Is the West to Blame for Russia’s Actions in the Ukraine?

Today is Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A recent article by John J. Mearsheimer ( blames the U.S. and the E.U. for Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine. His basic theory is that the ‘West’ moved into Eastern Europe by allowing countries there to join the EU and NATO. This is a direct threat to Russia and when the pro-Russian president of Ukraine was ousted over developing closer ties to the EU and a new pro-West president took over, that was too much for Russia and now Putin has to set things ‘right.’ His first step to setting things right was to take Crimea. He has also made a concerted propaganda effort to discredit the new Ukrainian administration by calling them ‘fascists’ and saying the ouster of the pro-Russian president was ‘illegal.’ And now, of course, he’s launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine which could lead to a full declaration of war between the two countries. And all of this, according to Mearsheimer, can be blamed on the U.S. and the E.U.

Although I understand the point of view, and I think it’s true that Eastern European countries have wanted to join the EU and NATO, the crisis still comes down to Putin’s desired hegemony and a reconstituted Russian empire. And it’s probably true a handful of Ukrainian politicians are extremely right-wing, but that label coming from Putin merely means those politicians in Kiev are extremely anti-Russian.  I would submit that Putin’s cult of personality, inappropriate take over of the media, state assassinations of journalists, the collusion of the government with the oil industry, the desire to recreate a Russian empire and ‘golden age’, and the scapegoating of the Russian LGBT community with laws that read like the anti-Jewish laws of the 30s in Germany, all sound a helluva lot more ‘fascist’ than anything coming out of Kiev. 

Russia would have attempted to rebuild the Russian empire with or without instigation from the West–Putin made that clear in his first run for President. In fact, his announced desire to make Russia a world power again preceded any expansion of the West into E. Europe, which happened at the request of those E. European countries who wanted protection from Moscow’s reach and clearly articulated intentions. I’ve always questioned whether it was wise for the EU or NATO to expand in the region, but I think it’s a leap of logic and a misinterpretation of the history to lay the blame on the EU and NATO for the Ukrainian crisis. It is, after all, still Russia that is invading a sovereign nation that doesn’t want anything to do with Moscow. Some apologists for Putin are likening the crisis to ‘tough love’, which presupposes a familial bond. There has never been a familial bond between Ukrainians and Russians; the history between them is brutal and grievous. Ukrainians never accepted well their forced inclusion in the Soviet Union, the murder of 1.3 million Ukrainians under Stalin, and the cynical attempt to assuage their hatred by giving them Crimea in the 1950s. But now Russia, as a non-communist country, wants to continue this paternalistic treatment of the Ukrainians, and that is not the fault of the ‘West.’

Whatever sympathy I had for Russia’s situation vis a vis the West disappeared with Putin’s ‘reminder’ that Russia was still a major nuclear weapons power. That kind of asinine Cold War rhetoric is not helpful and reveals Putin’s immature emotional state. It makes everyone sit up and wonder what this loose cannon will do next. You can’t blame the West for this situation. If Russia hadn’t expressed the desire to rebuild its empire back in the 1990s, the Eastern European countries wouldn’t have sought refuge in the EU and NATO. If Putin hadn’t behaved so badly as President, his ‘sphere of influence’ would have stayed relatively intact. If Putin and the Russians hadn’t descended into their frightening nationalism, their neighbors may not have looked elsewhere for their international relations. Because Putin now decides to act like a paternalistic bully over his loss of influence in the region, is not a reason to blame the U.S. and the E.U.

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