Russia’s Nervous Neighbours

Published on April 16, 2023

We don’t know how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will end, but whatever the outcome, the world will be changed forever.

Already, the post WWII consensus—often called the Pax Americana—that has kept the world relatively peaceful is rapidly breaking down. China, Russia, and Iran have come together in a triumvirate that directly challenges that consensus. Individual parts, such as the hegemony of the American dollar, are threatened, as Russia and other nations within the Chinese orbit agree to use the Chinese yuan instead of the dollar. The global safety of shipping lanes—mainly protected by America—is now in jeopardy. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of a sovereign Ukraine is a direct assault on world order.

How this will all shake out is keeping our best geopolitical geniuses scratching their geopolitical heads, so we mortals can be forgiven if we find it confusing. There are so many peripheral things wrapped up in this epic event—Justin Trudeau, the Biden family, American politics, “wokeness”—that it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. In addition to that, there is the natural knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything our ideological adversaries are for, as in “the left is for supporting Ukraine, so conservatives must oppose it.”

But maybe it might be useful to go directly to the nations most directly affected by the Russian invasion to get a better sense of what is actually at stake. Those are the nations that were held for half a century in a Russian bear hug.

Poland is the largest of those ex-Soviet satellites. It is certainly not “woke.” The Eastern European countries are decidedly anti-woke. As for American politics, the Poles might find the struggle between Biden and Trump good entertainment, but who is or is not U.S. President at any given point is important to Poles only to know what to expect from that particular president. As for Justin Trudeau, most Poles probably don’t know who he is.

But they are certainly completely focused on what is going on to their immediate east, in Russia. That is because they have lived beside the Russian bear—or within its bear hug—for the last 1,000 years or so. Pierre Trudeau once famously said that Canada living next to America was like living next to an elephant—when it moved you certainly knew it. For Poles, the comparison about living next to the Russian bear would probably be even more graphic: When that Russian bear gets grouchy, it eats you.

Because Poland has a long and bloody history with that bear. The last time that Russia invaded it was on Sept 17, 1939. Hitler and Stalin had made an evil pact: The two megalomaniacs would carve up Poland, and each take half.

And that’s what they did. What Hitler then did to Poland is well known. It includes rounding up most of Poland’s Jewish population and murdering them.

But Stalin’s role in Poland’s dismemberment is not as well known. The Katyn massacre was only one of many Russian atrocities there. Stalin then shot much of Poland’s middle class, and kept Poland in its iron grip for the next half century. So it is fair to say that Poland wants no part of Russian dominance again.

Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine sent shock waves throughout Poland. Like the Ukrainians, Poles are prepared to fight to the death to keep it from happening to their country again. As a result they are are currently massively expanding their armed forces as quickly as they possibly can. They know exactly what awaits them if they don’t.

And that is essentially what all of the ex-Soviet satellites are doing. The Baltic nations—Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia—are doing everything they can to prevent being the next Ukraine. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, and the others (except Hungary’s Orban, who is playing his own game) know exactly what fate awaits them if they don’t immediately arm themselves and protect their eastern borders.

In Scandinavia, meanwhile, alarm bells went off when Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Sweden and Finland, which had managed to live in an uneasy state of neutrality with Russia, announced virtually the day after the invasion that they would immediately seek membership in NATO. They knew exactly what that invasion signified. Their decision to seek NATO membership had nothing to do with American politics, but everything to do with a determination to avoid being sucked into the Russian embrace.

There are many legitimate concerns about this war, and what the proper response should be. However, the fact that Russia’s neighbours strongly support Ukraine, while getting ready to defend themselves, is clear evidence that we in the West should also support Ukraine—regardless of one’s political leanings.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired Manitoba judge and Senior Fellow at Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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