The clear issue at the center of the war in Ukraine is the unprovoked invasion and intentional occupation of a sovereign nation by Russia. This stark reality explains the world’s united opposition to Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Citizens of free countries around the world recognize that if Russia wins, a principle of invasion and occupation that World War II fought to overthrow will be restored. It is plausible that a strategy of unprovoked invasion and occupation will be repeated by China against Taiwan, North Korea against South Korea, and Iran against Israel or its Middle Eastern neighbors.
According to conventional wisdom, if Mr. Putin takes over Ukraine, he will end up putting pressure on the Baltic states or Poland in the same way. Sweden and Finland are already operating civilian-based defense plans on this assumption.
But while the peoples of the world recognize that this invasion cannot endure, they do not know how to stop it.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has rejected the no-fly zone requested by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as likely to spark a war between nuclear-armed Russia and the West. The effectiveness of sanctions against Russian oil is uncertain.
The West’s policy of mounting a ranged defense of Ukraine likely means we are heading towards a world in which invasion and occupation become normalized, leading to a succession of nuclear-edge trips with China. , North Korea and surely Iran.
An alternative exists between the devil of World War III and the deep blue sea of Putin’s complete takeover of Ukraine.
To this day, a major fully free city exists in Ukraine. This is Lviv. Before it is too late, the world, led by NATO, should secure Lviv’s status as a free city, as in 1948 the Western powers did for West Berlin.
At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into occupation zones by the victorious armies. Although the capital of Berlin was in the Soviet-occupied east, the Western allies refused to let Berlin be absorbed into Stalin’s communist bloc. Berlin was divided into sectors, with West Berlin protected by the United States, Britain and France, and East Berlin by the Russians.
In June 1948, Joseph Stalin chose to test the West’s postwar resolve by abruptly blocking Allied land, air, and sea access to Berlin, a move that would have returned the city to Soviet control. With access to food and electricity cut off, starvation of West Berliners was imminent.
By then, the Russian forces vastly outnumbered the reduced Western allies. President Harry Truman was given options: evacuate all Berliners, negotiate a deal with the Soviets, or find a way to resupply West Berlin. Rather than lose West Berlin, Truman and the European allies launched the Berlin Airlift, ferrying food and coal into the city daily. It remains one of the finest hours of the West. In May 1949, the Soviets agreed to end the blockade.
Just as the three major Allied powers then occupied the western sector of Berlin, NATO – which was created during the blockade of Berlin – should assert and establish control in western Ukraine of Lviv, its airport, perimeter and transport links with close NATO members. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
As long as Lviv remains free, Mr. Putin will never “occupy” Ukraine. A free Lviv would be a counter-symbol to Russian invasion and occupation.
A free Lviv would allow President Zelensky, the Charles de Gaulle of Ukraine, to avoid exile. Mr. Zelensky could maintain a legitimate government on his country’s soil for as long as necessary.
A free Lviv would preserve Ukraine’s important economic relationship with the West, keeping its currency pegged to the dollar rather than Mr Putin’s now worthless rouble.
The establishment of Lviv, its airport (a flyover zone) and its suburbs as a NATO protectorate, governed by Ukrainians, would allow the city to serve as a habitat for Ukrainians wishing to stay, or hub to manage the humanitarian crisis and anything else Ukraine Needs.
We have seen what Mr. Putin has done in Kiev, Kharkiv and Mariupol. In time, he will target Lviv. A protected and intact Lviv would be a multinational rebuke to the war crimes already committed by Mr. Putin and his associates.
The main objection to NATO protecting Lviv will be the general rebuttal that it would “provoke Putin”. President Biden has promised not to send American troops to Ukraine. Now the US says it won’t transfer Polish MiGs to Ukraine, because that would be another Putin provocation.
Where does Mr. Putin’s NATO veto end? We are about to establish that he can deter NATO by waving the nuclear threshold for any military act of his choosing. The explicit language of the NATO charter makes it clear that securing Lviv would comply as an exercise in collective self-defense.
Similar fears of a Soviet reaction preceded the Berlin Airlift. Truman, despite a world war that has just ended, endorsed the airlift in which we were joined by war-weary Britain and France.
The United States military governor in Germany, General Lucius Clay, explained the stakes, as American statesmen so often did at the time: “It is not possible to maintain our position in Berlin and it should not be assessed on this basis. . . . We are convinced that our stay in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for better or for worse, he became a symbol of American intent.
A free, NATO-protected Lviv in an unoccupied Ukraine would restore that noble intention for this generation.
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