Author: Serhiy Hromenko, PhD in Historical Sciences, Expert of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future
One of the most common points that some Western politicians use to justify their inaction in opposing Russia is the so-called “prevention of escalation”. They mean that if you help Ukraine very actively, it will start to win, or even invade Russian territory. Then Moscow will have nothing to lose, so it will escalate the conflict, start bombing objects in NATO countries, and perhaps even launch nuclear missiles. In short, for them helping Ukraine means bringing the Third (or even the Fourth) World War closer.
However, the truth is that everything is exactly the opposite. And Ukraine’s victory in the current war with Russia is the best guarantee of avoiding further wars – including the world wars.
One of the most obvious lessons that World War II taught us is that pacifying an aggressor doesn’t work! And it does not depend on the specific country or time. Rather, it is a basic universal attitude – not to be content with what is available, but to want more and more. Appetite comes with eating. Only holy hermits can resist this temptation, and the leaders of aggressive countries certainly do not belong to them.
It became clear to Adolf Hitler’s contemporaries that Neville Chamberlain’s strategy of appeasement had failed miserably. Yes, in Britain, certain circles hoped to the last that the Nazis would end their expansion after the “reunification” of German lands. When this did not happen, they believed that the Reich’s aggression would be directed to the east. No one wanted to declare another war 20 years after the end of the previous one – because of this, they could lose votes. Well, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Britons payed with their lives for this blindness.
It seems to be a proven fact that Russia would not have attacked Ukraine in 2014 if the international community had shown its teeth after the 2008 attack on Georgia. Boris Johnson has publicly acknowledged that the lack of response to the attempted annexation of Crimea prompted Vladimir Putin to launch a full-scale invasion in 2022. However, we are all strong in hindsight. Barack Obama who was US President at the time offered Russia a “reset” instead of deadly sanctions.
As we already know from history, world wars do not start in one day – they are preceded by the long road of rate hikes. And only when the aggressor “swallows” one chip, does he take the second (one can argue that the First World War exploded instantly, but this is an illusion – hostilities in the Balkans have lasted since 1908). So it would be quite logical to assume that the sooner we put an end to the attacker’s encroachment, the lower the price will be paid.
And indeed. Germany in 1941 (attack on the USSR) was much stronger than in 1940 (attack on France). In 1939 (attack on Poland), of course, it was even weaker, and in 1938 – even more. Victory over Berlin in each previous year would be cheaper for everyone. Therefore, it is very reasonable to say that if Britain and France had attacked Hitler by defending Czechoslovakia, the world war would not have taken place. Everything would be limited to local conflict.
Let’s look at the analogies with our situation. What the Russian Federation has done to Belarus is like the Anschluss of Austria by the Reich in the spring of 1938. Not in form, but in fact, even if the process is not complete. Whether Alexander Lukashenko wanted it or not, his country has become a foothold for an aggressive war, so the analogy can be considered appropriate.
The occupation of Crimea and Donbas is like the Sudetenland in the autumn of the same year. Parallels have been written many times, not to be repeated once more. However, fortunately, this time there were differences. The decisive one was that the collective West not only did not support the aggressor but also came to the aid of the victim. Yes, we can complain as much as we want about the weakness of sanctions or the lack of military support, but the fact remains that the United States and Europe are in favor of Kyiv, not Moscow. Lessons from history have been learned.
Finally, the current big war is a moment of bifurcation that the world could not pass in March 1939. Then Czechoslovakia, contrary to last year’s agreement, was dismembered. And neither the West supported it, nor did Czechoslovakia elites want to call on the people to put up armed resistance. The result is well known – in six months the next victim was Poland, and the world war became a reality. There were two reasons for that. First, the Reich was significantly strengthened by Czech resources. And secondly, Hitler was convinced of the inaction of the West.
In 2022, the opposite happened. Ukrainians took up arms en masse, which surprised not only the attackers but the entire planet. Well, the West did not abandon Ukraine at random, even if we do not like the slowness of individual countries. As a result, large-scale Russian aggression has stalled, and fighting is now taking place where it was supposed to be – the Kremlin simply lacks the strength for more.
So why do I say that Ukraine saved the Earth from another world war? Everything is simple. If we capitulated, nothing would stop Putin from striking the next blow at Poland or Lithuania – and then the Third (Fourth) World War would definitely begin. Because by gaining Ukraine without a fight, Putin, like Hitler at the time, would have significantly increased its resources, and the West would have been demoralized. Fleeing Afghanistan has already undermined the faith of Western nations in their elites, and a Ukrainian defeat would be a catastrophe.
And these are not my speculations. Zbigniew Brzezinski rightly said that Russia without Ukraine is not an empire. Only the lazy Russian imperialist did not speak about the need to include Ukrainians in the ranks of the “united Russian people.” George Friedman’s book The Next 100 Years, published in 2009, explicitly foresaw Russia’s imperial revenge in the early 2020s. Only one thing went wrong – Ukraine was not defeated quickly, so Russia did not find the resources for a full-fledged war in Europe.
And we should not think that Article 5 of the NATO agreement would save Europeans. The Kremlin-organized migration crisis on the Polish border in the autumn of 2021 showed the powerlessness of the Eurobureaucracy – and how many such hybrid attacks Putin has up his sleeve! What if Moldova or Finland, which were not in NATO, were attacked? What if Hungary “asked” Russian “peacekeepers” to come in? Our quick defeat would make all these scenarios plausible.
That is why Ukraine saved the world through its struggle. Unable to swallow it, Putin will not dare to further escalate, and he will have nowhere to get a new army. Russian women will give birth to new soldiers [a phrase that was supposedly said by Soviet Marshal Zhukov], but new tanks won’t be born.
That is why we are now fighting not only for our future but for the future of the entire planet.
As long as we stand, there will be no next world war.