Across Ukraine, Europe and Russia, many people long to see the world return to the way it was before the war in Ukraine began. When Kremlin politicians purport to be ready for peace negotiations — which they claim would fail because of resistance from Ukraine and the West — they are playing with precisely this longing: to live again without death and destruction, sanctions, or expensive gas and oil.
But the world will never be the same again, and this would be true even if the guns fell silent today. That's because the war in Ukraine is not the cause of the ongoing dispute over the future world order, but rather a consequence of this battle.
What if Russia wins the war?
This reality will lead to an enduring global confrontation — an undeclared World War III that Russian President Vladimir Putin and other dictators now impose upon humanity, including their own citizens.
Democracies cannot ignore the conflict, and they may not run away from it. The result would be a descent into barbarism and a world where only the most powerful count, and individual human rights have no meaning.
If Russia were to win its war against Ukraine, it would continue its aggression elsewhere in places like Moldova, Kazakhstan or Belarus. China, too, would be emboldened to increase its violent measures against dissidents and minorities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the islands in the South China Sea.
The mullah regime in Iran would also abandon any restraint in the violent crackdown against its own people, not to mention what it might try in neighboring Mideast countries.
But if Russia loses the war, the opposite would be true, forcing China, Iran, North Korea and other unjust states to exercise greater caution.
It's no coincidence that Iran, of all countries, is supplying combat drones to Putin. The mullahs know their regime's days would be numbered if Putin loses his war of aggression. Moscow and Beijing are among the most important financiers of Iran's oil sector. Without them, the economic foundation of Tehran's terrorist regime will implode. A Ukrainian victory would also energize the Iranian people's protest movement.
Civilized world cannot back down
Because of the way global relationships are intertwined, Putin must not be allowed to win. Democratic states and the wider civilized world must not give in to such dictators.
NATO needs to massively invest in military reinforcement — regardless of how the war in Ukraine ends. The European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and their allies must dispense with their naivete over economic cooperation and avoid dependence on questionable supply chains, raw materials and export markets, even if they are as powerful as China's.
Certainly, Ukrainians are fighting first and foremost for their freedom, their country and their families. But against the backdrop of the global confrontation between the coalition of despots and the free world, they are also fighting on behalf of everyone who values democracy and respect for human rights.
That is why the West must continue to support Ukraine financially, militarily, morally and politically. Ukrainians are fighting for many people around the world who know little about the conflict, but would undoubtedly feel the consequences if Russia wins.
Does anyone seriously believe that Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping care about the global climate, for example? Yet achieving the United Nations' climate goals would be impossible without Moscow and Beijing. This is just one more reason why Putin must be stopped. As long as he is in power, there will be no peace.
This opinion piece was originally written in German.