• The Low Down

Ostracize Russia, respect Russians

Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, the West must carefully consider its response.

We have to think hard. Why did Russia attack its peaceful neighbour? What can be done about it?


The first answer is that Russia is run by a fascist thug. Putin is a tiny Napoleonic murderer who has worked hard to acquire all power in Russia and who kills or jails anyone who opposes him. That is why he has so little visible opposition. He also wants to restore Russia’s imperial power. That is why some Russians support him.


Putin was clever enough to use the threat of expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a pretext for attacking his neighbour. Ukraine was never a threat to him. But a Ukraine in NATO might be.


The West was stupid enough to keep open Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO. It was never very useful or likely. But it was a red cape we kept waving in the dictator’s face.


Instead, we should have helped make Ukraine an independent, neutral democratic state.


Given these two reasons for Russia’s belligerence, what can we do now? First, we must jointly stop all trade and financial relations with Russia. We must blacklist all members of the Russian government and all its authoritarian institutions. Putin, himself, must be treated as an outcast.


Second, Russia’s invasion of its peaceful neighbour is an egregious attack on lawful international relations and the United Nations. Russia must be ostracized. As a state, it is no longer acceptable in international society.


But we must be careful not to think the Russian people are our enemy. We should remember that Russia produced Gorbachev, one of the greatest world leaders of the last century. It also produced the now-jailed leader Alexei Navalny who mobilized thousands of Russian citizens against Putin before he was poisoned. And many Russians have dared show they disagree with the dictator.


We must make every effort to show Russians we want to help liberate them, not harm them.


John E. Trent is a former head of the Political Studies department of the University of Ottawa and secretary-general of the International Political Science Association who spent seven years organizing the Association’s vast Congress in Moscow