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Too often we bash our mega-large corporate entities, and capitalism in general, for valuing profit over people.

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Tony Ahern, PublisherIt's a proud time to be a Western capitalist.

Too often we bash our mega-large corporate entities, and capitalism in general, for valuing profit over people. But give the top American and Western corporations credit for getting out of Russia in a heartbeat after the onslaught of the invasion began, soon after the American-led economic sanctions went into effect.

Ukraine is begging for NATO tanks, aircraft and boots on the ground, but for good reason — trying to ward off WWIII — the West isn't ready to do that, at least not at this point. But what the West did do was crush the Russian economy, rapidly, with the weight of our economic power. Without a bullet flying.

It was one of capitalism's finest moments. Give credit to Apple, McDonald's, the oil giants BP, ExxonMobile and Shell, and many, many other western corporations. Combined, these companies walked away from billions in assets, all to help shut off Putin's revenue faucet. Visa and Mastercard banned transactions there, and of course the SWIFT banking system shut out Russia. The nation was rendered a cash-only society overnight, and that cash became more worthless with each passing minute.

For the past few decades, the U.S. has essentially appeased Putin. While we've been arguing among our own red and blue selves, Putin, emboldened by our internal conflicts, has worked on his fantasy to rebundle the former Soviet Union countries. His wars have been steady: the Chechen War of '99; Georgia in '08; and his earlier incursions into the Ukraine in 2014-15. In the name of maintaining a larger peace, the West has allowed it to occur with only limited sanctions in protest.

Those days of appeasement for Putin and Russia have ceased. Putin and his country need to become pariahs, a la North Korea, while he and his ilk remain in power.

It's a scary time. Who knows what Putin will do? Even scholars and experts who studied the man for decades can only guess. Will he use chemical weapons? Will he use smaller nuclear weapons? Will he lash out and drop nuclear weapons on NATO countries for their contributions to Ukraine's efforts? Will he launch a nuclear weapon on the United States?

On Sunday, it was reported that Russia has asked China to get involved. It may be yet another sign the war isn't going how Putin predicted, but it could also be another step toward world war.

A common view is that Putin needs a face-saving "off-ramp" to this war, the economic pressure Russians are experiencing and the inevitable truth seeping back into that country (we can hope) will lead to pressures to stop the war that overwhelm Putin's egotistic drive to continue it. Maybe if Ukraine agrees to recognize the Donbas region and Crimea as Russian, and to not join NATO … but that's essentially been offered before in the early days of this war, and the conflict may have evolved past that point of off-ramp. Awarding the aggression and the repeated, unabashed attacks against civilians and civilian structures with anything that could be described as victory for Putin is sickening. Yet, to save Ukraine, and even the rest of the world, from who knows what horror, that may be what occurs.

One big question will remain when the fighting does stop. Who's going to pay for the mess Putin made of Ukraine? If and when Russia's economy is restored, a certain amount must come west to rebuild Ukraine.

Certainly, this has been a wake-up call that we need to be wary of Putin, of enemies of Democracy everywhere; and that we need to value our allies and deepen our commitment to NATO. The world power structure is evolving ever more clearly into two camps: autocratic (Russia and China being the sterling examples) and democratic (Europe and North America, Japan/South Korea and Australia).

Since the day the red coats went back home to England, Americans have had a strong sense of isolationism, keeping our minds on our own business. Even while Hitler was doing what Putin fantasizes of doing, the U.S. stayed out of the last huge war until we were specifically attacked. NATO-bashing goes in and out of fashion. Instead of being bashed, NATO must be nurtured as the protector of freedom, democracy and liberty — the unified face of peace through strength — in the face of tyrants now and long into the future.

Freedom and human liberty, true democracy, is worth fighting and dying for. Ukraine is reminding the world of that. And financial sacrifice — whether it be the inspirational walkouts from major corporations or you and me at the gas pump — seems like something we should all be willing to endure.

Long live NATO — and may Ukraine someday man its eastern flank.


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