At this stage, nobody knows if Putin is going to win or to lose, whether his urge for Russian territorial expansion will be satisfied by his invasion of Ukraine or if he will seek to conquer additional countries. There is quite a lot of speculation as to the relative weight of Putin’s motives and; consequently, differing predictions about future scenarios.
One of the leading motivations for the invasion of Ukraine is demographic: The Russian Federation’s European Slavic population is severely shrinking and the proportion of ethnic Asians is growing. Ukraine could be a reservoir of Slavic blood to compensate for this demographic deficit. If indeed Putin is motivated by demography, then the New Russia (Crimea) and Little Russia (Ukraine) will not be sufficient to slake his thirst and we may expect to see Russian tanks rolling into White Russia (Belarus) and Moldova.
Beyond condemnations, if the West doesn’t demonstrate its determination to defend its eastern frontier, there may very well be a domino effect that will terrorize the Central European countries. Furthermore, international paralysis may signal a new ethos or more precisely, a new-old ethos, the revival of the imperial model.
In fact, the belief that the West will be able to protect small countries against illiberal regimes was first shown to be hollow with the silent acceptance of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia and sentence of death by Obama’s 2012 red line fiasco in Syria. A clear message was telegraphed to the aggressive and bullying regimes of China, Russia and Iran: Liberal Westerners are too individualistic and too divided to be able to oppose determined invaders. Westerners are certainly good at lighting up landmarks and posting banners on Facebook in solidarity with Ukraine, but they are too engaged in their hedonistic relativism to send their kids to risk their lives combating injustice on the battlefield.
Energy-dependent on Russian gas and haunted by its colonialist past, the EU is indeed beginning to impose tough economic sanctions, but they have not expelled Russian diplomats. Similar to their responses to unacceptable human rights violations in Syria, Iran and China, Europeans will most likely prioritize short-term, self-centered benefits over making true and painful sacrifices to uphold their core values and principles.
In the mold of Bashar al-Assad, Ebrahim Raisi and Xi Jinping, who have distanced themselves from international conventions for years, Vladimir Putin despises the Europeans, who have forgotten that diplomacy without credible military force isn’t worth much. He is also taking advantage of what he perceives to be weak US leadership, which is paralyzed by its failures, obsessed with China and probably in the process of signing an agreement with the Iranian mullahs.
In the shadow of the Shoah, European Jews have benefited from a unique seven-decade grace period, thanks to the liberal ethos that silenced antisemites domestically and condemned war as a political means in the international sphere. If Europeans are not ready to fight for their liberal values in the international arena, they will likely behave the same way in the domestic arena.
Facing pressure from antisemites who want to marginalize the Jews out of public schools and other public spheres, the European liberal states may simply acquiesce to the delegitimization of Israel and of Judaism. In a context of economic downturn (social downgrading of middle-classes and pauperization of the working classes), demographic shifts due to massive uncontrolled foreign immigration, a resurgence of antisemitism, an erosion of trust in politicians to protect their citizens, European Jews have good reason to be worried.
This process is well underway in states immediately adjacent to Ukraine, but this may spread to more distant and liberal countries, such as Germany, France and the UK. European Jews know by experience that anarchy and disregard for the rule of law are always bad news for easy prey minorities, such as Jews.
The new Russian invasion may seal closed the liberal order period that allowed Jewish thriving all over Europe. If Europeans are not ready to fight for their values, Europe will be ruined and its Jews will have to let go or get sidelined.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). He leads the institute’s activities in Europe and was the author of the 2015 Israeli government’s Action Plan for bringing the developing mass migration of French Jews to Israel.