Only Ukraine Can Choose Its Future

Moscow cannot stop it from doing so.

“Nations which went down fighting rose again, but those which tamely surrendered were finished.” —Winston Churchill to Lord Halifax in a Cabinet meeting, May 28, 1940.

The time has come. Russian tanks are again moving into Ukraine, preceded by Russian bombs and rockets. It is unclear how far they will go, but there is no indication that they mean to stop until they have subjugated the Ukrainian nation and bent it to Moscow’s will.

In November 1939, a similar scene played out seven hundred miles to the north. After making a series of preposterous demands, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, a small country that had then been only twenty-two years independent from the Russian Empire. It had no history of independent political existence before 1917, but by 1939 it had long since begun to conceive of itself as a nation—a European nation, attached to the Western tradition of liberty. It had walked the path of freedom and was not willing to turn back.

So Finland fought heroically and suffered terribly. But Russia suffered, too. After three months of bloodshed, the Soviet Union offered peace. It took wide swathes of border territory, never to be returned. But Moscow accepted Finland’s nationhood and has not made an attempt on it again.[1]

Ukraine cannot stop Russia at the border; it lacks the might. So its people will have to choose: they can submit and have peace now, as a Russian vassal, or they can fight on at a terrible cost to preserve their nationhood and liberty.

It is not so easy a choice as it may seem to those of us in these United States today. If Ukraine chooses to fight on, it will cost many thousands of lives. Many Ukrainian soldiers will not live to see their children grow; many Ukrainian children will not see their fathers or mothers return home. Many Ukrainian civilians will be killed in the crossfire of war, and some imprisoned, murdered, assaulted, or tortured in retaliation for their defiance of Russian rule. The outcome of the contest will not be certain. And the free and independent Ukrainian nation that eventually emerges may stand amidst rubble and be shorn of much of its former territory. Ukraine alone can decide if such a sacrifice is worth the end it may achieve.

But if Ukraine chooses to fight, the United States ought unreservedly to support it. We ought to supply arms, ammunition, supplies, and information, without quibble as to whether those are lethal or non-lethal, or offensive or defensive in nature.[2] If our own forces cannot extend their shield to Ukraine as the guardians of the free world—and, yes, there are compelling practical reasons for them not to do so at present—then our Republic ought instead to fill free Ukraine’s armories as the arsenal of democracy. Moscow cannot stop us from doing so.

The nations of Europe, for their part, ought to provide sanctuary to those Ukrainians fighting for liberty and open their borders to the movement of men and materiel. Moscow cannot stop them from doing so. And perhaps now, eight decades after Russia’s assault on its freedom, Finland ought to consider joining NATO. Moscow cannot stop it from doing so.

A map of Eastern Europe.

[1] Fifteen months after the end of the 1939-1940 Winter War, Finland made an ill-judged deal with the devil and entered World War II on the side of Nazi Germany in an attempt to reclaim its lost territory. It was fortunate to extricate itself in 1944 without losing its hard-won independence. Ukraine is fortunate that no such temptation exists at present.

[2] Except for weapons of mass destruction which our Republic is prohibited by treaty from spreading.

No. 11 – On Foreign Policy