There is an abundance of outrage in the West with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And we should be angry. Russia’s invasion constitutes war crimes. But unless you’re willing to believe Russia would deplete all its military resources and money just for a gamble, then you have to be willing to accept that Western interference has done something to anger it in the first place. In other words, Russia’s war may be unjustified, but it bloody well wasn’t “unprovoked”.
It can be all too easy, even convenient for the cunning politician or the lazy journalist to strip an entire country of its personality; to look past the millions of loving families that characterise a nation like Russia, to look past its vast culture and rich history, and leave behind but a dry carcass of polarising labels; good or evil, American or Russian, right or wrong.
As the conflict in Ukraine surpasses one year, the death toll surpasses 130,000 bodies and NATO support surpasses way over $100 billion, we routinely hear words like “madmen”, “ignorant” and “dictator” to describe Russia, and more specifically its president Vladamir Putin. It is, after all, the most common of political ploys to demonise, misrepresent and create a caricature of your opposition, all the while claiming your side as the angelic “peacekeepers.” Because who wants to be on the bad side?
Now that isn’t to say Putin isn’t a murderer. His invasion has killed hundreds of thousands and it should be condemned. But if we’re going to resolve this conflict – and I don’t mean the kind of resolution that came from taping a 50p Ukrainian flag to your window – but genuine, life-saving resolution, like the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine, then we have to understand why Russia invaded Ukraine in the first place.
Because unless you’re willing to believe Vladamir Putin – who is by no means an unstable man – would invade Ukraine, kill hundreds of thousands of his own troops in the process, receive international tariffs and an arrest warrant, simply for a gamble, then you have to be at least willing to accept some fault on our own part.
Moreover, if we continue to alienate countries like Russia – ignore their concerns, exclude them from diplomatic conversations and call their leaders mad, then why – and I mean this from their cynical point of view – would they stop bombing Ukraine? Is there not a reason they began in the first place?
If we’re truly going to understand the degree to which Western meddling has provoked Russia and its population, then we need to go back in time to the cold and desperate November of 2013. Ukraine’s economy was crumbling. It had accumulated over $140bn in external debt. Inflation rates had hiked to 9% and Ukraine’s democratically elected President, Victor Yanukovych, had two solutions to rebuild the economy in his hand.
The first solution, which had been years in the planning, was an association agreement with the European Union. This would strengthen Ukraine’s relations with the European Union and its Western partners, promote European trade with a free trade deal, and allow visa-free travel throughout the European Union.
On the other hand, Russia – which was already Ukraine’s largest trade partner, trading $38bn with Ukraine in 2013 alone – had proposed its own solution; that Ukraine should instead join the Eurasian Customs Union. This deal would strengthen the economic ties between Ukraine, Russia and the former Soviet States, including Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Alongside the deal, Russia also offered Ukraine a $15bn loan and access to cheaper natural gas prices, an attractive deal considering the inflation of the time.
For Yanukovych, the choice was obvious: on the 21st of November 2013, just a week before Ukraine had scheduled to tie knots with the European Union in Lithuania, the government suspended its talks with the union, choosing an economic future with its long-time trade partner, Russia.
But the withdrawal came at a cost. Yanukovych was an ethnic Russian himself, and many Western Ukrainians saw the withdrawal of the EU association agreements as sabotage against Ukraine and a shift towards Russian corruption. The next day, tens of thousands of protesters showed up in Kyiv’s Independence Square, peacefully chanting “Sign the EU deal!”, “Yanukovych must step down!
But Yanukovych remained resolute in his decision. The EU had offered no more than €610m in loans – a no-go for Ukraine’s already crumbling economy. But his anti-Russian counterparts were just as resolute to join hands with Europe. Peaceful demonstrations soon numbered in the hundreds of thousands and escalated to violence. Before long, young men were seen walking the streets armed with metal bars and clubs. Citizens were seen clashing with police officers, in some cases even driving bulldozers into crowds trying to defend government buildings. Other men were photographed carrying Molotov cocktails, gas cans and flares, even setting policemen on fire.
And by late January, the protests – which now resembled more of a coup than a democratic transition – had expanded to other Ukrainian cities. Protesters began targeting government buildings and seized control of the oblast governor’s offices, known as regional state administration (RSA) buildings. By the 27th of January, ten of the country’s twenty-seven RSA buildings had been overthrown, and others had come under threat.
Any honest respect for democratic procedures would have meant Yanukovych would have served his lawful term as president, which would end in 2016. But neither the so-called “democrat” party nor the European Union acted that way. Instead, Western leaders made it clear they would support – and fund – the efforts of demonstrators to force Yanukovych to sign the EU Association deal, and if not, simply remove him from office.
In fact, from the very beginning in early November, US officials started flying to Kyiv, one by one to show American support for the political demonstrations. Republican Sen. John McCain flew to Kyiv to show solidarity, where he dined with opposition leaders and later spoke on stage in Kyiv’s Independence Square during a mass rally, standing by the side of far-right opposition leader Oleg Tyagnibok: “We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek [rather conveniently for him] lies in Europe!”
But McCain’s support was a model of diplomatic restraint compared to that of Victoria Newland, the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs. In a speech to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation on December 13th 2013, Nuland said she had travelled to Ukraine three times in the weeks following the start of the political demonstrations, even handing out cookies to demonstrators when she visited on December 5th:
“The people of Ukraine will no longer support any president – this one or a future one – who does not take them to Europe.”
Perhaps the United States had invested too much money in Ukraine to let its political investment slip into the hands of its opposition. Nuland announced in a speech, “Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991… we’ve invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.”
But they weren’t ensuring a democratic Ukraine. In fact, the degree to which the Obama administration meddled in Ukraine’s politics was breathtaking. In February 2014, Russian intelligence intercepted and leaked a call between Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador for Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, in which they discussed their specific preferences for a political cabinet in a post-Yanukovych government:
Victoria Nuland: “I don’t think [Vitaly] Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Pyatt: “Yeah, I guess. In terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking in terms of the sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be [Oleh] Tyahnybok and his guys, and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this”.
Nuland: [Breaks in] “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. What he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work.”
Pyatt: “Yeah, no, I think that’s right. Ok, Good. Do you want us to set up a call with him as the next step?”
Just twenty days after the leaked call in which Nuland expressed favour for the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk (“Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience”) Yatsenyuk was elected as Ukraine’s fifteenth Prime Minister.
It is startling, to say the least, to hear elected officials from a foreign country – a country that routinely touts the need for the democracy and sovereignty of other nations – talk about the need to remove a pro-Russian government and replace it with officials in favour of the United States.
But even then, Nuland and Pyatt were ready to escalate the involvement of US officials flying into Ukraine and supporting the protests. Pyatt continued to say in the leaked call: “We want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing.” But Nuland already had someone in mind: “[National Security Adviser] [Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR, saying you need Biden, and I said probably tomorrow for an ‘atta-boy’ and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden’s willing.”
Her plans followed through. Biden, and a multitude of other US officials including Sen. Chris Murphy and John Kerry, continued to fly into Ukraine. In one rally Kerry said: “So today, in another part of this country, we’re in the new phase for the struggle for freedom. And the United States reaffirms our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity… we will stand with the people of Ukraine”
But the Neo-Conservatives of America weren’t just supporting the protests, US-funded NGOs began to fund them, too. Throughout 2014-15, the National Endowment for Democracy, an NGO ‘almost entirely funded by the United States Congress provided over $5,800,000 in grants to organizations working throughout Ukraine. These grants, numbered in the dozens, aimed at “furthering Ukraine’s democratic transition” and “strengthening political institutions”.
The N.E.D. was openly reshaping the political atmosphere by building relationships with national media outlets and radio stations. Many grants were for “increasing the skills of Ukrainian journalists”, training ‘freedom’ activists, enhancing “public awareness” and stimulating national “debate on government performance.”
Pro-Western media channels aimed at steering public opinion also began to crop up in Ukraine. Hromadske.tv, within its first year, received small, yet substantial grants of $18,600 from the United States Embassy, $21,500 from the Netherlands Embassy and $6,670 from Soros’s International Renaissance Fund. Later the Canadian embassy also gave $15,000 in grants.
Seeing that the political demonstrations had no end, President Yanukovych – whose office had now been stormed by protesters – tried to calm the conflict by signing a deal to hold early elections, form an interim government and even create constitutional reforms. But later that day he fled the Kyiv capital to Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, where most of his support was held. He said: “They are trying to scare me. I have no intention of leaving the country. I am not going to resign, I am the legitimately elected president.” And he was.
“Everything that is happening today is, to a large extent, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’état. I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop the bloodshed.”
But the next day, the Ukrainian parliament held a vote to impeach Yanukovych and remove him from his post on the grounds that he had abandoned his duties. Ukraine’s constitution states that the removal of the president by impeachment must be voted by “no less than three-quarters of its constitutional composition.”
Thankfully for Yanukovych, 328 MPs voted for his impeachment, which was 52 less than the three-quarters (380 out of 450) needed under the constitution for an impeachment to be successful.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Western leaders from declaring his impeachment successful. Almost immediately after the vote, the United States and the EU recognised the impeachment as legitimate and formed an interim government until a new one had been voted in.
On the 25th of May, following the coup of the Pro-Russian President, Ukraine elected its fifth president, Petro Poroshenko, a pro-Western president who pledged to disband Russia’s Eurasian Customs Union and restrengthen ties with the European Union instead.
It is, of course, no surprise that Poroshenko’s inauguration was attended by election-meddling Western Officials, including Vice President (now the president) Joe Biden, Senators John Mcain, Ron Johnson and Chris Murphy, as well as House Representatives Marcy Kaptr, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and Ambassadors Dan Baer and Geoff Pyatt.
And during those visits, as one white house archive stated: “The Vice President will have separate meetings with President-elect Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to discuss the Ukrainian government’s agenda for democratic reform, economic development, and de-escalation of the crisis in the eastern part of the country.”
In fact, in 2014 alone, Joe Biden took four visits to Ukraine, rallying the protests and speaking with the Ukrainian Parliament, even before any political change had been successful.
But despite the foreign interference, both the Obama administration and the American media described the coup as a spontaneous, popular uprising against a corrupt government. The Washington Post celebrated the events, stating “the moves were democratic” and “Kyiv is now controlled by pro-Western parties.” Parties that “will implement the association agreement with the European Union that Mr Yanukovych turned away from.”
While the United States – rather conveniently – found itself with a new trade partner, neither Ukraine nor Russia economically benefitted from the coup. In fact, no country suffered more from the overthrow of Yanukovych than Russia. In the three years before the revolution Ukraine had bought nearly $22bn worth of oil from Russia, but as its new government supported Ukraine in steering its trade towards Europe, in the three years following 2014, Ukraine had bought just $7bn in oil from Russia – a 59% decrease in oil exports to Ukraine for Russia.
Russia’s overall imports from Ukraine also took a toll. In 2013 alone, Ukraine had exported $15.8 billion worth of goods to Russia, but by 2016, this had fallen to around just $3.7 billion annually.
Worse yet, Ukraine also began to target Russia’s security measures. The Russian military was forced to abandon its naval base in Sevastopol which had been stationed there since 1778 and the new Ukrainian government cancelled the lease on the Russian military’s training ground in the Crimean port city of Feodosiya.
The interim government also passed several laws trying to strengthen Ukraine’s national identity and shift its associations away from Russia. One law demanded that at least 75% of all broadcasting in the country had to be in the Ukrainian language – despite nearly one-third of its population speaking Russian as their first language.
And as for the Western assurance that Ukraine would ‘flourish’ under a partnership with the EU, in the years following Ukraine’s EU association agreement, Ukraine’s GDP dropped from $190bn in 2013 to $133bn in 2014, to just $91bn in 2015, and took until 2021 to recover above 2013 levels when it peaked at $201bn – a measly increase of just $10bn over seven years. For perspective, Poland’s GDP from 2013 to 2021 grew by $85bn, despite having a population of 7 million fewer people than Ukraine’s.
It’s a grotesque distortion to portray the events in Ukraine as a purely virtuous, popular uprising. The Nuland-Pyatt leaked phone call and the Congress-funded NGOs funding of anti-government protesters confirm that the US was more than an observer in a turbulent crisis. US officials were blatantly meddling with Ukraine, and such behaviour was clearly undemocratic. The United States had no right to meddle with the politics of another country – especially a country on the border of another great power.
But if you still don’t understand the gravitas of the coup, you’re looking at it wrong. You’re looking at it as a Westerner. Instead, imagine that a political uprising occurred in Canada, government buildings were burned down, the Prime Minister’s office was stormed and then Russian officials started flying into Canada, to cheer on – and then fund – a revolution for a new Pro-Russian government. Maybe now you understand. And that’s exactly how Russia felt about it.
But the West’s meddling with Russia doesn’t end there. In fact, Russia’s concerns about America’s impact on its security date way back to the 1990’s. The predominant argument used by the supporters of Russia’s invasion is that in 1990, the US Secretary of State James Baker falsely assured Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO ‘would not expand one inch eastwards’ after its unification in Germany.
But when Gorbachev was asked why these promises not to expand eastwards were never legally encoded, he clarified that “the topic of NATO expansion was not discussed at all” in fact “not a single Eastern European country raised the issue. Western leaders didn’t bring it up, either.” What the Secretary of State was actually referring to, as Gorbachev clarified, was “making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance into the new German Democratic Republic.
But whether or not US officials assured Gorbachev in 1990 that NATO would not expand, doesn’t actually matter. Because the key decision maker during the 90s was not Gorbachev, who soon after lost his premiership when the Soviet Union collapsed, but his successor, Boris Yeltsin.
It was Yeltsen who in 1993 held a series of diplomatic talks with US officials, including the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. It was then that Christopher assured Yeltsin that NATO was going to redirect its intentions from expanding NATO’s membership, and instead pursue its proposed ‘Partnership for Peace programme’, an inclusive NATO-ran peace cooperation for all European countries including Russia.
According to Christopher’s biography, when he told Yeltsin about the PfP programme, Yeltsin called it a “stroke of genius”. He also assured Yeltsin that NATO’s membership enlargement would instead be a “long-term and evolutionary” process and that there would be no efforts to exclude any country from the current Partnership for Peace initiative. Apparently, Yeltsin didn’t even let him finish, before calling it “brilliant”… then saying “This really is a great idea.”
Consequently, 1993 represents perhaps the most diplomatic years Russia ever had with the United States, and their relations were perfectly on track with Clinton flying to Moscow in 1994 and reaffirming the United States’ position. He said “NATO plainly contemplated an expansion”, but the Partnership for Peace programme is “the real thing now”.
And it really was ‘a great idea’. Russia’s foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev, who had been present at the Christopher-Yeltsin meeting, was delighted by the initiative, boasting that ‘the greatest achievement of Russian foreign policy in 1993 was to prevent Nato’s expansion eastward to our borders’.
But it was less than a year after Yeltsin was assured about the “Partnership for all and not NATO for some”, that NATO began its accession to invite three new members in its organisation: Poland, Hungary and Czechia. Yeltsin, now disappointed by his Western counterparts, warned: “Europe, even before it has managed to shrug off the legacy of the Cold War, is risking encumbering itself with a cold peace…”
He continued: “NATO was created in Cold War times. Today, it is trying to find its place in Europe, not without difficulty. It is important that this search not create new divisions, but promote European unity. We believe that the plans of expanding NATO are contrary to this logic. Why sow the seeds of distrust? After all, we are no longer adversaries, we are partners.”
But despite Russia’s dissatisfaction, nearly 27 years later, NATO has expanded its borders by 18 new member states. NATO and Russia are no longer partners, but clear adversaries. And the United States knew it all along.
In a leaked 2008 memo between Russia’s defence minister Sergei Lavrov and US diplomat Bill Burns, Lavrov warned the US that Nato membership accession for Ukraine ‘could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene.
But despite the blunt and aggressive warning, Western leaders ignored the concern and affirmed in April 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia, two countries lying on Russia’s border, ‘will become members of NATO’.
A lot of Westerners like to point towards the legalities of NATO expansion, “they should have put it in writing”. And it’s true, NATO’s membership expansion is perfectly legal. In fact, it’s encoded in its founding document. But it’s not about legality. Many things which are legal are equally unethical. It’s about understanding the effects of placing a powerful military alliance on the borders of your greatest adversary, and more importantly, a global power.
It’s by understanding this history, we understand that Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion into Ukraine were not just invented out of thin air by Vladimir Putin. Rather, they’ve been long, long warned by Russian officials for over three decades.
When the Soviet Union sent “defensive” missiles into Cuba in 1962 – a move that, according to Nikita Khrushchev was aimed at ‘allowing Cuba to live peacefully’ against America’s aggression – the world was sent into shock. The Doomsday clock was set to 7 minutes to midnight. And President Kennedy complained at the time, and rightfully so, that the Soviet Union’s missiles in Cuba posed a huge “threat to our security”.
Cuba’s missiles were, after all, just 1400 miles away from the United States’ capital, Washington DC; a ridiculously short distance that could have missiles arrive to the States within half an hour. Kennedy subsequently considered Cuba to be a grave threat “in the United States’ backyard”.
But just as the U.S. feared the Soviet Union’s military presence in its neighbour, Cuba – does Russia not have the right to fear the United States’ presence in its neighbour Ukraine? After all, the distance between Ukraine’s border and Russia’s capital is even shorter than Cuba’s distance to the US Capital. Actually, it’s less than 360 miles. So if the United States considered Cuba to be in its ‘backyard’, then Russia can surely consider Ukraine to be on its doorstep.
But despite Russia’s incessant warnings that the United States should keep its military presence out of Ukraine, since Yanukovych’s overthrow in 2014, the United States and its NATO partners have done just the opposite. Since 2014, America and Canada (before the invasion) had provided more than $2.6 billion in military funding to Ukraine, including lethal weapons, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, armoured vehicles, areal drones and arms and ammunition.
And while Ukraine is not yet a NATO member, Ukraine is undoubtedly a close partner. Between 2014 and 2019, NATO donated over $228m to Ukraine in various forms of assistance, including military training, weapons, equipment, cyber defence, and logistical support.
As it turns out, for the past twenty years, the United States, arguably NATO’s most influential member, has been involved in wars killing at least half a million lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured at its mercy, and millions more displaced. It can be all too easy to point the finger at Russia, and we should do. But when it comes time to look in the mirror and admit our own faults, western politicians seem completely incapable of doing so.
When Bush announced in 2001 that he was going to “lift a dark threat of violence” by invading Afghanistan – it was generally assumed that America’s mission was a virtuous end to a brutal regime. Instead, over the next twenty years of its interference, at least 70,000 innocent civilians, 66,000 personnel, 52,000 opposition fighters and 2,400 US soldiers were killed in the conflict.
That was until America abandoned the ‘peacekeeping’ mission in 2021, leaving the Taliban – the group it set out to destroy – in power, with over $7bn of military equipment, including 358,000 assault riffles, 64,000 trucks and 634 tanks. And yet, once America had left the Taliban to rule, the country turned out to be a lot safer than it was under America’s interference. In fact, since America’s withdrawal, Afghanistan has had around 500 homicides per year, a substantial drop from the 8500 annual homicides that occurred during American interference.
Then America and Britain announced war on Iraq in 2003, a country Putin warned its leaders not to invade, saying there was not “any trustworthy data that supports the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” But nonetheless, Bush ignored the warning, declaring that the United States “will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder”.
And Putin was right. In fact, almost everything that had been used to justify the war turned out to be false, including how quick it was supposed to be. For example, Bush announced in May 2003 that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and that “the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
But it was eight years later, following the deaths of 8,000 US soldiers and at least 200,000 Iraqis, that the war ended. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were never found, and the supposed links that Iraq had with Al-Qaeda were never substantiated. Even so, the war eliminated Hussein, but lead to far more bloodshed than he had caused.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 250,000 people were killed under the 25 years of Hussain’s rule. That’s roughly 10,000 deaths per year; a horrific figure. And yet in the eight years of America’s occupation, at least 208,000 people were killed. That’s roughly 26,000 deaths every single year, nearly three times as many annual deaths as under Hussain.
Nor does that include the 50,000 men and women who were detained in the Al Ghraib prison, a prison facility where innocent civilians were abused by US guards. Images taken in the prison clearly showed the crimes that were committed against the inmates, which included stripping prisoners naked, threatening male detainees with rape, pouring cold water on naked detainees, forcing naked detainees to perform oral sex on each other and cuffing detainees while they were punched by guards. Obama later commented on the reports, saying “We tortured some folks”.
It’s revelations like these that reveal the hypocrisy at the heart of America’s politics. When the United States later intervened in Libya to help ‘restore its democracy’, President Obama stated that he “authorised military action against the Libyan government because the world could not stand idly by as innocent civilians were slaughtered.”
Nonetheless, thirty thousand innocent civilians were slaughtered, and the intervention succeeded with the fall of Gaddafi and his brutal regime. Unfortunately for Obama, after the war ended, a prolonged civil war reemerged in the country, leading to widespread destruction, the further death of another 300,000 civilians and the displacement of millions into neighbouring countries. Obama later expressed regret over the intervention, stating that “failing to plan for the day after” was the worst mistake of his presidency.
But the list of American interventions and its wars goes on. Tens of thousands of people died in Yemen, at least 140,000 people died in the Yugoslavian war and the war in Syria led to the death of at least half a million people with the displacement of at least over 13 million civilians, 6.7 million of which were registered refugees who fled to other countries.
No country in this world is immune to war crimes, not Russia, and certainly not its counterparts in Europe and the United States. If the Nuremberg laws were applied to modern history, then every post-war American president would have been hanged for his participation in the Middle East.
Perhaps it’s for these reasons the United States, like its adversary Russia, is one of few countries yet to join the International Criminal Court. In 2002, President Bush even signed into law the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, a law that authorised the President ‘to use all means necessary’ to release any US trialled personnel ‘held captive by the Court.’
Nobody knows this better than Russia, and when they hear the United States complain about ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine following their own crimes in the Middle East, how, or why, would Russia take America’s warnings seriously? As Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov teased last May: “If you cannot sleep because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, there is some advice to calm you down: first imagine that this is happening in Africa, imagine that this is happening in the Middle East, imagine Ukraine is Palestine, imagine that Russia is the United States. “
After reading the history of all of the wars, exacerbated conflicts and torture committed by NATOs members, it’s easy to question what kind of a peacekeeping alliance it claims to be.
In fact, it was the United States who withdrew from the Anti-ballistic missile treaty back in 2002, one of the cornerstones of peacekeeping between Western states and their adversaries in Russia. Signed back in 1972, the treaty capped the arms race by limiting homeland missile defences, thus reducing pressures on the superpowers to build more nuclear weapons.
But Bush claimed that the treaty had outlived its purpose, and was hindering the United States from protecting itself against “terrorists” and “rogue states.”
It had never occurred to me that peace negotiations were made before the invasion; it would, after all, change the entire political scenario if Western politicians knew that the invasion was going to happen, and instead of negotiating with Russia, chose to exacerbate the conflict.
Russia sent two major warnings to the West in 2021, the year preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Over 100,000 Russian soldiers lined up on the Ukrainian border, first in Crimea to the south, and later from Belarus near the northern border of Ukraine. It was no secret that Russia planned to invade Ukraine, satellite imagery even showed movements of missiles and heavy weaponry heading to the border too.
But instead of finding some compromise towards Russia’s concerns, Western officials acted as though the build-up of troops had come out of nowhere. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described the deployment as “unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning”.
After the Biden Administration held failed talks with Putin in December, Russia gave its final resolution to the tension: an eight-point list of security demands that the United States and its allies would have to carry out, otherwise, Russia would be “forced to take action” and invade Ukraine.
None of the eight demands Russia gave the United States were particularly unreasonable. Half of the demands should already have existed. The first demand, for example, simply stated that Russia and the U.S. should be driven by “the principles of cooperation, equal and indivisible security.” The third demand aimed to strengthen diplomacy, requiring the two countries to reaffirm that they are not adversaries.
The fourth demand asked that NATO move all its troops back to its 1997 positions, away from Eastern Europe; a demand that was already legally encoded in NATO’s 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act, an act which aimed to strengthen trust between NATO and Russia. The act stated that NATO had ‘no intention’ to move additional forces onto new member states near Russia’s border. But in 2014, NATO broke the pledge, gradually moving its troops into Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Romania.
The fifth demand asked that both countries remove their intermediate- and short-range missiles in any areas that would allow them to reach each other; a perfectly reasonable and essential demand for peacekeeping. And the sixth and seventh demands stated that all NATO member states should agree to prevent any further enlargement of NATO, including the accession of Ukraine into the alliance, and to refrain from military activity on the territory of Ukraine.
The United States wouldn’t necessarily have to agree to the demands, but they could have at least made a compromise. They could, for example, have ensured that Ukraine or Georgia won’t ascend into NATO, something which they knew would never happen anyway, else they would have achieved it long ago. But they didn’t. Instead, the United States announced the shipment of over $200 million worth of anti-armour missiles, ammunition and military equipment to Ukraine, as well as another 3000 troops into Eastern Europe. Not only is not what Russia was asking for, it was the complete opposite of it.
Biden may as well have said, “fuck your security demands”. Even the year before, the US had sent over $650 million worth of weapons to Ukraine, and now at a time of major distrust, they were willing to escalate it even further.
In fact, the United States didn’t even respond to the security demands after nearly a month and a half after they were delivered, only afterwards saying that they remained committed to Ukraine’s assertion into NATO.
“We have run out of patience,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded during his annual foreign policy conference in January. “We expect a written response from our Western colleagues on our proposals.” Later adding: “We are convinced that, if there is a will to compromise, one can always find mutually acceptable solutions,” he said.
But NATO was not willing to compromise and instead acted as though the demands came out of nowhere, and that Russia’s aggression was completely unjustified.
The United States knew Ukraine couldn’t enter the alliance, else they would have done it fifteen years ago when they said so in 2008. But they haven’t, and for a long time, they never will. So why did NATO keep pushing for Ukraine to enter the NATO alliance, if not as a provocation?
I think the best analogy for our conflict is this: a man walks up to a lion and pokes it with a stick to see what happens; it jumps back up and eats him. The lesson is that two things can be true at once. Yes, the lion’s attack was unjustified. However, it was also provoked in the first place. And Russia is one hell of a territorial lion.
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