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Eight decades have passed since the Allies defeated Adolf Hitler. Who would’ve thought that another dictator bent on conquering neighboring countries and reviving an empire would bring full-scale war back to Europe in the 21st century?

The writing was on the wall long before Feb. 24, 2022. In a sane and just world, the West would’ve mobilized soldiers to enter Ukraine immediately after Russia illegally annexed Ukrainian Crimea and launched its invasion of Donbas in 2014.

Washington and London were both obligated to help Ukraine as per the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, when Kyiv gave its nuclear weapons to Moscow in exchange for a meaningless piece of paper. In the 1990s, the West mobilized nearly a million soldiers to save a family dictatorship in Kuwait from Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, but lacked the resolve to do the same for a courageous and pro-Western European nation that seeking freedom.

In an alternate universe, Kyiv is granted NATO membership in 2014 in the aftermath of Russia's first invasion. Candidacy to join the European Union follows shortly thereafter. The Ukrainian territories illegally annexed and occupied by Russia remain disputed between Kyiv and Moscow, not unlike East Germany following West Germany’s accession into the Alliance.

This alternate history sees Russia sanctioned to the same extent as North Korea. The West freezes Moscow’s assets long before 2022. Europe reduces Russian gas imports through the Nord Stream 1, Yamal and Brotherhood pipelines. The 2018 World Cup in Russia is boycotted by western countries. Until Moscow rectifies its wrongdoing to regain its place in the civilized world, it is given the treatment that rogue states deserve: isolation.

Unfortunately, the West did none of the above. It acted with complacency. Appeasement was the order of the day. European dependence on Russian gas grew. Plans proceeded to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Trade between Europe and Russia flourished. Despite hundreds of meetings, numerous ceasefires, and the signing of the two Minsk agreements between Kyiv and Moscow, Russia violated both deals.

The West nonetheless tried to rectify its catastrophic mistake. In the fall of 2021, the White House began declassifying intelligence, at the risk of compromising high-value assets in Russia, to let the world know what President Vladimir Putin was planning. Satellite images depicting nearly 200,000 Russian soldiers stationed at Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus were also disseminated.

In a sane and just world, the West would have gone further in 2021 by entering Ukraine preemptively. Not only to defend Kyiv and prevent the carnage that anyone paying attention knew would follow, but also to climb the escalation ladder with Russia and put the ball in Putin’s court to de-escalate.

The West failed to meet the moment. On Feb. 7, 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron spent hours in talks with Putin, to no avail. The next week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also had an audience with the Russian president not long after Russia claimed that its military had finished training on the Ukrainian border. Emboldened by the West's weakness, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Rather than capitulating to Moscow, fleeing from Ukraine, and forming a government in exile like countless leaders before him, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remained defiant. Instead of accepting U.S. President Joe Biden’s offer to airlift him from Kyiv, Zelensky famously told the American president that he needed "ammunition, not a ride." Few, if any, western leaders would’ve responded in the same manner.

Most “experts” and “analysts” wrote Ukraine off. They claimed that Russia would decapitate Kyiv, install a puppet government, and crush the Ukrainian state within days. Then days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years.

Here we are today. Alone, Ukraine faces the enemies of the free world: Russia, along with its accomplices, North Korea and Iran.

Pyongyang has supplied Moscow with at least 1 million artillery shells and missiles. In contrast, the European Union failed to fulfill a promise to provide 1 million shells to Ukraine by the start of 2024, even though it boasts a 20-odd trillion-dollar economy.

Iran supplies Russia with drones and ballistic missiles that rain death on peaceful Ukrainian cities. In the meantime, the German politicians voted last Thursday against providing desperately-needed Taurus missiles to Kyiv, opting instead for sending vague "long-range weapons." Worse, the U.S. House of Representatives didn't vote on a Senate bill to send a $95 billion aid package to Ukraine and Israel before taking a two-week recess, leaving the matter to be dealt with after Feb. 28.

For all the rhetoric, thoughts, prayers, and photo ops, the West is not serious. How many more massacres like the one suffered in the Ukrainian town of Bucha must be uncovered to instill in our leaders a sense of urgency? How many more executions of prisoners of war will it take to investigate and prosecute Russian war crimes? How many Ukrainian cities must Russia wipe off the face of the Earth in the name of “liberation” before the West gets its act together?

Every piece of equipment that Ukraine needs, from air defense systems, to fighter jets, to artillery shells, to tanks, is sitting in NATO warehouses collecting dust. We already know where those weapons might be employed in the future: to fight the Russian army in Eastern Europe if and when it rolls over Ukraine. So why aren’t they being used to defeat Russia today?

Ukrainians did not ask for this war. Putin brought it to them. Ukraine is only guilty of one thing: refusing to give up and die when the Russian tanks rolled up and started shooting.

The West can beat its chest and talk about human rights, democratic values and the rules-based international order all it wants, but the only thing it should feel as Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine enters its third year is shame. We need to get our act together.

Originally published by National Post on February 28, 2024.

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