Russia-Ukraine: History tells us that appeasement does not work

By Tom Willerton-Gartside


GROUPTHINK has consistently prevented the West from making effective decisions in a crisis.

This eternal hubris of Western establishments has now once more reared its head and enabled the westward expansion of Vladimir Putin’s territorial goals.

Should we really be surprised that state warfare has resumed in Europe?

History suggests not. German philosopher Hegel’s warning that “we learn from history that we learn nothing from history” is as poignant today as ever.

[READ MORE: Western establishments have never responded successfully to a crisis, and they aren’t prepared for the ones to come]

Across the world, tensions between the US-NATO and the China-Russia alliances are increasing.

In Europe, we have seen a calculated dictator slowly rebuild what was the Soviet Union: in 2014, Putin annexed Crimea and now in 2022, he seems set to take Ukraine and threaten Transnistria.

In the Far East, China has violated the Hong Kong Treaty and is escalating tensions with Taiwan. These are ominous signs for NATO and the West.

In early 2021, Putin started to increase Russia’s military presence along the border with Ukraine, reaching 100,000 by the beginning of April 2021. Despite this, it wasn’t until February 2022 that diplomatic efforts were increased, despite Putin reportedly approving the Ukraine invasion in January.

Western establishments did not believe that Putin would invade Ukraine because of the debilitating sanctions that the West would place on Russia’s economy.

This then illustrates motivated reasoning and confirmation bias in the West as leaders too easily believed that Putin would have the same thought processes as them.

Western establishments should not be treating President Xi and Putin as rational individuals.

Putin, in particular, has illustrated recently that he is prepared to continue with his nostalgic expansion westward despite sanctions placed on him by the majority of Europe and widespread condemnation throughout the UN.

We should be learning lessons from Neville Chamberlain’s infamous appeasement strategy from the 1930s.

It is imperative that Western sanctions, rhetoric and, if necessary, actions are strong enough to persuade irrational, imperialistic dictators that their expansionary plans are no longer viable or in their interests.

Indeed, guarding against motivated reasoning is a necessity in this moment of crisis.

Those in Washington, London, Brussels and Berlin should seriously be considering the prospect of a potential war with Russia in the near future. Whilst rhetoric from diplomats is rightly calming the prospect of conflict, it is in our interests that the military capabilities of NATO and its allies are increased.

We are witnessing encouraging signs: NATO’s strength in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia has been increased and sanctions are straining the Russian economy and Putin’s relationships with Russian oligarchs. This must continue.

There can be no relaxation of sanctions like we saw following the 2014 annexation of Crimea: there cannot be any appeasement of Putin. We must learn from history that appeasing dictators only leads them to wanting more.

So what does the future hold after Russia has occupied Ukraine?

Whilst we should not altogether exclude the possibility that Zelensky and Putin may come to an arrangement, it is increasingly inevitable that Putin will occupy Ukraine and potentially install a puppet government or impose direct rule from Moscow.

Either way, Putin is likely to treat Ukraine as another province of his empire.

As we look towards his next steps, it is difficult to predict his strategy. He could pause his imperialist expansion for the short term to repair relations with the West.

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Putin continue invading sovereign territory, whether that be in the short or longer term.

Potential future targets may include Moldova, through a ‘peacekeeping operation’ in Transnistria or Finland, who are not part of NATO. However, we should not exclude NATO territories from Putin’s potential targets.

Putin is not rational and the West should be preparing for all eventualities, not appeasing yet another dictator.


Opinion articles featured on Redaction Report reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.


Featured Image: Levan Ramishvili @ Flickr

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