By Joe Trippi
It was April 23, 2018, when I first walked into Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, and saw the huge banner that stretched across one side of an entire building that read “FREEDOM IS OUR RELIGION.”
It was emblematic of the country’s embrace of democracy and its turn towards Western ideas of freedom, liberty, and individual rights. You could feel it everywhere. Democracy is transformational, and the people of Ukraine were just beginning to feel their own power to transform their country. You could hear it in the voices of the people you met on the streets, having thrown off the yoke of authoritarianism, they were not going back. For nearly two years, I had a front-row seat as new political parties were formed, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy rode to victory with his Servant of the People party, winning over 73% of the vote. His victory cemented in the minds of millions of Ukrainians that they truly were, for the first time, in control of their destiny. The future they wanted was their own - not Russia’s and not Putin’s.
So on February 18th, 2022, days before Putin’s invasion, I tweeted the picture I had taken on Independence Square and wrote, “Putin has no idea how hard the Ukrainian people will fight to remain free of him.”
A people who knew authoritarianism under the former Soviet Union and still had family and friends under the authoritarianism of Putin’s rule in Russia had tasted western democracy. Freedom, liberty, and their right to their own future were at stake.
For the people of Ukraine, for citizens of the United States, and for citizens of western democracies across the globe - this is not a drill.
Putin is an authoritarian who believes that leaders of democracies cannot move fast enough to stop him and that even if they do succeed for a while — their citizens will throw them out of office because of the rising costs of his war. He has no such worry. In the end, Putin, like all autocrats, believes he can outlast his democratic counterparts because he can impose his will on the Russian people further and far longer than leaders in western democracies can on their citizens. To Putin, the idea of worrying about what the people think is quaint. In a democracy, it’s a reality faced by every President or Prime Minister.
One year into his delusional and horrific invasion, time is the enemy of the west. Putin can arrest tens of thousands who dare protest him. Putin can jail his political opponents. Putin can conscript hundreds of thousands of Russians and send them to the frontlines as cannon fodder. His FOX- News-like state media will sell nightly that the whole thing is the fault of NATO and Joe Biden. If he has to do this for two more years, he will. Prices can soar, people can starve, sons on the frontlines won’t be calling their moms because they are dead. Putin doesn’t care - it’s all about time. It’s about how long it will take the citizens in western democracies to throw their leaders out - he can wait.
It’s a massive advantage that an authoritarian like Putin has over an alliance of democracies.
He is betting that what makes us great makes us weak.
A free press will report the higher gas prices, inflation, and every negative economic impact caused by Putin’s invasion and rarely do it with any context to the war or even mention of Putin. The press is so free that FOXNews will even put Tucker Carlson on the air to cheer Putin on.
Donald Trump expressed so much affection for Putin that he’s infused a whole wing of the MAGA GOP with support for Putin and the determination to erode support for continued assistance to Ukraine. There is no loyal opposition in America, even when it comes to opposing a tyrant bent on invading a sovereign country and conducting crimes against humanity to destroy it.
Those are the polarizing politics at a time when sending more military assistance and spending more money to support Ukraine will require a vote by Congress. The Duma will rubber-stamp anything Putin asks for.
That Joe Biden has been able to rally and lead western Democracies in support of Ukraine for a year with so much opposition here at home is an incredible achievement most would not have bet on. In fact, Putin bet against him - a bet he is currently losing.
But Putin has time. And the MAGA GOP may give him the time he needs. Instead of unifying behind our president in the fight to defend democracy and our values, far too many Americans have chosen to publicly side with the butcher of Moscow as he orders more war crimes to destroy the freedom and liberty of a country on the frontline defending our values.
The people of Ukraine know what is at stake. But do we?