Nazis were officially in power. From that point forward, the Nazi regime orchestrated a systematic, unimaginable genocide of ethnic minorities (including six million Jews) in the Holocaust, oppressed the German population, and instigated World War II — the deadliest war in human history.

WWI German Soldier (1920)

It is important to note:

By no means does this article compare any current world leader to the Nazi regime, nor does this article condone or make excuses for Russia’s unethical and illegal invasion of Ukraine.

With that being said, Western leaders must ensure there isn’t a repeat of the Treaty of Versailles. The world must separate the sins of Putin from that of the Russian people.

Yes, the Kremlin must be held accountable for its actions. Yes, President Putin must know that the world stands behind Ukraine in the face of oppression. Yes, the world must continue to pressure Russia into withdrawing all forces from its neighbor.

However, the ‘canceling of everything Russian' poses a risk to the international community that has never been seen before.

While leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured the Russian people the United States is not their enemy, the sheer devastation of the Russian economy will certainly breed resentment against the West for years to come. It will create a breeding ground for the next Adolf Hitler to rise. Moreover, Moscow will feel pressured to strengthen military ties with bellicose states such as North Korea, Syria, and Belarus in the following years.

Given Russia already possesses the most nuclear weapons of any country in the world, no one wants to see this happen.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon all world leaders to ensure that the Kremlin — and the Kremlin alone — is punished for its actions. Cornering all of Russia is not only counterproductive, but dangerous.

After all, the most dangerous animal in the world is a cornered rat.

What are your thoughts? Please share this article with your comments.


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