It’s been nearly 83 years since a nation in Europe invaded a neighbor. In 1939, it was Adolf Hitler who unleashed his legions into Poland, falsely claiming the Poles had attacked first. Stalin sent the Red Army from the east and the two dictators divided the country.

Now Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine. Putin also employed lies as a pretext, among them that Ukraine is a fake country invented by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, one that must be “denazified” (its president is Jewish). Ukraine is a democracy that presented no threat to Russia.

In the past eight decades, two dictators have besieged Kyiv, inflicting horrific casualties on civilians in the city: Hitler and Putin.

Comparing the two might be condemned as crass reductionism. Such laziness led to an adage called Godwin’s Law: The longer an online discussion continues, the greater the likelihood of comparisons with Nazis and Hitler.

But in this case, many of the connections are unavoidable.

The military situation is fast-changing. The geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences will be profound and long-lasting. Three decades of Russian integration into the world economy are over.

Putin’s aggression has united the West in an array of economic sanctions that promise to be much more punishing than the often ineffective kind employed against rogue states.


More about Russia’s war on Ukraine

For example, Russia’s central bank can’t use its large cache of foreign-exchange reserves to buy rubles from foreign financial institutions. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said the move was among the steps to “cripple Putin’s ability to finance his war machine.”

Also, Berlin stopped the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would have doubled the Russian natural gas flowing to Germany. It’s a potent sign that Western Europe is willing to begin weaning itself, however painfully, off Russia’s natural resources. Russian crude makes up only about 3% of U.S. imports.

The late Sen. John McCain quipped that Russia “is a gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a country.” That gas station’s value is in danger. BP, Shell and Exxon have cut ties with Russia.

The United States and the EU shut their airspace to Russian airplanes. Boeing “temporarily suspended” work at its Moscow design center and parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian airlines. Another Boeing center in Kyiv was shut by the attack. Apple, Ford and Dell are among the American companies also withdrawing.

Microsoft joined the conflict from its threat center near Seattle by battling Russian malware targeting Ukraine. Amazon is donating $5 million to aid organizations helping Ukraine. According to the technology site Geekwire, Outreach CEO Manny Medina said his Seattle-based startup, valued at $4.4 billion, will not do business with Russia. He urged other tech companies to follow suit.


The list of sanctions against Russia is long and cuts deep.

Even so, it’s unlikely that economic pain alone will stop Putin. The invasion has not gone well. Ukrainian soldiers have fought heroically, inflicting serious damage on Russian forces. Social media has displayed photos of destroyed Russian convoys and the bodies of Russian soldiers. Anti-war protests have been held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Questions are being asked as to whether Putin can keep Russian oligarchs and elites on his side.

Meanwhile, Putin has succeeded in reuniting NATO. Germany has pledged to raise military spending.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his defiant speeches — he responded to an American offer for evacuation by saying “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” — is a Churchillian figure for our age.

Shockingly but not surprisingly, former President Donald Trump had only praise for Putin’s invasion. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss wondered on Twitter about the impossibility of former President Herbert Hoover praising Hitler for his invasion of Poland.

But it’s only a matter of time before Russia overwhelms the country. Failing militarily at first, Putin ordered the shelling of civilian populations in Ukrainian cities. Russia fired missiles at Babi Yar, a ravine — now a Holocaust memorial near Kyiv — where the Nazis murdered nearly 38,000 Jews in two days.


Putin also raised the alert level of Russian nuclear forces in a gambit to scare NATO (President Joe Biden smartly did not respond). What’s more unsettling is how isolated and unhinged Putin appeared as the war went badly. Or that the former KGB man, known for his shrewd patience, chose such a reckless attack.

Ukraine and Russia have a fraught history. Stalin inflicted a famine there in the early 1930s, costing at least 4 million lives, to crush Ukrainian nationalism. He deported others to the Gulag.

Putin started this conflict in eastern Ukraine eight years ago, sending “little green men” (Russian soldiers under pretense as “volunteers”) in an attempt to foment conflict in the region. He annexed Crimea. Now he wants to finish the job.

George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen wrote that Putin embraces a set of ideas to restore Imperial Russia, shown in his speech justifying the invasion.

“If you think the current version of Ukraine was never a valid nation to begin with, a twisted set of mental contortions might bring you around to Russian expansionism,” Cowen wrote. “Russia is just taking back what is rightfully theirs, and by the end of this speech Putin is concluding that ‘the possible continuation of the bloodshed will lie entirely on the conscience of Ukraine’s ruling regime.’ ”

Don’t fall for it. This is naked aggression. Putin may annex Ukraine or put a pro-Russian puppet in place of the EU-leaning democratic country he’s attempting to conquer. Or he may end up in an Afghanistan-like quagmire as Ukrainians fight on as guerrillas.

Meanwhile, Putin not only failed in his speedy plan to absorb Ukraine, but he united the West, including economic sanctions that will devastate the Russian economy. Even China is backing away from its support of Russia.

The long peace in Europe has been shattered and no one knows how this will end.