While the world community is not sending troops to defend Ukraine, it has united impressively to condemn Vladimir Putin and moved to isolate his kleptocrat regime. There’s no guarantee that this will work, but at least it’s made clear to the Russian dictator that a big price is attached to his murderous aggression.
But why does the world let other miscreants run wild? If we are willing to pay a price to deter and punish an international rogue like Putin, why coddle his fellow travelers?
Many of them are corrupt autocrats just like him. One of them, Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev, was in Moscow just days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, signing a wide-ranging agreement on diplomatic and military cooperation.
The agreement says the two countries, “holding the same or similar positions on topical international issues,” will “refrain from any actions that, in the opinion of one of the Parties, damage the strategic partnership” and “refrain from carrying out any economic activity that causes direct or indirect damage to the interests of the other Party.” The declaration “brings our relations to the level of an alliance,” Aliyev said.
Impressive. Let’s see who Putin’s ally is.
Authoritarian leaders wreaking havoc
Azerbaijan is a net exporter of crude oil and natural gas whose ruling family presides over a wildly nonegalitarian and oppressed society. Since seizing power in 2003, the despot has amassed a personal fortune up to $900 million, including at least half a billion dollars’ worth of real estate holdings in Britain.
The Azerbaijani leader is implacably hostile to Armenians and to Armenia itself, whose scrappy democracy is an affront to the authoritarian worldview he shares with Putin. In 2020, Aliyev attacked the autonomous territory known as Nagorno-Karabakh, which has long been self-governed by ethnic Armenians, and seized much of it by force in a vicious war that featured beheadings of Armenian soldiers, killer drones, a refugee crisis and horrific treatment of war prisoners.
Aliyev is now pursuing a massive cultural erasure that deploys the main tool from the dictators’ toolbox: lies. On Feb. 3, Azerbaijan announced the establishment of a state organ, which according to Culture Minister Anar Karimov, aims to remove the "forgery” of Christian Armenian culture – a reference to the hundreds of ancient sacred sites that bear witness to Armenian Christian history.
Condemnations of Putin and the Russian action are pouring in from all over the world, as has financial and military aid to Ukraine. Western nations froze Russia’s hard currency reserves, an unprecedented move that devastated its financial stability. Western nations announced moves to block Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system. The ruble consequently fell about 30% against the U.S. dollar, leaving Russia’s central bank to scramble in ways that risk hyperinflation, including raising the benchmark rate to an astonishing 20%.
Unless he backs down, Putin can look forward to a future as an international pariah presiding over a perhaps slightly larger but more impoverished country.
And what, meanwhile, has the world done to Aliyev? Nothing. Hardly a sanction, nary a peep. Not even much news coverage of his thieving and aggression.
Indeed, the Azerbaijani war ended in a deal brokered by Russia. Armenia was left to deal with Aliyev’s ally Putin because of the neglect and indifference of the West.
Russia’s bullying is not limited to Ukraine, and Putin is not the only dictator who should be called out. Neither is Aliyev. Ours is a world full of injustice and cruelty, and far too often the culprits are given free rein.
Part of this can be attributed to the international media, faddish and groupthink-addled when it comes to news judgment. Because of journalism’s troubled business model, many stories are either ignored or distorted through the lens of false equivalence.
The news media, by and large, have decided to call a spade a spade in the case of Putin’s aggression. The world community and its leaders have mostly done the same. It is something of a correction after a prolonged period of impotence and cynicism.
Will we now do the same with the little Putins of the world? There is no benefit in waiting until they launch yet more aggressions.
Shmuel Lederman, who specializes in genocide studies and political theory, teaches at the University of Haifa. He is the author of “Hannah Arendt and Participatory Democracy: A People's Utopia,” and serves as a research fellow at the Weiss-Livnat International Center for Holocaust Research and Education.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine war becomes media obsession while other wars are ignored