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Garry Kasparov is famous both for his 20-year reign as the world’s best chess player and for Putin’s recent declaration that he’s a terrorist. However, Kasparov deserves even more recognition for a prediction he made over two decades ago in The Wall Street Journal. Kasparov warned that if the West failed to recognize the threat to democracy that Putin represented, the consequences would be far-reaching. 

I asked him in a recent conversation, “Given that back then, people felt that a large-scale war in Europe was unthinkable, how were you able to predict what’s happening today?”

“Simple!” he answered. “I listened to what Putin was saying. We know that dictators lie about what they’ve done in the past, but they tell the truth about what they intend for the future. Putin has repeatedly told the world that he wants to return historically Russian lands to Russia.” 

Kasparov said Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 was not only predictable, but the success of these efforts also made his 2022 full scale invasion of Ukraine almost inevitable. Putin saw that the West didn’t fight to maintain Ukraine’s internationally guaranteed borders, and after concluding that the West was weak, Putin seems to have assumed he could take all of Ukraine as easily as he had taken Crimea.

As Kasparov sees it, the West had let its guard down. “When the Allies won World War II, we thought that evil was defeated once and for all,” he said. “But evil doesn’t die. It burrows under the rubble, but it’s still there.” 

“A terrorist regime like Putin’s only understands force,” he said. In other words, for Putin, weakness is an incentive for aggression. For Kasparov, the consequences of the West’s recent seeming weakness are perilously close to what happened in the leadup to World War II.

Looking back on the pre-World War II period, Kasparov remembers that in 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain thought he had avoided by war by allowing Hitler to annex Poland’s Sudetenland. 

Far from being appeased, the German dictator concluded that the Allies were weak and wouldn’t fight. This weakness set the stage for Hitler to unleash World War II the following year.

Just as proponents of accommodating Putin today may believe they are preserving peace and saving lives, Chamberlain may have believed he was sparing the world destruction by working with Hitler. Nevertheless, considering the military fatalities and adding to them deaths from disease and famine in the war that followed, Chamberlain and his partners’ weakness cost as many as 83 million lives, or what was, on the eve of the invasion of Poland, 3% of the world’s population.

“It’s too easy to forget the lessons of history and not face what we’re up against today,” Kasparov says. 

Today, the case for strength and resolve couldn’t be higher. Kasparov would like to see the West muster the willpower to put an end to Putin’s aggression. “A Ukrainian victory would be a mighty blow to Putin and would most likely lead to the change of the country’s entire political structure,” he said,

Some in the West fear that providing more arms would result in a dangerous escalation. After all, Putin is constantly threatening this. 

Kasparov’s reaction to Putin’s saber rattling is blunt. “Are you kidding? After watching Russian troops commit daily acts of terror against Ukrainian civilians, rape little girls and boys, torture Ukrainian citizens for sport, and deport millions of Ukrainians to Siberia, the people worrying about escalation are worried that Russia might fight harder? They think that we should consider abandoning more Ukrainians to torture and genocide?”

“The only way to stop further Kremlin imperial dreams is for Ukraine to defeat the Russian army in the field and for the West to accept Ukraine into NATO,” he said.

Two decades ago, Kasparov offered a prescient warning that went unheeded. Had the world embraced his call for firmness and fortitude, Putin's daring Ukraine invasion in 2022 might have been deterred. Nevertheless, there remains a critical window for demonstrating the strength and resolve needed to hasten the end of the conflict. This time, let’s not miss the opportunity. 

War correspondent Mitzi Perdue has visited Ukraine three times in the last year.  She is a landmine clearance advocate, businesswoman, author, and anti-human trafficking advocate. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University.

War correspondent Mitzi Perdue has visited Ukraine three times in the last year.  She is a landmine clearance advocate, businesswoman, author, and anti-human trafficking advocate. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University.