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Russia Must Be Humbled

War always entails humiliation for the defeated, but it is false to suggest that humiliation will heighten the risk of future conflicts. Modern history is replete with examples showing that defeat often puts a country on a path to long-term peace and prosperity.

WARSAW – With Russian forces retreating in eastern and southern Ukraine in the face of a masterful Ukrainian counteroffensive, some commentators in the West have argued that the war the Kremlin launched in February must not end with the “humiliation” of President Vladimir Putin or Russia. In fact, the opposite is true: Putin’s appalling aggression must leave Russia thoroughly chastened on the world stage.

Leaving aside the immorality of this one-sided appeal to give Putin a face-saving exit (no one seems to be appealing for Ukraine not to be humiliated by an eventual peace settlement), can the argument be justified by history or the cold logic of dealing with a nuclear superpower (even one that has been demonstrated to be super-powerful only in this dimension)?

To answer that question, we must start with the fact that any defeat in war will always be deeply humiliating for the losing side – regardless of whether it is the aggressor or the victim. War always entails humiliation for at least one side, and sometimes for both. Those arguing against humiliating Russia typically point primarily to the aftermath of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, they claim, imposed such humiliating terms on Germany that it led to the rise of Hitler a decade later, and then to World War II.