Many things are great about Russia, its government is not one of them. When, as a young man, I asked my grandmother, Millie, if our family originated from Russia she replied, “No, we are from the Ukraine; from Odessa and Kiev” (Russian spelling). She went on to enlighten me about the conditions under which she lived; “The Russian soldiers would go door to door on military campaigns. They would steal our blankets and food and rape our women. When my father heard them coming, he hid us under floorboards in the basement of our house. Red or White, it didn´t matter.” Both sets of my grandparents fled from the Russians in their youth, sent by boat to live with distant relatives in Canada, and years later they immigrated to the U.S.
Russian President Vladimir Putin continues what is a long and well-worn Russian saga. Brutality to many within Russia and pillage has become normal. His election results in Russia are, of course, stellar; after jailing, poisoning, and/or disappearing rivals – his support at the polls is significant. He might even be able to threaten nuclear war and remain popular.
The Russia and Ukraine story is a complicated one, especially because the country is essentially divided into the Russian-speaking East and the Ukrainian-speaking West. Politically, this divide influences everything. There are some experts, like Professor John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago political scientist, who believe that the West is responsible for the conflict in Ukraine. Professor Mearsheimer´s reasoning, based on his YouTube lecture that has over 11 million views, is that Ukraine is located in Russia´s backyard, and if it joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), essentially the West, it´s like having European nation-states on Putin´s border. If Ukraine were to become a member of NATO, under Article 5, an attack on one member country is deemed to be an attack on all. Ironically, NATO was formed to defend against the expansion of what was then called the Soviet Union, 1949.
Professor Mearsheimer uses a metaphor to remind us of what happened when an American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed a nuclear installation of a missile base on the island of Cuba, 90 miles from the U.S., October 16-28, 1962. It was our government, under President Kennedy, who threatened World War III, if the nuclear installation wasn´t removed. Fortunately, Nikita Khrushchev gave the orders to withdraw from Cuba.
The point of view that the West is responsible for Ukraine also resonates with the anti-imperialist narrative of the left, and even some right-wing politicians. Many point out that Russia tried many times to join NATO over the years, but was rejected. And even then, the U.S. toppled a friendly government to the Russians. This created anger and anti-Western diatribes.
The “West is at fault” narrative, while simple and appealing, is misleading and not what has been unfolding in Ukraine. Public opinion surveys conducted each year over the last 7 years, from 2015-2022, indicate that when Ukrainians are asked which international economic union they would join if only one, 58% chose EU and which security alliance they would join, 54% chose NATO. This has stayed relatively stable over the years.
The Moscow Times reported in January and early February 2022, that this number leaped to 62% wanting to join NATO. Only 21% supported joining an economic Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, and only 24-30% supported a security alliance with Russia.
While these internal developments within the country may be troublesome for professors and pundits of anti-imperialism, a broad swath of individuals in Ukraine are moving toward the West. Unfortunately, for the Kremlin, it is telegraphing that their subjects are restive and want to make their own choices politically. This is far more threatening to Putin. Ukrainian citizens have a right based on national boundaries and elected government to vote the way they want to vote.
As far as the argument of letting Ukraine join NATO as the cause of the conflict, let us review a sample of Russian exploits over recent years to see if this point of view is warranted. Exploits are highlighted below.
Appeasement Kills People
Mark Kersten, of the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, recently wrote an in-depth article posted on Aljazeera addressing why President Putin should be tried as a war criminal. Military initiatives launched and sanctioned by Mr. Putin include:
- The current invasion of Ukraine, breaking international law and UN charter; and using outlawed percussion bombs that incinerate the air and surrounding buildings like a limited thermonuclear blast.
- Over half a million Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, killing an estimated 1 to 2 million Afghans.
- War in Chechnya 1999-2000, in which the Russian government deployed horrific violence, bombed, and shelled civilians widely.
- Invasion of Georgia provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia 2008, bombing of civilians under auspices of peacekeeping troops.
- Invasion of Ukraine to annex Crimea, Russian troops killed 14,000 people in 2014.
- Russian backed militants, known to the government, blew up Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
- Allegations of murder and torture were reported in detention facilities in conquered territories; reported to International Criminal Court (ICC), 2016.
- The ICC investigating atrocities in Georgia in 2020, found sufficient grounds to prosecute for war crimes.
- In Syria for over a decade, Putin has propped up dictator Assad, despite evidence of gassing and barrel bombing civilians and kids, according to UN Human Rights Council, in Syria, 2020. It found sufficient grounds to prosecute for war crimes, with a “case as strong as Nuremberg Trials” of Nazis.
- In Syria, Russia was an enabler of chemical weapons, and vetoed the referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court for trial.
- Poisoning of Russia dissidents has been reported in multiple areas, at home and abroad.
Yet, Russia occupies a seat on the Security Council of the UN and has international standing. Putin´s representative on the council has veto power over what comes before the council for a vote. Putin has escaped all attempts to prosecute him for war crimes and crimes against humanity; even though bombing civilian populations, and killing journalists, opponents and dissidents is standard operations.
French President Emmanuel Macron, one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, was given assurances by President Putin that he wouldn’t invade. This is almost as naive as former President Barack Obama who believed that when he gave Assad an ultimatum in 2012, the “red line for military action” against Syria would be triggered by the use of chemical weapons against his people, he would listen. Assad killed his people with Sarin gas on August 21, 2013, and Obama did nothing to retaliate. President Obama viewed this later as a courageous act, in exchange he got 99% of chemicals removed from Syria.
They were only re-supplied by Russia. President Donald Trump was pushed to fire missiles at Syria after Assad chemically attacked his population again in April 2017. So much for chemical weapons being removed from Syria.
The reason for the Ukraine situation—invasion and war— actually has more to do with an appeasement policy that has failed to work. Russia has committed atrocities for over twenty years, and the West has done little if anything. The West´s policy of appeasement should not continue; it doesn´t work. In the end, as we see, it is a death warrant of civilian populations and progress that has been made by individuals in Ukraine who want to vote as they choose, with the West.
What To Do Next
- Write or call your representatives and demand that Mr. Putin be charged with war crimes, and crimes against humanity. You can also reach out directly to the Hague, for example. You can copy and paste the details under the section Appeasement Kills People.
- Send donations to groups for weapons, food, or general supplies. United Nations Human Rights campaign is a solid way to help. Every bit helps.
- Write and call the UN and your elected leaders to have Russia disabled from voting on the Security Council. It is an insult to the UN body itself. We cannot accept this travesty.
- Write or call your representatives and/or President Biden to strengthen specialty, high technology weapons to countries in the region that will need military assistance. Drone technology, for example, can be adopted to local conditions, and be extremely effective.
- Don´t be put to sleep by appeasement. Ukraine was lapse in developing defenses against Russia, as was the EU in supporting these defenses. They knew for at least one year that this day would come; good bye Crimea was first.
- Support the EU in upgrading military defenses to include an Iron Dome approach that is used by Israel to defend itself against rockets that are fired at it.
- Support destabilization in Russia with sanctions, and countries like Belarus who will be armed with nuclear weapons by Russia.
- Join or launch a street protest in solidarity with Ukraine.