Ukraine cannot lose this war.
I’ve said it since day one.
But each passing day heightens my convictions.
On one side (Russia) is a demoralized, poorly led army and, in the case of the Wagner militia, one manned by criminals whose profession is death but who know not how to risk their own lives.
On the other (Ukraine) is a citizens army defending not just their country but also a certain idea of civilization and of Europe: So, as a consequence, they understand why they fight.
Add to this the fact that the Ukrainian army has become, by trial, the most highly trained and best of Europe.
The law that applies here, then, is not that of Thucydides, but of Herodotus.
The law posited following the Greco-Persian War that pitted the Greek hoplites against the “barbarians” Darius the Great and Xerxes.
The law confirmed by Polybius after the Punic Wars, where the Carthaginian mercenaries surrendered to the legions of the Roman republic.
This law states: Free citizens always end up winning over the vile courtesans who prostrate themselves before the Great King.
It establishes: Irresistible are the soldiers who, even outnumbered, take on, as at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea, slave armies.
This is why, at the end of the day, the outcome of this war is not in doubt.
What do we mean by “outcome”?
Set aside for a moment our pious wishes.
And let us speak of realism, the national security of our countries.
From that point of view, we have no choice.
A cease-fire would be disastrous, as it would have no other effect but to allow the aggressor to rearm and retreat to better attack another day.
A compromise, allowing the aggressor to “save face,” leaving it the slightest parcel of conquered territory, would have the same effect. Moreover, it would send a message to all the Erdogans, Khameinis, and Xis out there: “Invade, invade away; you’ll at least get something out of it.”
It would be suicidal to follow the example of Crimea and the (fallacious) idea that it had “always been Russian.” Putin wished, before the invasion, to turn it into a touristic land of plenty? She is nothing more than a giant naval base; a missile silo the size of a peninsula; a fortress whose cannons control Black Sea commerce and are liable, at any moment, to block the free circulation of grains to the poorest of destinations; in short, Crimea, under Russian occupation, is a tool for blackmail that menaces the region and the world.
Thus, the outcome is clear: Russia must capitulate.
It’s for the fall not only of Putin but of the whole regime that may be tempted to persevere after him.
And it’s for a sleepwalking people to finally wake up and to use the opportunity of defeat to take measure of the crimes committed in their name, like Germany after 1945, like Japan.
We would need a Budapest Memorandum in reverse, in which Russia would consent to placing its deadliest weapons under international supervision.
The hypothesis seems unimaginable.
But history has more imagination than man.
Who can predict the blast effect that, as in 1917, as in 1989, a third Russian revolution could perhaps have following a defeat?
When, then, will this total victory arrive? On what timeline?
I can only repeat here what I went to plead to the U.S. Congress, to the European Parliament, to France’s National Assembly, to the United Nations, and to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
We, not Ukraine, have the answer to this question.
It’s up to Western leaders, not Zelensky, to hasten the outcome and thereby save lives.
The key, and the only key, is the advanced weapons that we’re still hesitating to deliver—the fighter planes, long-range missiles, and Reaper drones.
Either we continue to measure out our aid in teaspoons, following the “incremental” path that will leave us systematically a beat behind, and the war will go on.
Or else we change the paradigm; we stop treating Zelensky like a beggar for whom the requirements for our indulgence keep changing; we understand that delivering arms is not a gift, but an act of self-defense and that their front line is, in reality, ours. We provide Ukraine, if we can, with exactly what she needs and is asking for in order to defeat the common enemy. In which case all will move swiftly and the war will end.
It must be made clear: Peace, the end to massacres, innocent lives lost tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the day after that—the key is in our hands.
Translated from the French by Matthew Fishbane.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, and The Empire and the Five Kings. His most recent film, Slava Ukraini, will premiere nationwide on May 5, 2023.