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Friday, nearly 20 heads of state gathered together in Normandy to commemorate one of the most significant moments in Western Civilization—the day, June 6, 1944, when American, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand forces, and the “free forces” of France, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, undertook the largest seaborne invasion in history as the start of a bloody but ultimately successful effort to free Europe from the occupation and tyrannical rule of Nazi Germany. Notably, the military forces that day were those of the democratic West and those hoping someday to be part of that democratic West once again. As Allied Expeditionary Force commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower told the soldiers, sailors, and airmen on the eve of the invasion, “You are about to embark upon a great crusade…the hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you.”
Yet, participating in the D-Day commemoration was Vladimir Putin, the Russian head of state who, within the past six years, has invaded two democracies and sliced off parts of Georgia and Ukraine. It’s true of course that the Soviet Union was an ally during World War II and suffered incredible losses in defeating Germany on the Eastern Front. But it was the same ally who, in turn, perverted the victory by subverting the efforts of the “free” Poles and Czechs, among others, from joining the post-war liberal international order. And it is about this same ruthless and tyrannical “ally” that Putin infamously has said: “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” was its demise.
President Putin was not invited to the meeting of the G-7 this week in an apparent attempt to isolate him on the world stage. But he was still invited to the D-Day memorial event, muddying whatever message was supposedly being sent his way by London, Paris, Washington, and the other capitals. If the choice had been one or the other, arguably, it might have been better to allow him to attend the G-7 meeting than participate in the D-Day commemoration. At least in that case the other heads of state might have taken the occasion to engage in pointed, face-to-face conversations with Putin without fouling an event intended to honor the memory of the thousands of young men who died fighting for the very principles that Putin now rejects.
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