A year ago Americans saw on their televisions Ukrainian protesters hurtling Molotov cocktails at beetle-helmeted riot police. Ukrainians from all walks of life--business executives, working-class laborers, PhD students, artists, doctors--had been called to the barricades of Kyiv with the simple goal of overthrowing a president who, for years, had used taxpayer money as his personal ATM and had outlawed investigative journalism, demonstrations, and other democratic rights, essentially turning himself into a dictator. Fire engulfed Kyiv's Maidan, or Independence Square, creating a war zone among the neoclassical buildings of a European capital. Everyday people had suddenly become soldiers. The revolution moved east to free itself from Russia's imperialist ambitions.
Let's be perfectly clear about a fact that many in the mainstream media inexplicably handle with politically correct gloves, as though they fear upsetting Russia. The fighting in Ukraine is not a civil war. It is not a rebel uprising. It is an invasion by the second most powerful military in the world. What many Americans don't realize is that Ukraine's own military has been severely weakened by the widespread infiltration of Russian agents in an attempt to keep the country in its orbit. This has been the Kremlin's number-one weapon against a growing civic society powered by young people and Internet freedom.
Simply put, Ukraine is defending itself with weapons, helmets, and armor from decades ago, and walkie-talkies that children would use. They have no choice but to bring a knife to a gun fight. The only advantage Ukrainian soldiers have over the thousands of Russian soldiers pouring into their country is an idea: the same longing for freedom that built America. Except the Founding Fathers were financed in their war of liberation by the French. Ukraine won't survive without arms from the United States and its allies. President Obama may not want a proxy war, but by giving Ukraine nothing more than food, blankets, and night-vision goggles, he's already waging a proxy massacre.
In December, Congress unanimously passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which includes lethal aid. They sent it to President Obama's desk with the hope that it would force him to change his mind, but the White House still favors a diplomatic solution that clearly isn't working -- fighting is intensifying.
A dynamic pair of Internet activists recently returned from Moscow. They told me that their state-sponsored escort eagerly spewed Russian propaganda, and militarized police guard the streets. The bloggers they met with spoke of having to register with the government once their sites hit 3,000 views. Investigative journalism and Internet freedom have essentially been outlawed; as Stalin said, "Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns. Why should we let them have ideas?" In dictatorial regimes, the people are the enemy. Putin has returned Russia to the Soviet Union short of butchering millions like Stalin did. By allowing a dictator to take over a European country, we only make him stronger. And if he decides to keep going, to continue distracting his citizens from their depressed economy, then it becomes harder to stop him.
The good news is that Russians do not want a war -- and this is Putin's Achilles heel. A survey by the Levada Center found that 68 percent of Russians polled "do not want their sons to fight" in Ukraine. In Russia, the war is a combustible secret, with the revered Russian Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers labeled a "Foreign Agent" for asking questions about the death of Russians soldiers -- dumped in mass graves or buried at night. Cheap oil prices and the collapsed ruble aside, Putin, politically, can't afford a war. The Russian equivalent of "soccer moms" are some of his staunchest supporters. Russia's mothers and widows could ultimately dethrone him if he's forced to send thousands of more boys across the border to die. Escalating the war will only serve as a powder keg inside Russia; deepening social-service cuts brought on by a collapsed economy will fuel unrest. If Putin wants an empire, he will get the last days of Rome.
That is if the White House finally decides to give Ukraine more than just blankets.