Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war with the West didn’t start on Feb. 24, 2022, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine. It is unlikely to stop even if the guns fall silent. Putin’s goals include the spread of fascist ideology. Those who value the future of Western democracy must be willing to engage in a long war.
Defining terms means a trip into the political science weeds. Knowing the enemy is crucial.
Americans conflate the terms communist, socialist and fascist. They are used interchangeably as clubs to beat up political opponents and as shorthand in the media. Communism, the American nightmare during the Cold War years, has been replaced by the charge of socialism. The words describe completely different realities.
Fascism is a word that mostly died with Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini in 1945. Unfortunately for a peaceful world, fascist ideology didn’t die.
Jason Stanley, Yale professor and author of “How Fascism Works,” points out that classic fascism focuses on the restoration of territorial empires through military violence. That describes perfectly Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and similar expansions since moving into neighboring Georgia in 2008.
His transparent and measurable goal is the restoration of Catherine the Great’s 18th Century dreams of a Russian empire in Europe. The total eradication of Ukraine as a national or cultural identity is his end goal in this “military operation.”
Fascists in the 1930s were mistaken in believing that democratic people squabbling over government policies meant military weakness, plus Americans couldn’t march in lock step. World War II proved that marching is not actual warfare, and free people are not unwilling to fight for their values.
To defeat Putin’s dreams of empire, Ukrainians have proven their strength in defending their right to decide for themselves who they are. The democracies must be as committed for as long as it takes because the only way to stop this type of fascism is an outright military victory.
The classic fascism, however, is not Putin’s only vision. He is engaged in a years-long effort to dominate the world with his fascist ideology.
This war is not about taking territory but about eliminating what Putin believes are weak and immoral democratic values. As professor Stanley explains, he is positioning himself as an example of leadership for ethno-nationalist movements in Europe, autocratic regimes in other nations and far-right autocratic extremism in the United States.
Russian-backed propaganda and misinformation spread fear and anger about supposed moral decay and weakness. Extremist groups first target small minority groups, like LGBT or religious communities, to draw in more supporters.
To defeat this version of fascism, the democracies will have to prove that their noisy, messy freedoms are stronger than the false calm and security of autocracy.
Ukrainians have shown us all that no matter how high the price or how long the battle takes, democratic values are worth the fight.
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