Jaak Aaviksoo: The painful light of the war

Jaak Aaviksoo.
Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

To really secure our future, we need to shake from our minds the concept of liberal democracy as the supreme ideology that everyone will eventually adopt as long as they are benevolently involved, Jaak Aaviksoo writes.

Chinese military commander and strategist Sun Tzu wrote two and a half thousand years ago that, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

The war in Ukraine seems to confirm this ancient tenet of the art of war. Russia's imperial ambitions have seen it attack the liberal world order as guaranteed by the United States.

The first target of this campaign is the path the Ukrainian people have chosen for themselves that is just not compatible with the Russia idea. In the collective consciousness of the Kremlin, Ukraine is just an object on the road of the grand strategic confrontation, something that simply needs to be "denazified" and "demilitarized" and with whom there is nothing to discuss.

Even Vladimir Putin has by now realized the mistake in this attitude. It is unfortunate but necessary to admit that many Western countries also underestimated the Ukrainian state and people. The situation has fundamentally changed by today.

Ukraine will win this war following in Sun Tzu's footsteps. After eight years of conflict, they had both a clear understanding of Russia's nature and battle-hardened self-concept and confidence that allowed them to say at the most critical junction: "We are not afraid."

They were more than words. This will to defend themselves reflected in actions and the unequivocal message the defenders of Snake Island sent to the aggressor. Ukraine's message to NATO is equally clear and worthy of respect: "We will not beg on our knees for membership."

However, the war is far from over, and it is to be believed that the conditions on which arms will fall silent will be decided in battles over Kyiv, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities, as opposed to phone calls to the Kremlin. It could last for a long time, inevitably resulting in even greater loss of life, while the key to a solution is kept in Moscow and its price for Ukraine, Russia and the world depends on when Russia and consequently the Kremlin realize the extent of their miscalculation, tragically inadequate situational and self-assessment.

Even the most zealous Russians will at one point have to realize that the new Russian idea, Russki Mir, based on the mindset of Soviet special services, and its military fist are little more than a shambles on steroids. True, complete with nuclear weapons.

Still, the message and reality of war unleashed has hit the West hardest. We are hearing sincere reactions along the lines of "unbelievable," "unprecedented," "inadmissible," that are followed by decisions aimed at putting an end to the aggression that seemed wholly impossible until a few weeks ago.

The painful truth of the war has unmasked decades of self-deception on account of convenience: we have refused to know our adversary. Moreover, we have wished to see it as a strategic partner. A partner whose leader came to power by blowing up his own citizens' apartment buildings, bombing Chechnya and fueling and staging military conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk. Committing war crimes in Syria and Libya.

How can we be surprised by the horror in Ukraine when we have silently and shamefully forgotten the downing of a passenger airliner with almost two hundred people on board by the will of that same state and the arrogant denial that followed.

We have failed to realize that our leniency has been interpreted as weakness. What is more, many of our (former) politicians' less than altruistic attempts at cooperation have been seen as corruption and moral decadence. Not without good reason. We have no right to be surprised and must feel ashamed. I see that many do.

And yet, there are still those who hope for a "diplomatic solution," an agreement to be paid for the Ukrainian people by being denied their freedom, or by someone else, as long as we are not forced to leave our convenience bubble.

Many believe that everything boils down to Putin or the so-called collective Putin – that we could move on as a united and likeminded family were it not for him. Nothing could be more misleading.

Those who still have doubts can read Patriarch Kirill of Moscow's, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, opinion on the Ukraine war or peruse the Russian Union of Rectors' effusive show of support for President Putin's war policy. People able to see a little farther afield can consider the millions who chanted "Crimea is ours!" in Moscow and Pena, but also Tallinn and Berlin – everywhere the messianic breath of Russki Mir reaches. These things cannot be imagined out of existence.

To really secure our future, we need to shake from our minds the concept of liberal democracy as the supreme ideology that everyone will eventually adopt as long as they are benevolently involved.

Taliban proved to us in Afghanistan that they have their own power and truth. Russia is trying to prove as much in Ukraine. China is promoting its Confucianist model of the world based on millennia of experience, while India is looking for the golden mean and the dreams of Africa are still taking shape. And they all have the right to.

It is time for the liberal world that proceeds from the humanist vision of freedom, equality and fraternity to understand that the future is not God-given and must instead be protected on a daily basis and fought for when necessary. For this to be possible, we must not close our eyes to reality and meet inevitable challenges with strategic insight of our own.

Sun Tzu has left us with another thought on that road: "To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Marcus Turovski

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: