It's Easy to Be Distracted

Bird's Eye View

By Jimmy Cardinal
Posted 5/22/24

It can be easy to get distracted these days, after all, distractions are all around us: a former president on trial for paying hush money to an adult film star, Ivy League students role playing …

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It's Easy to Be Distracted

Bird's Eye View


It can be easy to get distracted these days, after all, distractions are all around us: a former president on trial for paying hush money to an adult film star, Ivy League students role playing oppression on their campuses, Congressional committee meetings featuring name calling and conduct more appropriate for an episode of Jerry Springer than a meeting of those elected to govern us. But while it can be easy to get distracted by the numerous sideshows currently taking place here in the United States, there are real crises developing in Eastern Europe.

Last week the nation of Georgia saw the streets of its capital, Tbilisi, filled with protestors looking to voice their opposition to a new law introduced by the ruling party. The law, if it overcomes a presidential veto as it is expected to do, would force all nongovernmental organizations and independent media who receive more than 20% of their funding from outside the country to register as “foreign agents.” Despite the massive size of the protests, they have received very little coverage from Western media.

Why should this legal battle halfway across the globe matter to us? Because it is yet another example of Vladimir Putin’s widening influence. The law is an attempt by his proxies to reassert Russia’s control over Georgia, a nation that has been moving closer to the European Union in recent years. Georgians are right to be worried about Putin’s aggression. In 2008 Russian tanks rolled into Georgia and Russia annexed the Abkhazia and South Ossetia territories.

Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Slovakia’s Prime Minister, Robert Fico, was shot multiple times in an attempted assassination. After initially being considered in “a life-threatening condition,” the prime minister underwent surgery and is expected to survive. Fico has come under criticism within his country for being seen as working too closely with the Kremlin and insufficiently supportive of Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself from Russia’s invasion. While authorities are still trying to ascertain a motive for the assassination attempt, political leaders in former Soviet states being shot at is a cause for alarm. Assassinations can have tremendously destabilizing effects on young democracies and open up those democracies to undue influence from neighboring powers.

And in the background of those two relatively new crises in East Europe, is the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. Things currently look bleak for our allies. Ukraine’s army is depleted, and Russia is building up its forces in preparation for a summer offensive in the Kharkiv region. Russian troops are moving through the northeastern border of Ukraine in the most significant border incursion since the initial invasion in February 2022.

While Russian troops are on the move in Ukraine, Putin visited Xi Jinping in China. The two leaders discussed what they called shared global concerns. Most likely, Putin was in Beijing in an attempt to gain Chinese support for his military incursions. China’s interest in doing so is that it could undermine the current American-led world order. More and more it is becoming clear that the world’s autocrats are teaming up with each other, last week’s meeting between Putin and Xi is just the latest example.

The common thread between the three crises in Eastern Europe is Putin. While each situation is unique in its nature, Putin’s influence can be found in each of them. Each of the nations faces a threat to their freedom, whether it is the destabilizing impact of an assassination attempt, a Soviet-style crackdown on NGOs and the free press, or the military invasion of their sovereign lands. It is up to us, the United States, to stand with those brave Georgians in Tbilisi and Ukrainians in Kharkiv, to provide the resources necessary to help them reclaim their democracy and to stand up to the autocrats who threaten it.

As we look around at the world right now, the autocrats have the momentum. Liberalism’s calls for rule of law and due process don’t stir the soul the way that the authoritarian cries of nationalism and spiritualism do. Men and women are being called to action by autocrats who use our worst fears to motivate us. If we don’t fight this battle now in Eastern Europe, the frontline could be here sooner than we think.