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On threats to democracy, at home and abroad

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, done for no other apparent reason than to satisfy Vladimir Putin’s autocratic ambitions, is shameful. It is not, however, surprising.

Ten years ago, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was ridiculed for declaring that Russia was the number one geopolitical foe of the United States. At that time the nation was focused on the threat of ISIS, and while terrorist threats — both foreign and domestic — are a concern today, Russia demonstrated in 2014 when it moved into Ukraine and annexed Crimea that it was indeed a threat to the world’s geopolitical stability.

There was a certain inevitability then to the invasion of Ukraine, the first such incursion into a European nation since the World War II era. Putin has not only openly pined for the days of the Soviet Union, he is an old school czar who thinks nothing of grabbing territory he wants and knows he has the power to take.

The U.S. and its NATO allies are now belatedly doing what could have been done more aggressively over the past eight years. The arrival of anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons contributed to the heroic resistance on the part of the Ukrainian military, government and brave civilians.

The unprecedentedly severe economic sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and European nations — even traditionally neutral Switzerland has joined in — have made life miserable for ordinary Russians, who have seen their stock portfolios plummet and been reduced to cashing out their accounts from floundering banks. Modern social media and advanced communications technology make it difficult for Putin to conceal the truth of the invasion from Russian citizens, and the extent of protests in this authoritarian regime are remarkable. Putin, already an international pariah, may become a domestic one as well, but it is unlikely he cares or believes there is any threat to his iron grip on the country.

China, Russia’s nominal ally, may be critical to any endgame that could be seen as less than a disaster. Ukraine trades more with China than Russia, and in 2020 the European Union surpassed the U.S. as China’s leading trade partner. China, with its desire to establish itself as the world’s economic giant, may not appreciate Ukraine being broken and Europe alarmed by Putin’s military adventurism.

As the world unites in support of heroic Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the courageous Ukrainian people, it is significant that the outliers are those in America’s radical right. Former president Donald Trump, who cozied up to Putin for four years, has praised his “genius” in invading Ukraine, and Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson sounds like a member of the Russian propaganda machine. It used to be the American left that was branded as “soft on Russia.” Now it is the American right, with its enthusiasm for totalitarian leaders, that has gone as soft as a MyPillow on Russia.

However this tragedy turns out, the lasting impression for Americans may be the photos and footage of Ukrainians hiding from bombs in subway tunnels and fleeing major cities by car on packed highways or aboard crowded trains. Parents with children and maybe a cat carrier, they look like us. Their democracy and their lives as they knew them may have been permanently altered by a cruel and lawless dictator on their border.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Americans received a lesson on a smaller, but still harrowing scale, about the fragility of democracy. The insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a presidential election threatened the core of our democratic system of government. Democracy, and the freedoms that go with it, whether here or abroad, can never be taken for granted, and must be vigilantly defended.

Bill Everhart is the former editorial page editor of The Berkshire Eagle and is an occasional Eagle contributor. 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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