For those who believe in the “free world”, the statement by the Ukraine President, Volodymyr Zelenski, has a profound ring of pathos about it, “When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”
The question is how many faces of western support may join Ukraine.
The fundamental truth of what has happened is that Ukraine is not the real target.
In the speech that Putin made on Thursday morning, it was the free world, the West, that he said created the “Fundamental threats” that prompted him to attack Ukraine.
It is the West that Russia seeks to humiliate.
This is the same West that has progressively weakened itself.
It has preoccupied itself with issues that have undermined its economic and military strength.
How much time have we spent talking about climate change and gender equity rather than defence capacity?
And you only have to see the speech that President Biden made in response to Vladimir Putin to know that the leader of the Western democracies carries little clout.
Biden is in cognitive decline.
He couldn’t finish sentences.
He gave the impression that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
This is the leader of the free world at a time of our greatest vulnerability.
Putin made the point, “All of the so-called Western bloc which the US formed in its image and likeness, all of it, in its entirety, it what is known as the Empire of Lies.”
Putin has not forgiven or forgotten the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He said as much that the US and its allies, “Tried to crush us, beat us down and finish us off… we remember that and will never forget it.”
Putin believes that Ukraine is an historical possession of Moscow; he spoke to the nation about that for an hour on Monday.
The President of Ukraine made the point that Ukraine and Russia share a common border of 2,000kms.
But along that border, Russia has, “Almost 200,000 soldiers and thousands of military vehicles.”
Almost speaking for the free world, the Ukraine President said, “We know for sure that we don’t need the war… but if we will be attacked… if they try to take our country away from us, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves.”
But do we have that capacity?
As I wrote earlier this week, Australia doesn’t have the military capability to dominate and secure its own territorial waters.
As Greg Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of The Australian said, “Forget about defending Taiwan. We can’t defend our own maritime approaches.”
The West talks about sanctions but Putin is well prepared.
At the Winter Olympic Games, China and Russia declared a “no limits” partnership, backing each other over Ukraine and Taiwan and promising to collaborate against the West.
It is the most detailed and assertive statement of Russian and Chinese resolve to build a new international order based on their view of human rights and democracy.
The best Biden could do was to declare that “America stands up to bullies.”
Putin is not a bully. He has a mission. And making Russia suffer while working to make sure Putin does not attack NATO’s eastern flank are hardly legitimate goals.
In fact, in proof of the weakness of the West, Biden was asked if the sanctions were tough enough, “Let’s have a conversation in another month or so to see if they are working.”
Is this what the President of the United States should be saying about the first effort to seize territory in Europe in 80 years?
Putin has prepared for this.
Russia has $885b of foreign exchange reserves, 20 per cent in gold, a balanced budget, well capitalised banks and has spent, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has written, “The last eight years cutting reliance on the West.”
As Evans-Pritchard correctly writes, the White House, as for Australia and the West, has been bogged down in a cultural civil war.
While this has been going on, Putin has restricted gas flows to Europe.
European storages are at dangerous levels.
There is not enough spare gas to cover Europe’s needs.
If Putin restricts the gas flows, global sanctions on Russian energy are virtually useless.
While China is the world’s top importer of crude oil, it will continue to buy Russian barrels as well as LNG gas.
So, economic sanctions are, quite frankly, a joke and an avoidance of the reality.
As Evans-Pritchard has written, “Only fear of well-armed Ukrainian resistance will change Putin’s calculation at this juncture… it requires all NATO states to lock shields together, yet the new regime in Germany looks likely to do nothing that will endanger gas supplies.”
The only conclusion to be drawn is two-fold.
The free world perceives the risk greater than anything since World War Two.
But does the free world have the stomach for the response?
So far, the answer is no.