Let’s be clear, whether it be the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the NATO bombing of Libya, or U.S. involvement in Syria, war is to be condemned. 

There is plenty of blame to go around for the present crisis in Ukraine: Russia for the invasion, NATO for its provocation. Russia certainly has a legitimate concern over its security. It has faced NATO expansion eastward towards its border since 1999. From 1999 through 2020 NATO added 14 nations east of Germany.  Most of these nations were former Soviet Republics and satellite states which were also members of the Warsaw Pact–the former Soviet military alliance. Russia has opposed this expansion.

Three of these nations, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, share a border with the Russian Federation. NATO expansion occurred despite a general consensus, although somewhat in dispute, that during the East-West negotiations over Germany’s reunification Russia was granted informal assurances that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward” towards the Russian border. As stated above, NATO has expanded eastward to include 14 additional states. It must be borne in mind that the very  purpose of NATO was to counter Soviet expansion during the Cold War. 

During 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian president Boris Yeltsin expressed a desire for the Russian nation to join the NATO alliance. President Putin also expressed a desire to join NATO  early during his presidency. Russia had cooperated with NATO through: a Partnership for Peace (PfP) arrangement during the early 1990’s, the Russian NATO Founding Act of 1997 established a Permanent Joint Council between the parties, and the Russian NATO Council of 2002 furthered these relations. These arrangements provided mechanisms for communications between NATO and Russia. After the attacks on the U.S. during 2001, President Putin was the first world leader to contact President Bush, offering support. Putin offered the U.S. the use of airfields in Central Asia–an area within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, for the U.S. led war on terror. Russia began to spurn  NATO relations after continued NATO expansion into the former Soviet territories during the early 2000s. 

It was after the 2014 Ukrainian Euromaiden revolution/coup, during which U.S. Senator John McCain joined and encouraged anti-government protesters to overthrow the democratically elected pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and also during which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was caught on tape discussing potential replacements for the soon to be overthrown leader, that the Russian leadership had had enough. Soon thereafter Russia annexed Crimea–a mostly Russian speaking territory which partially houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet and viewed by the Russians to have vast strategic importance. 

Despite Russian suggestions that it be granted a pathway to NATO membership and Russia’s  early cooperation with NATO,  NATO never seriously considered  the Russian request. Decades of bureaucratic distrust and momentum along with the institution’s desire for existential survival undermined such consideration. This, in the face of NATO’s continued expansion into the former Soviet territory. So one can understand Russia’s concern when during the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, discussions began about the possible addition of both Georgia and Ukraine to NATO. Georgia and Ukraine are two Russian border states, both of which had experienced western friendly coups, or revolutions, depending on one’s perspective.

There are various theories as to the “why” of NATO expansion. First is the ideologically based idea that sovereign nations ought to be free to choose their alliances. This coincides with the strong libertarian values which are part and parcel of American thought. This is an admirable notion but denies the fact that no nation, like no individual,  is an island unto itself. Actions of nations impact other nations and these impacts demand consideration.

Another theory, more cynical, is that there are those within the establishment of the western powers which would like to see Russia go the way of the Soviet Union, that is: split up into several smaller states. Russia consists of numerous ethnic heritages so it would not be difficult to stoke the flames of division. This latter theory, if brought to fruition, would enable private western capital to flow into these smaller investment seeking nations in order to exploit the region’s vast natural resources. A broken-up Russia would further enable the U.S. to challenge China, its larger and more challenging geopolitical competitor. Undoubtedly there is an element of truth to both theories. Regardless of the motivation for NATO expansion, Russia feels threatened and has expressed this to the West for three decades. Ukraine is a particularly sensitive area of concern as Russia has been invaded twice by Germany through Ukrainian territory during the two world wars. Russia suffered 27 million war dead during WWII.

War is never a solution, once justified as an appropriate means to achieve a “righteous cause”, the justifications  perpetuate more war. Negotiations and compromise are the path to a peaceful world. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the west refused to negotiate Russian objections to future Ukrainian membership in NATO.  

NATO was not near to admitting Ukraine to NATO, but membership was seemingly on the intermediate to long term horizon. This makes the timing of the Russian invasion questionable. It might have been that this particular moment was, economically speaking, the best time to strike. Western sanctions leveled against Russia after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, have hurt the Russian economy. Still, Russia has managed to accumulate an historical high of  $630  billion in foreign reserves (think savings). It might be that the western sanctions were having a cumulative impact on the Russian economy which would cause Russia, technologically and economically speaking, to fall further behind  the West. This, when combined with the COVID impact on Russia, which has hit Russia hard, might have forced Russia to plow through these reserves. Perhaps now, economically speaking, was the best time to strike: this latter theory is speculation on my part. Russia likely did not foresee the swift and hard financial sanctions to be leveled against it. The sanctions have greatly limited Russia’s access to its reserves, about three quarters of which are held in foreign currency assets, roughly 50% of its total reserves are held within the sanctioning nations, which leave the reserves vulnerable to foreign confiscation.

One of the more disappointing events during this whole fiasco has been  the reaction of the western press. Explosive coverage of civilian casualties, certainly tragic from any perspective, have  been played to the hilt. This has increasingly led to calls for further NATO involvement–calls which include a NATO imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine. A NATO no-fly zone would certainly lead to war  between the nuclear armed NATO and Russian powers. 

No such western press coverage existed when the U.S. led invasion of Iraq led to an average 320 daily civilian deaths during the first three weeks of the “shock and awe” portion of the invasion. During the first three weeks of the conflict, Iraq suffered 6,735 civilian deaths. (IRAQBODYCOUNT.ORG). During the first week of the Ukrainian crisis, there have been an estimated 300 civilian deaths. The near 20 year war in Afghanistan came at the expense of roughly 70,000 civilian deaths. All of these events, which include the deaths of children, are tragic.

We are beginning to hear repeatedly that the U.S. and NATO cannot standby and watch a sovereign nation invaded by a foreign power. Were not Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria sovereign nations? Does anyone believe for a moment that the U.S. would have passively stood by if the Warsaw Pact had aligned itself with either Canada or Mexico. We almost went to nuclear war with Russia when it prepared to install nuclear missiles in Cuba during 1962.

The Ukrainian crisis is a tragic event. It is important, however, to not allow ourselves to fall prey to the corporate western press which would lead us to believe that the war is the result of the machinations of an evil ruler bent on the reestablishment of the Soviet Empire. The situation is much more complex. Only a knowledgeable understanding of this complex situation will enable a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine. Otherwise, we are likely to be led into another war; this one, perhaps, with devastating consequences for all of humanity.