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Western security is entwined with the fate of one man, Vladimir Putin. Over his twenty years of running Russian affairs, Mr. Putin has constantly worked to destabilize Western democratic systems by corrupting civil society and advancing friendly, authoritarian-minded leaders. And now, with Mr. Putin employing his military to pursue regime change in democratic Ukraine, Western leaders are eager to roll out the red carpet for Russia’s next leader.
Like it or not, Mr. Putin is finally seeing the consequences of constantly provoking the West’s preternaturally patient democracies. As America’s President Joe Biden blurted during a rousing call for Western unity earlier this week, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
The President’s March 26 comment was met with a lot of nervous hand-wringing. Among the fretful, any mention of a Russia without Putin sparks a fear that the spurned autocrat might unleash some sort of retaliation. Even the stolid old Washington Post editorial board took to the fainting couch, penning a caution that Presidents shouldn’t wish for things that they do “not actually have the intention or capability to achieve.” Such strange rationale, if applied elsewhere, would find fault with much of Winston Churchill’s epic World War II oratory, as Mr. Churchill’s initial exhortations for a unified victory over fascism were beyond England’s capability.
In Washington D.C., the performative uproar was so dramatic that the more timid-or just the more malleable—elements of Biden’s Administration encouraged the President to walk back his quip as a mere expression of “moral outrage.”
Mr. Putin has fewer qualms. In fact, his signature goal over two decades has been, in essence, to pursue regime change in Russia’s “near abroad,” while weakening free democracies at every turn. He may not have formally declared war upon the civic building-blocks of western society, but he has wasted few precious few opportunities to hamstring and hinder western democracies.
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It will just get worse.
Now that Mr. Putin’s rough military tools of regime change have failed in Ukraine, the 69-year-old leader will only double down on the clandestine, corrupt chicanery that let Russia meddle with the beating heart of free Western society.
The path ahead is pretty clear. If Mr. Putin cannot beat Ukraine in battle, he will turn toward the Belarus playbook, and focus on beating Ukraine at the ballot box, relying upon his elected proxies to then destroy the ballot box itself. If the underhanded tools that helped drive the UK out of the European Union, weaken Germany, disunite America, and cow half of Europe work better than tanks at advancing Mr. Putin’s interests, then Putin will forgo rearmament and focus on what works.
That will be a catastrophe.
It is time to recognize that the free world will only be safe if Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, loses power.
Putin Is A Hostile Agent
For two decades, the West has been extraordinarily tolerant of Putin’s constant provocations. Mr. Putin has meddled in Western elections, utilized banned weaponry, deployed assassination teams across borders, installed deep-cover spies at every level, and employed every lever of free society to help democracies self-destruct.
The west passively looked on as Mr. Putin supported the development of the nuclear-powered and fallout-spewing SSC-X-9 “Skyfall” cruise missile, unmanned fallout-oriented “Status-6” nuclear-armed submarines and other nihilistic, world-endangering weapons.
Only now, after the Ukraine invasion, is the West ready to call Mr. Putin a hostile agent.
Despite giving Mr. Putin every chance to build a foundation for future trust, Russia’s current leader has chosen the adversarial route. It is shame that Mr. Putin has never grown beyond his roots as a middling KGB apparatchik at the tail end of the Cold War. Only the power of Russia’s massive money-laundering enterprise, used to hide ill-gotten gains from Russia’s kleptocratic governance, de-emphasized Mr. Putin’s anti-Western actions and kept his corrupt-but-glamorous friends palatable to the West’s political and economic elite.
Mr. Putin is toxic. He cannot remain in power and there is nothing remotely wrong in saying so.
Putin And His Policies Are Not The Russian State
The ultimate fear is that a threatened Mr. Putin may turn to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. President Putin certainly subscribes to the cherished belief of many overthrown autocrats that “L’état, c’est moi,” and that he, himself, is the embodiment of the Russian state. Under Russian nuclear doctrine, any attack that threatens the state can merit a nuclear response.
But that does not mean the fed-up West is forbidden from anticipating Mr. Putin’s demise or bar the West from pursing policies that might encourage Mr. Putin’s retirement. Ms. Manners might approve of pulling rhetorical punches while partying on one of Russia’s many ad-hoc Yachts of State, but President Biden is not enjoying the luxurious and likely ill-gotten gains of Mr. Putin and his rich coterie. The U.S. President is busy uniting the free world around the idea that Putin is a global threat. And it takes many repetitions of a clear message to build consensus amongst the West’s battered and abused democracies—it just needs to be honed, reinforcing the idea that Putin is not the Russian State, and that a new leader means a new start with the West.
For the past twenty years the West has passively borne the brunt of Mr. Putin’s animosity. Russia’s bad actors have burrowed deeply into almost every aspect of the West’s political psyche. But the time for tolerance of Russian machinations has come to an end. Since February 24, twelve countries have expelled over 130 Russian agents for undiplomatic activities. Countries throughout the world are sending weapons and other aid to Ukraine, and even more are supporting tough economic sanctions. These countries are all doing this for a reason and that reason merits open discussion.
Mr. Putin cannot remain in power. And, for God’s sake, there’s nothing wrong in saying so.