This is a long post, but the times are confusing, and therefore, we need a lot of words to make sense of things. In this post, I will do my best to explain how we got to the current moment. This Post has 10 sections:
- The History of the Ukrainian People and the Ukrainian State in Europe
- The Creation of the Ukrainian State By The Bolsheviks in the Formation of the Soviet Union
- Vladimir Putin’s View of Ukraine In His Own Words
- The Complicated Political Situation in Ukraine
- The History of NATO Expansion to the East
- The Reckless Escalation of Tensions By the Recognition of the State of Kosovo
- Brief Explanation of the Current Military Situation
- Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Defense of Ukraine Against the Russian Army
- How to Make Peace Between Russia, Ukraine, and the West
To make it simple, I lean heavily on pictures and outside videos, so it is not THAT long of a read. However, you should know something about where I stand, before I get to my unvarnished opinion at the end. However, if you want to know the most important section, go to the seventh on about Kosovo. That’s the one that no one is talking about, but which has the most explanatory power.
On November 9, 1991, the Berlin wall fell to the surprise of literally everyone. It was the first signal that the Soviet Union was about to collapse. The man at the helm of the United States of America was one of the most skillful diplomatic politicians the United States of America ever had. That was George H.W. Bush, the last president from “the Greatest Generation,” and Bush had a very surprising reaction to the fall of the Berlin wall:
He didn’t react.
Yes. That’s right. After decades of the Cold War, it looked like we were finally going to win, and the president did not seem to react at all. Instead, Bret Baier gave the following description of this lack-of-a-reaction in this Fox-News clip, from the time that George H.W. Bush passed away:
One of the interesting exchanges is that when the wall is falling, the Berlin Wall, obviously the result of a lot of years of fighting communism, President Reagan and world leaders, and vice president Bush, the wall is coming down, and Marlin Fitzwater and Brent Scowcroft to run into the Oval Office to prepare this victorious speech about how democracy prevailed over communism in this moment, and president Bush doesn’t want to do that. This last thing I want to do is respond quietly, because I don’t want to dance on the top of the Berlin Wall. He had a concern for Gorbachev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and how he was going to react, and how the Soviet Union was going to react to this moment. I think that maturity in that moment shows you, you know, basically his foreign policy thoughts.
At Christmas, when not only had the Berlin Wall fallen, but the Soviet Union itself fell, the surprising reaction was — once again — that he didn’t really react at all again. There were no parades. There was no flag-waving. There was very little patting ourselves on the back. Instead, he gave this muted speech, with only a small bit of congratulation:
“Every American can take pride in this victory, and the millions of men and women who have served our country in uniform to millions of Americans who supported their country in their strong defense under nine presidents. New independent nations have emerged out of the wreckage of the Soviet Empire. Last weekend, these former republics formed a commonwealth of independent states. This act marks the end of the old Soviet Union, signified today by Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to resign as president. I’d like to express on behalf of the American people, my gratitude to Michael Gorbachev for years of sustained commitment to world peace and for his intellect, vision, and courage. I spoke with Michael Gorbachev this morning. We reviewed the many accomplishments of the past few years and spoke of hope for the future. Michael Gorbachev’s revolutionary policies transformed the Soviet Union. His policies permitted the peoples of Russia and the other republics to cast aside decades of oppression and establish the foundations of freedom. His legacy guarantees him and honored place in history, and provides a solid basis for the United States to work in equally constructive ways with his successors.”
But then the work began, because the Soviet Union was a collapsed state, with nuclear weapons in places being left in Kazakhstan and other less-than-world-class states. And so George H.W. Bush went to work. The Soviet Union had nuclear weapons in the lands of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, plus nuclear submarines with nuclear warheads in other places. But despite all of that, the proliferation of nuclear weapons was reduced to only one nation: Russia. That was done through diplomacy, not force.
And that was MASTERFUL diplomacy.
In other words, the George H.W. Bush administration managed the dissolution of a world superpower without any strife or violence or wars. This was achieved through the lack of a “reaction.” As one world leader described him at his death, this was the beneficial side to George H.W. Bush’s lack of a reaction in light of the United States becoming the sole superpower in the world:
“George Bush Sr. was well aware of the importance of a constructive dialogue between the two major nuclear powers and took great efforts to strengthen Russian-American relations and cooperation in international security,”
That quote is from none-other than Vladmir Putin. I’m not joking. Read it here in the Washington Post. That article goes on to state this:
Many Russians laud Bush for having treated their country with respect during the painful last years of the Soviet Union, drawing a contrast with what they often see as a disregard for Russian interests under the administrations that followed.
That sentence was written in 2018, and it is important background to the war in Ukraine today. Because there is something we need to acknowledge. Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia and Vladimir Putin are responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. But Vladimir Putin is not embarrassed or ashamed to say that he invaded Ukraine. Additionally, no one else in the world seems to be in any position to stop Putin from invading Ukraine. So we need to ask a simple question:
WHY did Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine?
And regardless of whether we agree with those reasons and justifications for invading Ukraine, we have to acknowledge them. If you don’t acknowledge reasons for something like this happening, it is impossible to STOP something like this from happening. Supposedly, we have an entire foreign policy establishment in Washington, DC that exists to prevent things like this from happening, and for whatever reason, they failed.
So…. Why did they fail?
That is what this post is going to explore. But first, we need to talk about the history of the Ukrainian People and the Ukrainian State in Europe.
The History of the Ukrainian People and the Ukrainian State in Europe
The Ukrainian people are an ancient people, but the Ukrainian nation is an extremely new development. The Ukrainian people, for most of their history, have been like the Punjabi people in both India and Pakistan. Both the Punjabi and the Ukrainian people have existed for centuries, but neither Punjab nor Ukraine — until 1991, that is — has existed as an independent state to match the ethnic people.
If you want to see the extent of the ETHNIC Ukrainian people (not necessarily speakers of the Ukrainian language) this map made after World War II shows their distribution in red, along with a lot of other ethnic peoples in this region:
However, the existence of “Ukraine” as a people is not the same thing as “Ukraine” as a country. The existence (and non-existence) of Ukraine as a country is the point of this section.
Before 1991, the closest thing that can be called a Ukrainian “state” was the Cossack Hetmanate between 1649 and 1764, but even that was a mish-mash of Ukrainian, Romanian, Polish, and Russian-speaking peoples, not a pure “Ukrainian” state. The political entity that preceded the Cossack Hetmanate was called the Zaporozhian Sich, which existed from 1552 to 1765. But that organization of the Zaporozhian Sich is less of a “Ukrainian” state, and more of a “Cossack” state. And Cossacks are just as Russian as they are Ukrainian.
If you’re getting confused here, you need to understand that the modern divisions of Europe get less and less familiar the further back you go in time. That’s too long of an explanation to give here in words, so I might as well do it with maps. So, for the record, here is a map of Europe TODAY (or at least before Russian took over Crimea):
However, in contrast, here is the most detailed map I could find of Europe from the 1500s. Notice where Ukraine is located:
That’s right. It’s nowhere. That’s because even though Ukraine as a people existed at this time, this map does not show people groups. Instead, it shows political entities.
You can see the hundreds of German-speaking peoples in city-states that had not been unified into the modern state of Germany. You can see the kingdoms of Navarro and Andorra between France and Spain. You can see that Scotland is still separated from England. You can see the “Papal States” (which was the country literally ruled by the Pope). You can see the kingdom of Naples, and the Venice. You can see “Muscovy,” aka “The Grand Principality of Moscow,” which is the land controlled by the city we now call “Moscow.”
You can also see that the land we now call Ukraine was divided between an extremely large (and seemingly out of place) Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire (which was the empire of the Ottoman Turks that ruled over Greeks, Slavs, Romanians, Serbians, Crimeans, and a host of other Balkan peoples. Also, the “Golden Horde” up there? They are quite literally Mongols — like the “Ghengis Khan” type of Mongols. If you go much further back, you’re going to have to start calling the inhabitants of Ukraine the “Scythians” or “Sarmatians.”
But let’s fast forward to the year 1600, here we see the following breakdown of Europe:
Once again, still no Ukraine, but we do have the under-appreciated Principality of Wallachia, which is a way-cooler name than “Romania.” You can also see the Ottoman Empire getting really out of hand there. Also, the Habsburgs have started marrying their ways to an empire.
Next, we Fast-Forward to Europe in the year 1700:
The battle of Vienna in 1683 put a block on the Ottoman advance into Europe. For some reason, Venice now owns Sparta. And the Habsburgs, who continued to marry their way westward, are probably at this point beginning to feel the pains of incestuous marriages, which is another historical rabbit trail that we can’t go down.
The land we now call Ukraine is divided between the Ottoman Empire, a joint kingdom of Poland, Lithuania, and Saxony, and Muscovy Rus, a.k.a. “Russia.” However, if you zoom in, you can see the beginning of the region that is “Ukrainian.”
That khaki-colored region between Poland and Russia is “Ukrainian,” and it corresponds to the time-period of the the Cossack Hetmanate, which as we said was the closest thing in history to a Ukrainian state before 1991.
And we fast-forward once again to Europe in the year 1800:
Once again, you see there is no Ukraine, and Russia has managed to get Crimea out of the hands of the Ottoman Empire and the Caucus mountains, too.
Fast-forward to the 1900s, and we can see a more recognizable map that shows Europe before WWI:
It is AFTER World War I that the “big four,” negotiated the negotiated the Treaty of Versailles, which was to keep the peace in Europe for centuries to come. Haha, just kidding. No, that treaty was terrible and caused World War II. But regardless, it is important, so let’s spend time discussing it. Here is a picture of the “big four” who negotiated the treaty of Vienna to end World War I.
The picture includes David Llyod George (England), Vittorio Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France), and Woodrow Wilson (United States).
It was at this point that the old large “empires” of Europe began to be broken up into “nation states.” At the time, “nation states” were thought to be a path to universal peace and prosperity, where each people group had a corresponding nation. That is why the map of Europe after World War I changed to this:
And that was the case until nineteen years later, when World War II changed the map again. After World War II, we had the Cold War, where the division between “the West,” led by the United States and the East, led by Russia, had a breakdown of alliances and power into a bipolar competition. That is when the map of Europe looked like this:
Once again, notice where Ukraine is. That’s right, it’s not there. This is the outline of Europe until 1991, which is where we started in this post.
It is in 1991 where “Ukraine” as an independent and sovereign state becomes “a thing.” But it existed before as a non-sovereign state before 1991. To understand what is going on here, we need to talk about a “big” country and leader involved in World War 1 that was not a part of the “big four” that negotiated the end of World War 1. The country is Russia and the leader is Vladimir Lenin.
The next section explains the creation of the Ukrainian political organization by Lenin in the creation of the Soviet Union.
The Creation of the Ukrainian State By The Bolsheviks in the Formation of the Soviet Union
Lenin and his Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union through the October Revolution of 1917. This was after Czarist Russia was defeated by Germany in World War I at the Battle of Tannenberg. In the upheaval of this political situation, as well as the disastrous Russo-Japanese war, the Czar of the Russian Empire, Nicholas II, was forced to abdicate his throne in March of 1917. After this happened, there was a very brief time when Russia was a Republic ruled by the “Duma,” which is the representative body of the empire. However, this brief period of republican government was changed by the October Revolution, also known as the Russian Revolution.
It was after the Bolsheviks took over (October of 1917) that Russia, on March 3, 1918, officially ended its participation in World War I with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This treaty was a massive win for Germany and a massive loss for Russia. The treaty gave Germany command over Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It also gave the province of Kars in the South Caucus to the Ottoman Empire. It also recognized the independence of Ukraine. This is the first instance of Ukrainian political independence.
Here is a map of the borders drawn up in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk:
This is more or less the borders of Ukraine until recently, except that it enters modern-day Belarus and Poland, while Crimea was not included in the country.
And THAT is the first creation of the political state of Ukraine.
But this existence was short-lived. This March 3, 1918 treaty was erased by the Treaty of Versailles in June of 1919. The Treaty of Versailles erased all of these terms between Russia and Germany, and eliminated the nation of Ukraine about one year after it was created.
It was after this moment, in 1922, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks changed the Russian Empire — a collection of people groups, including Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Slavs, Cossacks, Poles, Jews, Kazaks, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kygyrs, Tatars, other Turkish peoples, Georgians — into the Soviet Union. And this is where things get complicated.
You see, Vladmir Lenin was a true believer in Marxism, but he had his on spin on Marxism, called “Leninism.” A part of Leninism was the idea that independent people groups (“nations”) should have governing supervision over themselves (with an obvious caveat that they adhere to communist principles).
As proof of this belief, we can see that Lenin wrote the following in “The Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomization'”:
The Georgian [Stalin] who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; “offended” nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and the violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest- to the violation of that equality by their proletarian comrades. That is why in this case it is better to over-do rather than under-do the concessions and leniency towards the national minorities. That is why, in this case, the fundamental interest of proletarian class struggle, requires that we never adopt a formal attitude to the national question, but always take into account the specific attitude of the proletarian of the oppressed (or small) nation towards the oppressor (or great) nation.
And here, you can see the difference of opinion between Stalin, “the Georgian,” who favored Marxist principles being enforced in the Russian Empire as a whole, and Lenin, who believed that the ruling nation of Russia was oppressing the workers in other smaller nationalities. Lenin wanted each individual nationality to have its own nationally-based Marxist community. As such, he divided up the Russian Empire into a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And to be frank, it was COMPLICATED. Here is a map of how the Soviet Union was divided:
If you look at this map, you can note that there are several divisions that became their own countries in 1991. The outlines of the borders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and yes…. UKRAINE.
And THIS is the first PERMANENT creation of the concept of a political “Ukraine” in history.
Now, I got all of this information through the internet, and it took a while to piece this complicated history together. But believe it or not, someone else recently gave this history, too. That person was Vladimir Putin.
And so the next section explains the history of Russia and Ukraine as told by Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin’s View of Ukraine In His Own Words
When the invasion of Ukraine began, Putin gave a speech to his nation and the world on February 24, 2022. It’s a very important speech, and we need to break it down. I recommend watching all of it if you have the time:
Regardless of our opinion of the man, he is important when he speaks. Any foreign policy mind needs to take his words DEADLY SERIOUS. Here are some important excerpts from the speech that we will be commenting on, because they relate to Ukraine:
I would like to emphasize that Ukraine is not merely a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space. These are our comrades, those dearest to us. Not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties. Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians. This was the case before the 17th century, when a portion of this territory rejoined the Russian state, and after. It seems to us that, generally speaking, we all know these facts, that tis is common knowledge. Still, it is necessary to say at least a few words about the history of this issue in order to understand what is happening today to explain the motives behind Russia’s actions and what we aim to achieve.
I will start with the fact that modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 Revolution and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia – by separating, severing what is historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people living there what they thought. Then, both before and after the Great Patriotic War [Note: that is what Russia calls its battle against Germany in World War II], Stalin incorporated in the USSR and transferred to Ukraine some lands that previously belonged to Poland, Romania and Hungary. In the process, he gave Poland part of what was traditionally German land as compensation, and in 1954, Khrushchev took Crimea away from Russia for some reason and also gave it to Ukraine. In effect, this is how the territory of modern Ukraine was formed.
Now, when I heard this in the speech, I was very doubtful that he was giving accurate information about the formation of Ukraine. That is why I did the research in the previous section using independent sources. The amazing part of this speech by Putin is that it appears Putin is telling the truth.
And if you are wondering why Putin would call a group of people he is bombing and literally running over with tanks “those dearest to us,” I guess all I can say is that either Putin is dishonest or Russia is a crazy place, or perhaps both.
But anyway, back to the speech:
But now I would like to focus attention on the initial period of the USSR’s formation. I believe this is extremely important for us. I will have to approach it from a distance, so to speak. I will remind you that after the 1917 October Revolution and the subsequent Civil War, the Bolsheviks set about creating a new statehood. They had rather serious disagreements among themselves on this point.
Note that in this section, Putin is absolutely correct, and is downright understated. You have already seen Lenin bad-mouthing Stalin in 1923 in the quote above. Lenin wanted to make sort-of-independent socialist republics, so that they would not be “oppressed” by the larger nation (Russia). A different socialist leader, Leon Trotsky, a Ukrainian Jewish socialist, concentrated on global-worldwide revolution. After the death of Lenin in 1924, and the rise of Joseph Stalin, Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union, and he openly critiqued Stalinism, until he was assassinated in Mexico. Famously, in the assassination attempt, an ice axe was driven 7 centimeters into his head, but surprisingly, it did not kill him. He was able to fight with his assassin, and his bodyguards nearly killed the man, until Trotsky stopped them to interrogate the man. However, Trotsky died the next day.
The final leader was Joseph Stalin, who brought Stalinism to the USSR. While he did not completely obliterate the soviet republics of the USSR created by Lenin, he also did not even blink at the idea of “oppression” of those nationalities in the soviet republics. It was during his rule that the collectivization of agriculture happened and a man-made famine killed millions of Ukrainians. There is ongoing debate about whether the famine was intentional, to prevent a Ukrainian independence movement, or unintentional, being the consequence of communist brutality plus communist ineptitude at planning an economy. Honestly – without studying the question in depth – both possibilities seem plausible.
But we should get back to the speech, because Putin actually addresses this:
In 1922, Stalin occupied the positions of both the General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and the People’s Commissar for Ethnic Affairs. He suggested building the country on the principles of autonomization. That is, giving the republics – the future administrative and territorial entities – broad powers upon joining a unified state. Lenin criticized this plan and suggested making concession to the nationalists, whom he called “independents” at that time. Lenin’s ideas of what amounted in essence to a confederative state arrangement and slogan about the right of nations to self-determination, up to secession, were laid in the foundation of Soviet statehood. Initially they were confirmed in the Declaration on the Formation of the USSR in 1922, and later on, after Lenin’s death, were enshrined in the 1924 Soviet Constitution.
I have no way to independently verify the internal motivations of Stalin and Lenin, but I cannot see any evidence of why any of that would be incorrect. If anybody knows Russian history, it’s Putin. And I cannot understand what motive there would be to lie about the actions of Stalin and Lenin.
But the key part of the speech comes in the following section:
This immediately raises many questions. The first is really the main one: Why was it necessary to appease the nationalists, to satisfy the ceaselessly growing nationalist ambitions on the outskirts of the former empire? What was the point of transferring to the newly, often arbitrarily formed administrative units – the union republics – vast territories that had nothing to do with them? Let me repeat that these territories were transferred along with the population of what was historically Russia. Moreover, these administrative units were de facto given the status and form of national state entities.
That raises another question: Why was it necessary to make such generous gifts, beyond the wildest dreams of the most zealous nationalists and, on top of all that, give the republics the right to secede from the unified state without any conditions? At first glance, this looks absolutely incomprehensible, even crazy.
But only at first glance. There is an explanation. After the revolution, the Bolsheviks’ main goal was to stay in power at all costs, absolutely at all costs. They did everything for this purpose: accepted the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, although the military and economic situation in Imperial Germany and its allies was dramatic and the outcome of the First World War was a foregone conclusion, and satisfied any demands and wishes of the nationalists within the country. When it comes to the historical destiny of Russia and its peoples, Lenin’s principles of state development were not just a mistake; they were worse than a mistake, as the saying goes. This became patently clear after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Of course, we cannot change past events, but we must at least admit them openly and honestly, without any reservations or politicking. Personally, I can add that no political factors, however impressive or profitable they may seem at any given moment, can or may be used as the fundamental principles of statehood. I am not trying to put the blame on anyone. The situation in the country at that time, both before and after the Civil War, was extremely complicated; it was critical. The only thing I would like to say today is that this is exactly how it was.
After this, the speech goes on to describe the expansion of NATO and Putin’s staunch anger at the security situation that this put Russia into. Importantly, Putin notes that it was “aggressive” to have NATO Troops in Ukraine. And so I checked on that, and sure enough, in 2019, NATO troops were doing military exercises in Ukraine. He was telling the truth about them being there, regardless of whether he was being truthful about this being a “provocation.” There are lots of places in this speech regarding the actions of the United States and the expansion of NATO. It is very important to verify if the things he says are true. Some of them are true, and I will talk about them in the next sections.
But for this section, I will only discuss and review Putin’s understanding of the existence and formation of Ukraine.
The surprising part is that when I look at it, Putin seems to be telling the truth.
Now, if you think that I’m quoting Vladimir Putin just to be a puppet for his interpretation of history, acting as a “puppet” of the Kremlin, this is when I need to buff-up and push back. I don’t want to recognize that Putin is saying “true” things to be a puppet of Putin. I want to recognize that Putin is saying “true” things to recognize how CRAFTY he is when he says things that are directed to frustrate American interests in the world.
There was a boat-load of indisputable facts in Putin’s speech about history, but then there was one radioactive snippet of Russian propaganda in the middle of it. I bet you missed it, so I’ll put it in bold here:
“Of course, we cannot change past events, but we must at least admit them openly and honestly, without any reservations or politicking. Personally, I can add that no political factors, however impressive or profitable they may seem at any given moment, can or may be used as the fundamental principles of statehood.”
In the context of his speech, you might think Putin was talking about Leninism and Stalinism, which is what was being discussed immediately prior to this speech. You might think he was giving a respectful rebuke to the Communism that did not work in Russia during the 20th century. But then, it might dawn on you that it is rather strange that a former KGB agent thought it necessary to “personally” add a note about how communism is not profitable as a fundamental principle for statehood. And that is when you should realize the following:
THAT STATEMENT FROM PUTIN WAS NOT MERELY ABOUT COMMUNISM. INSTEAD, PUTIN WAS TALKING BOTH ABOUT COMMUNISM AND THE UNITED STATES AT THE SAME TIME.
This was a shockingly cunning statement. Putin is many things, including ready to kill when it benefits either Russia or himself. But one of the things he certainly is NOT is “stupid.” He gave an intelligent and subtle attack on the fundamental character of the United States of America in a way that appeared to be a rebuke of Marxism.
Comparing America to Marxism may seem insane to American readers, but this is only because of how foreign the Russian mind and idea of statehood is to America. Our idea of statehood is enshrined in our founding documents:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (Declaration of Independence, 1776)
As much as Americans (at least the normal ones) hold these ideas in high regard, it cannot be denied that these words place the foundation of America on an IDEA. What Vladimir Putin did with this comment is quite skillfully note that the communists (who destroyed the Russian empire in their desire to stay in power) ALSO had an idea:
Workers of the World, Unite! (Communist Manifesto, 1847)
The point Putin made is that BOTH IDEAS of “Americanism” and “Marxism” are “political factors” that either are attempting or have attempted to be a “fundamental principle of statehood.” Putin’s “personal” point is that neither of these IDEAS are good ones.
NOTICE THAT THIS IS A DIRECT CHALLENGE TO THE WEST.
The United States of America was founded on an idea, and it has no “nationality.” In contrast, the state of Russia was never “founded.” It merely exists. Its existence comes from a nearly 1000 year history, when the Kievan Rus’ took a large swath of territory from the Mongols, establishing their own culture and political organization. That same culture and basic political and territorial organization exists today, and it is led by Vladimir Putin.
Regardless of America’s ignorance, apathy, or distance from this fact, it is hard not to recognize that this is a FACT. Russia has gone through many “ideas” in its history: monarchy, republicanism, socialism, oligarchy, etc., but the culture and history of Russia is what defines Russia as Russia. Russia is not an “idea” like America – an idea that we will fight and die for, even if it costs us dearly. Instead, Russia is a historical FACT – a fact that Russians are willing to fight and die for, even if it costs us dearly.
And if you don’t understand that, then you won’t understand the war in Ukraine. If anyone thinks that Putin is acting “irrationally” by going to war in Ukraine, then you are mistaken. It is very rational. Putin sees the fate of Ukraine as a vital strategic interest to Russia itself, but it is beyond a mere “strategic” interest. As he said himself, Ukraine has a “spiritual” importance to Russia. You ignore those words at your peril. Russia takes that deadly seriously. If Putin were to cede Ukraine to the West without a fight, this would be as spiritually repugnant as America ceding “elections” to the British Crown. Letting that happen is absolutely unthinkable.
But now that we’ve discussed the way that Putin sees Ukraine, we need to talk about the way that Ukraine sees Ukraine, at least as expressed through their politics.
The Complicated Political Situation in Ukraine
The Ukrainian people are an ancient people with a defined culture and language. However, something that must be recognized is that they do not geographically fill their entire country. Take a look at the percentage of Ethnic Ukrainians in Ukraine:
As you can see, Crimea is LESS THAN 50% Ukrainian. Meanwhile the eastern regions of Ukraine are significantly more Russian than the Western regions of Ukraine:
This has created some SIGNIFICANT differences of opinion in Ukraine. And the provinces in Russia with majority Russian populations are Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, all of which have been either annexed by Russia or recognized as independent by Russia. So yes, this may be merely about territory, but the Russians are quite specific in the territory they are acquiring. They are only selecting locations in Ukraine that also happen to share ethnic and cultural grievances with the rest of Ukraine.
AND YES, THERE ARE PLACES IN UKRAINE THAT HAVE LEGITIMATE ETHNIC AND CULTURAL GRIEVANCES WITH THE REST OF UKRAINE
This has become clear in the politics of Ukraine, which have been QUITE volatile. The first major disagreement happened in 2004, where an election between a pro-Russian Yanukovych (blue) and a pro-Western Yushchenko (orange) was so close, an entirely new election had to be conducted. Notice the breakdown and geography of the vote. Notice how it follows the ethnic and language breakdown shown above.
Here is the vote distribution for the generally pro-Western candidate, Yushchenko:
And the generally pro-Russian candidate, Yanukovych:
Perhaps you can see the problem. The two regions that just so happen to be the strongest “Yanukovych” voting blocks also happen to be the two regions that have broken away from Ukraine in separatists movements, supported by Russia. We can blame Russia all day long for supporting separatist movements, but we cannot legitimately ignore that the division existed before the separatist movements themselves.
And just to explain, the “blue” in the map signifies the support of the “party of regions.” This party — in the most general of terms, and as the name explains — supports the independence of the “regions” of Ukraine, rather than the central unified identity of Ukraine. On a practical level, this is support for the “regions” is support for the regions that contain Ukraine’s largest minority group: RUSSIANS.
In the 2004 election shown above, the winner of the election ended up being Viktor Yushchenko, the generally pro-Western candidate, even though it was close.
Four years later, in 2008, there was a political crisis that saw three parliaments elected in three years. This is way too complicated for me to get into here (or even understand myself), but long story short, after the 2008 election, the pro-Western Yushchenko was replaced by the pro-Russian Yanukovych. The issue got serious in the parliamentary elections in 2010 and 2012, when the “party of regions” (i.e. generally pro-Russian) won the parliamentary elections and put in a controversial prime minister, Mykola Azarov:
After this election, not only did the pro-Russian Yanukovych win the presidency, but the pro-Russian-Minority “Party of Regions” elected the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. But things got controversial very quickly. You see, Mykola Azarov had extremely poor grasp of the Ukrainian language (even though he was the prime minister of Ukraine). If the Prime Minister of Ukraine cannot speak Ukrainian, then what language could he speak?
You guessed it: He spoke Russian.
Azarov was an extremely pro-Russian politician and Yanukovych was an extremely pro-Russian president. And at this point, we need to describe what it means to be “Western.” It’s not just having elections. It’s a question of whether you belong to the European Union or the Eurasian Economic Union. It’s a question of whether you lease military bases to Western Countries or Russia. It’s a question of whether you are protected by the nuclear umbrella of NATO or the nuclear umbrella of Russia. It’s also a question of whether you support the establishment of “Ukrainian” as a linguistic and cultural standard, or whether you make concessions to the history and cultural connection to “Russia.” In other words, these are SERIOUS questions that ordinary people in Ukraine (especially if they speak Russia) can disagree on. And in various elections, they really have disagreed on it.
But in 2012, the pro-Russian government halted the signing of the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement. Waves of protest and violence resulted. And at the end of all this upheaval, something really bad happened. In the midst of accusations of corruption (from Europe, of course, not Russia) Viktor Yanukovych and Mykola Azarov were ousted in a coup in 2014.
Yes, that’s right. I said “coup,” because that’s what it was.
There might be good reasons to have a coup, but a coup is a coup, and they are usually very bad. Even if they are better than the alternative, the fact that things progress to a coup is a signal of bad things. And yes, there are PLENTY of reasons to believe that there were good reasons for a coup in Russia (for example, Yanukovych won his election against an opponent who was literally in jail), the fact remains:
THE “REVOLUTION OF DIGNITY” WAS A COUP. IT OUSTED A PRO-RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT AND INSERTED A PRO-WESTERN GOVERNMENT.
And THIS was the moment that Russia got PISSED. A significant reason that Russia got pissed is that a continuing lease on the Sevastopol naval base was achieved with the Yanukovych and Azrov government. And those democratically-elected politicians got ousted in a COUP. And it was no secret that many people in the United States were very favorable of this coup.
While it is too deep of a dive for this post to decide whether or not the United States SUPPORTED this coup by greasing the wheels of Yanukovych and Azarov’s exit from power (Note: I’ve got a gut feeling that we did), it is NOT very controversial to note that the United States really liked the RESULT of the coup, which took out a pro-Russian president of Ukraine and inserted a pro-Western president of Ukraine. And so that was what was going on in Ukraine up until the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity.”
But did I mention that Russia got PISSED? Because let me be clear, Russia was PISSED about this. So, if you’re confused, let me remind you that Russia was very PISSED. And if you think that it is impossible to be more clear about the fact that Russia was pissed, I will tell you that in 2014, there was someone who was far more clear about this fact than me. That person was named Vladimir Putin.
So, to be clear, whether or not we agree with the man, Vladimir Putin has been broadcasting how PISSED he has been about Ukraine for nearly a decade. And for some reason, it keeps SURPRISING the establishment in Washington when they discover that – lo and behold – Vladimir Putin does things that only someone who is VERY PISSED would do.
And so with this context, I would like to show an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT video from Prof. John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who gave the following lecture after the 2014 coup in Ukraine, that I think is a VERY intelligent take:
Watch that in full when you have the time.
However, back to our explanation of the Ukrainian war. To understand exactly how pissed Russia is, we need to talk about NATO, because if there’s anything that pisses off Vladimir Putin, it’s NATO.
The History of NATO Expansion to the East
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries (the United States and Canada). However, the thing to note when it comes to Russia is that NATO has been expanding since the fall of the Soviet Union. The map below shows how and when it has expanded:
But things got REALLY out of hand in the Bucharest Summit, which happened at the end of the Bush administration. We should remember that George W. Bush believed that during this time, “promoting democracy” was deemed an essential element of NATIONAL DEFENSE. However, this was selectively enforced. Promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia? Eh…. nah. There are way too many Salafi and Wahabi Muslims in Saudi Arabia who have entrenched religious beliefs to make “democracy” useful in Saudi Arabia. We would much rather have a monarchy that can be bought off, and so we don’t promote “democracy” there.
But promoting democracy in and around Russia? That was fine. We would send billions of dollars to countries in and around Russia to “promote democracy.” Did I mention that Putin was pissed?
And the reason this relates to Ukraine and Russia is because of the Bucharest Summit of NATO in 2008. At the end of the Bucharest Summit, a bunch of people who love to “promote democracy” issued the Bucharest Declaration, broadcasting the goals and aims of NATO expansion. Note the relevant excerpts:
We, the Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance, met today to enlarge our Alliance and further strengthen our ability to confront the existing and emerging 21st century security threats. We reviewed the significant progress we have made in recent years to transform NATO, agreeing that this is a process that must continue. Recognising the enduring value of the transatlantic link and of NATO as the essential forum for security consultations between Europe and North America, we reaffirmed our solidarity and cohesion and our commitment to the common vision and shared democratic values embodied in the Washington Treaty. The principle of the indivisibility of Allied security is fundamental. A strong collective defence of our populations, territory and forces is the core purpose of our Alliance and remains our most important security task. We reiterate our faith in the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.
That’s just the first paragraph. Note that “democratic values” and “indivisibility of Allied security.” Note that “collective defense” is the “core purpose” of the alliance. This is a MILITARY alliance created to protect against the Soviet Union. But this is a “defensive” military alliance that… …strangely… …keeps on expanding into the territory that was formerly controlled by the USSR. Did I mention that Vladimir Putin is pissed?
And if that wasn’t provocative enough, note that the declaration exists on the internet, translated into several important and strategically chosen languages:
Looks obvious, doesn’t it? Well, guess what? It gets more than obvious. It text explicit. Look what is in the twenty-fourth paragraph of the Bucharest Declaration:
NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May. MAP is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP. Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications. We have asked Foreign Ministers to make a first assessment of progress at their December 2008 meeting. Foreign Ministers have the authority to decide on the MAP applications of Ukraine and Georgia.
Did I mention that Vladimir Putin was pissed? Did I mention that the thing that pisses off Vladimir Putin is NATO? And despite how open Vladimir Putin is about sharing how PISSED he is about NATO expansion, for some reason, the DING-BATS and NATO decided to officially declare this sentence to the world:
“We agreed today that these countries [Ukraine and Georgia] will become members of NATO.”
And then the same ding-bats had the audacity to officially translate it into what languages again? That’s right:
UKRAINIAN AND RUSSIAN
Did I mention that Putin was PISSED? If you knew that, you might be wondering exactly how pissed Putin was about this fact. You might have wondered what Putin thought about the nation of Georgia – a country that is literally 3,000 miles and two international straits away from the geographic boundary of the Atlantic Ocean – joining the “North ATLANTIC Treaty Organization.” Keep in mind that Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and Israel all have a closer geographic connection to the Atlantic Ocean than Georgia. Well, I’m here to tell you how pissed he was.
In April of 2008, NATO announces that Georgia and Ukraine WILL become members of NATO, and then, on August 8, 2008, Russia invaded Georgia to keep that from happening.
Did I mention that Putin was pissed? What was interesting to note is that the invasion happened quite literally when George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin were literally in the same room together at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Here is a picture of them talking about it:
AND FOR SOME REASON THIS SURPRISED EVERYONE AT THE STATE DEPARTMENT.
Because if it didn’t surprise them, then why did they do it? Didn’t I mention that Putin was pissed? Also, didn’t I mention that while “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” is an idea what Americans will fight and die for, the security of the Russian state is a fact that Russians will fight and die for?
And might I remind you, after NATO said it was “looking forward to” the coming elections, a pro-Russian government came to power in 2010– …a government that was ousted BY A COUP in 2014.
Did I mention that Russia was pissed?
Russia was so pissed, that immediately after the 2014 coup, Russia decided to act to protect its naval base in Sevastopol by annexing Crimea. Russia did not need to “invade” Crimea (as there were already significant numbers of troops there, just like many US Troops are in Kuwait). Instead, they merely seized it. And they are NOT giving it back.
To describe how and why that seizure of Crimea happened, I’ll just quote the Wikipedia page on the annexation of Crimea by Russia:
On 22–23 February 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin convened an all-night meeting with security service chiefs to discuss the extrication of the deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. At the end of the meeting, Putin remarked that “we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia”. On 23 February, pro-Russian demonstrations were held in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. On 27 February, masked Russian troops without insignia took over the Supreme Council (parliament) of Crimea and captured strategic sites across Crimea, which led to the installation of the pro-Russian Sergey Aksyonov government in Crimea, the conducting of the Crimean status referendum and the declaration of Crimea’s independence on 16 March 2014. Russia formally incorporated Crimea as two Russian federal subjects—the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol on 18 March 2014. Following the annexation, Russia escalated military presence on the peninsula and leveraged nuclear threats to solidify the new status quo on the ground.
And while that may seem aggressive (and it is), remember the ethnic breakdown of Crimea and the history of Crimea in relation to Ukraine. Crimea is the LEAST “Ukrainian” part of Ukraine, and the port of Sevastopol is the MOST important strategic asset of Russia in the South. And did I mention that Russians are willing to fight and die for Russia?
But let’s just recognize something. The purpose of NATO is explicitly stated:
Security in our daily lives is key to our well-being. NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.
Did announcing that Georgia and Ukraine WILL be members of NATO help or hurt this very clear purpose as it relates to Georgia and Ukraine? Obviously it did not. So, when it comes to NATO….
WHAT ARE WE DOING AND WHY ARE WE DOING IT?
For the life of me, I cannot figure it out. However, for something that I can figure out as it relates to the Russian and Ukrainian war, we need to take a detour. This is the most important part of this post, even though it seems to be completely unrelated.
The next section is about the controversial nation of Kosovo.
The Reckless Escalation of Tensions By the Recognition of the State of Kosovo
When making diplomatic outreaches to Europe regarding the growing troop build-ups in Ukraine, Vice President Kamala Harris said the following about the potential for war on February 20, 2022 in Munich, Germany:
I mean, let’s really take a moment to understand the significance of what we’re talking about. It’s been over 70 years. And through those 70 years, as I mentioned yesterday, there has been peace and security. We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe.
Here’s the problem with that statement. Kamala Harris FORGOT a series of wars that Russia has NOT forgotten. Those wars were the Yugoslav wars. Yugoslavia was a former communist country. So, this was an ally and friend of the Russian nation, and the Vice President FORGOT about a series of wars that spanned from 1991 to 2001 – a mere 20 years ago. When these wars were going on, Kamala Harris was an “up and coming” attorney in California. It was an embarrassing mistake, exposing the ignorance at the top of American leadership. This is what we like to call a diplomatic mistake.
But it doesn’t stop there. When Vladimir Putin declared that the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk to be “independent nations,” the President of the Untied States, Joe Biden, said the following on February 22, 2022 in a PREPARED SPEECH:
Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community.
The problem with this statement is that Russia has an answer to this question. The United States gave him the right to declare new so-called countries from the territory of other nations and put troops on the ground to protect those nations. As Putin would say, “As the saying goes, it is worse than a mistake.”
And if you think I am crazy, you need to know that the United States ACTUALLY DID THIS with the “state” of Kosovo in the downfall of the former state of Yugoslavia. This creation of Kosovo happened in 2008, merely 14 years ago. The conflict (which truly was horrendous) ended in 2001, and UN peacekeepers have been there ever since. The last violence of any significance in Kosovo did not happen by Serbs against Albanians (which was the original conflict), but according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it was violence by Albanians against Serbians in riots in 2004. And here’s the key to this whole thing:
Serbia did not agree to let Kosovo break off from its territory, but it happened anyway.
Kosovo just declared its independence, and the United States and other NATO members swiftly recognized its status as an “independent nation.”
To describe what happened, I will quote my copy of Malcolm N. Shaw’s “International Law,” Sixth Edition, starting at page 452:
Following a period of UN administration authorized by Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), the Yugoslav (later Serbian) province of Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008. This was preceded by the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement formulated by Martti Ahtisaari which had in March 2007 called for independence for Kosovo with international supervision. This was rejected by Serbia. The international community was divided as to the question of recognition of Kosovo’s independence. It was recognized swiftly by the US, the UK, Germany and the majority of EU states, Japan and others. Russia and Serbia, on the other hand, made it clear that they opposed recognition, as did Spain and Greece. Accordingly, in the current circumstances, while many countries recognize Kosovo, many do not and entry into the US is not possible until, for example, Russia is prepared to lift its opposition in view of its veto power. For those states that have recognized Kosovo, the latter will be entitled to all the privileges and responsibilities of statehood in the international community and within the legal systems of the recognizing states. However, for those that have not, the state and diplomatic agents of Kosovo will not be entitled to, for example, diplomatic and state immunities, while the international status of Kosovo will be controversial and disputed.
So, if you see how crazy this is, note the following. It is not merely the “usual suspects” who oppose things that the West recognizes. This wasn’t a cohort of China, Iran, and Russia opposing the recognition of Kosovo. LITERAL MEMBERS OF NATO were opposing the creation and recognition of the state of Kosovo, including Greece and Spain. (Importantly, Spain has significant separatist movements like Catalonia, which is why the idea of “Hey, look! A new country carved out of your territory!” is not exactly a precedent that Spain would want to foster.)
And guess whose armed forces are providing security for the controversial state carved out of the territory of the Russian-leaning state of Serbia? That’s right: The United States. In fact, the U.S. State Department describes the situation this way:
U.S. troops continue to participate in the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all of Kosovo’s citizens. The United States is the largest KFOR contributor of the 28 troop-contributing nations.
The Iowa National Guard-led State Partnership Program, launched in 2011, has the long-term goal of building and expanding partnerships with the KSF, which will help Kosovo promote regional security and cooperation. The Iowa-Kosovo partnership has expanded well beyond the security sector, into economic, commercial, and academic cooperation. Kosovo is the only country that maintains a consulate in Des Moines, Iowa. This partnership represents a best practice in the State Partnership Program.
And while Putin was previously PISSED about things happening in Ukraine and the expansion of NATO, Putin was APOPLECTIC about what happened with Kosovo. Here is a quote from a story in the Guardian at that time:
President Vladimir Putin yesterday accused Europe and the United States of double standards over their support for an independent Kosovo, and warned that any declaration of statehood by Pristina would be “illegal, ill-conceived and immoral”.
Putin said that Russia remained utterly opposed to Kosovo breaking away from Serbia. If Kosovo’s Albanian leaders ignored Russian objections and announced independence this Sunday Moscow would be forced to act, he said.
He did not spell out what precisely Russia would do. There has been speculation that Moscow could retaliate by recognizing the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the separatist Moldovan enclave of Trans-Dniester.
“Other countries look after their interests. We consider it appropriate to look after our interests. We have done some homework and we know what we will do,” he warned.
Speaking at his annual press conference in the Kremlin – his last before stepping down as president in May – Putin insisted that Kosovo did not deserve special status. “I don’t want to say anything that would offend anyone, but for 40 years northern Cyprus has practically had independence. Why aren’t you recognizing that? Aren’t you ashamed, Europeans, for having these double standards?” he said.
He went on: “Why do we promote separatism? For 400 years Great Britain has been fighting for its territorial integrity in respect of Northern Ireland. Why not? Why don’t you support that?” he asked a journalist from German TV.
Putin insisted that “unified rules should be applied” when dealing with separatist conflicts. He complained: “International law doesn’t guard the interests of small countries.” Russia supported Serbia’s call for an urgent meeting on Kosovo at the UN security council, he added.
Note that line “we have done some homework and we know what we will do,” which was delivered in February of 2008. I might remind you that “South Ossetia” is the province in Georgia that was the cause/pretext for the Russian invasion after Georgia was encouraged to join NATO. Putin is many things, but “stupid” is not one of them.
In fact, this is what Putin also said about the recognition of Kosovo in 2008, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (among other places):
“The precedent of Kosovo is a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries,” Putin told a Moscow meeting of regional leaders. “They have not thought through the results of what they are doing. At the end of the day it is a two-ended stick and the second end will come back and hit them in the face,” Putin said, in comments later broadcast on state television.
The reason Kosovo is such a big deal is this: Russia was already worried about the countries created after the collapse of the Soviet Union becoming “Western” and exerting pressure on Russia by joining NATO. But now, with the precedent of Kosovo, it is now possible for SMALL REGIONS of countries to break away from larger countries and “become Western.”
The reason I am calling the recognition of Kosovo a huge escalation is that we quite literally changed the rules of the game, in a move that was to our own and our friends’ advantage, but to the disadvantage of Russia and its friends. And this was the moment when Vladimir Putin decided that in this “new” game that we created. He was NOT going to lose.
You don’t have to be a pro-Russian puppet, spouting off Kremlin talking-points to recognize that the “Kosovo doctrine” is an extreme, dangerous, and reckless precedent. The countries that do NOT recognize the legitimacy of Kosovo include Spain, Greece, Mexico, Argentina, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, the Vatican, and — and this is where things get really ironic — UKRAINE. But guess who is in Kosovo? NATO. That’s who. Can you see how this is serious stuff to Russia?
But you should see how important this is to the Ukrainian situation. Note that the Russians did not merely “invade” Ukraine. Instead, they recognized two provinces with a significant Russian population as “independent” nations: Donetsk and Luhansk. Then, they sent forces into these regions to support these “new nations.” When Ukraine fights against Russia for invading what Russia says is an “independent nation” and what Ukraine says is “Ukraine,” we got a war.
And if you need to know exactly how PISSED and APOPLECTIC Putin got over Kosovo, look at this news story issued just seven days ago by the Serbian news service, B92:
As Putin said in 2008:
The precedent of Kosovo is a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries.
THEY HAVE NOT THOUGHT THROUGH THE RESULTS OF WHAT THEY ARE DOING. AT THE END OF THE DAY IT IS A TWO-ENDED STICK AND THE SECOND END WILL COME BACK AND HIT THEM IN THE FACE.
In case I haven’t made it clear, the person who is responsible for the war in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin. However, what we cannot fail to recognize is that this is the “second end” of the Kosovo stick that is coming back to hit us in the face, just like Putin said would happen 14 years ago. Kosovo was the first end of the stick. Ukraine is the second end of the stick. The United States just got hit in the face with a stick. The person who threw the stick was Vladimir Putin in Russia. Vladimir Putin does not feel any shame in saying that he threw the stick at our face, and if we aren’t stupid, we should exercise the self-awareness to ask, “Why did he just throw a stick in our face?”
We can be mad at the fact that Russia threw the stick, and we may even be right. But if we are surprised that Russia threw the stick, then we are stupid. And if you’re in the business of “peace” and “security” in the world, you CAN’T be stupid. Unfortunately, it appears we’ve been stupid.
The next section discusses the lack of peace and security in Ukraine.
Brief Explanation of the Current Military Situation
The stuff going on in Russia right now is not one of these minor “use of force” operations that the United States is used to seeing. This is a SERIOUS war between ACTUAL nations. We’re getting some normal and not-out-of bounds propaganda making fun of Russian military equipment that is “outdated.” But recognize that this was the “outdated” military equipment of the Taliban:
And this is the “outdated” military equipment of Russia:
And we know how the Taliban thing went. So, recognize that this is a BIG DEAL. This is a serious war that involves a strategic interest of an actual power.
But another thing it involves is the power dynamic in Europe. Russia is not merely a military power (which it is). It is also a diplomatic power, because it supplies a significant portion of the oil and natural gas of Europe. To understand how the oil and gas picture of Russia is playing into the current war (in addition to the port of Sevastopol and NATO expansion), see this video, which does a good job of breaking it down.
As such, the potential that Ukraine would challenge the military security of Russia if it joins NATO is complicated by a further fact. Ukraine also has an untapped ability to counteract the serious diplomatic pressure that Russia has to cut off oil and natural gas supplies to Europe.
The cynical view of the war in Ukraine is to say that Russia is fighting a preemptive war to take control of resources. This is a “war for oil,” just like people criticized the wars in Iraq. The cynical view of the war in Ukraine says that Putin does not see the “Westernization” of Ukraine as a security threat, but is instead the result of personal greed of Vladimir Putin.
But a realistic view is that Putin is not acting alone, and that RUSSIA views NATO in Ukraine in the same way that the United States viewed Soviet Missiles in Cuba. We almost blew up the world on that account, and we’re not apologizing for it. Likewise, Russia is invading Ukraine to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO (just like they did Georgia) and they’re not apologizing for it.
Further, when it comes to a “war for oil,” let me just ask the obvious question as it applies to the United States in the time of the Gulf War in 1991: WHAT IS WRONG WITH A WAR FOR OIL? Oil isn’t some luxury resource or a pile of money. Oil isn’t what drug dealers fight over when they seek territory and cocaine production. Instead, oil is what runs nations and feeds families and upholds communities. It’s as essential to a nation as food or water. If a country’s access to oil is threatened (which is what happened in the Gulf War in 1991), why WOULDN’T a country go to war over oil?
Now, this does not have the same application to Russia, as Russia has plenty of oil. However, what is important is that oil is the single most powerful NON-MILITARY TOOL that Russia has to uphold its economy and exert diplomatic pressure. As such, oil is seriously important to Russia.
As such, we need to see the serious complicated nature of this conflict in Russia. Ukraine is something that Russia WILL HONESTLY FIGHT AND DIE FOR. And it also just so happens to be connected to wealth and prosperity and diplomatic influence, as well. The cynical view is that the “fight and die” ideas of Russia are REALLY about “wealth, prosperity, and diplomatic influence” – i.e. “power.” But I do not take that view at all. Instead, I believe that BOTH are influencing Russia, which make it that much more difficult to dissuade Russia from the path that it has chosen.
As such, it would take some ridiculous force of nature to get in the way of Putin’s long-running plan for the security and influence of the Russian Federation, which he HONESTLY believes IS and SHOULD BE a great power that cannot be pushed around by the United States.
Which leads us to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the defense of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Defense of Ukraine Against the Russian Army
If we want to understand the situation in Ukraine, we need to talk about Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He was born in the Soviet Union in 1978. And to put a spin on the old Yakoff Smirnoff line, in America, your politicians act like heroes until they get elected, at which point they show themselves to be comedians. But in the Soviet Union – and now in the nation of Ukraine – politicians act like comedians until they get elected, at which point they show themselves to be heroes.
Here is a clip of Zelenskyy playing the president of Ukraine in a TV show from a few years ago:
And that clip is funny, but the impressive stuff is what is happening in real life. You see, in the midst of ACTUAL CRUISE MISSILES hitting Ukraine:
The president of Ukraine is walking around the capital broadcasting on social media, letting everyone know, “We’re still here.”
Currently, the Russians are attempting to take the capital city of Kyiv with heavy armor. As I write, news reports speak of a convoy that is 40 miles long, headed to Kyiv, and the president (as far as we know right now) is still in Kyiv.
But look at the background of this unlikely hero in Ukraine, which I just took from Wikipedia:
Zelenskyy grew up in Kryvyi Rih, a Russian-speaking region in southeastern Ukraine. Prior to his acting career, Zelenskyy obtained a degree in law from the Kyiv National Economic University. He then pursued comedy and created the production company Kvartal 95, which produces films, cartoons, and TV shows including Servant of the People, in which Zelenskyy played the role of president of Ukraine. The series aired from 2015 to 2019 and was immensely popular. A political party bearing the same name as the television show was created in March 2018 by employees of Kvartal 95.
Zelenskyy announced his candidacy for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election on the evening of 31 December 2018, alongside the New Year’s Eve address of President Petro Poroshenko on 1+1 TV Channel. A political outsider, he had already become one of the frontrunners in opinion polls for the election. He won the election with 73.2 per cent of the vote in the second round, defeating Poroshenko. Identifying as a populist, he has positioned himself as an anti-establishment, anti-corruption figure.
As president, Zelenskyy has been a proponent of e-government and unity between the Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking parts of the country’s population. His communication style heavily utilises social media, particularly Instagram. His party won a landslide victory in a snap legislative election held shortly after his inauguration as president. During his administration, Zelenskyy oversaw the lifting of legal immunity for members of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession, and some progress in tackling corruption. Critics of Zelenskyy claim that in taking power away from the Ukrainian oligarchs, he has sought to centralise authority and strengthen his personal position
Zelensky came to power in 2019, at which point Russia had been fighting Ukraine through separatist movements for years. Additionally, Ukraine is a rather corrupt country, which is a further challenge. In the midst of serious disputes between Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, Zelensky’s did not come out of the “orange” and “blue” factions of the pre-existing political order, and instead created his own political party, which was literally named after his TV show, “Servant of the People.” He is a populist that is trying to fight for his country.
But despite all that, outright war came to his country. That is because at this point, it doesn’t matter what diplomatic stance Ukraine takes. Russia has “done its homework,” and Putin is going to do what Putin has been planning to do for more than ten years.
The infuriating part of all of this is that Zelenskyy did not cause ANY of this. Instead, his goal was to stop ALL of this. Zelenskyy did not participate in the restriction of the Russian language in the Eastern Provinces (which happened in April of 2019, while he came to power in May of 2019). He didn’t support or act to throw out the Ukrainian president in a coup. He didn’t pay Hunter Biden a million of dollars a year to get “influence” in the United States. He didn’t recognize (and he hasn’t sought to recognize) the independence of Kosovo. Though of course he wants to be a part of NATO in light of the very real threat of a Russian invasion, he didn’t issue the Bucharest Declaration that poked Russia in the eye.
But he’s dealing with the consequences of the disjointed and totally ineffective United States foreign policy, a foreign policy establishment that seems SURPRISED that Russia was going to invade Ukraine, even though Vladimir Putin has been broadcasting that he is willing to invade countries to keep them from joining NATO by — you know, INVADING OTHER COUNTRIES. The first indication that our foreign policy realized that Putin was going to invade Ukraine seems to be when the Russian forces were gathering on the border. That is LATE in the game.
And despite all of the well-wishers and Facebook profile pictures, President Zelenskyy is quite literally all alone in the effort. So far, he seems to be holding his own, and the Russian invasion has not yet succeeded, which is GREAT news, but we do not know how long it will last.
And this leads to my final section, which is my arm-chair quarterbacking about how to get out of the war in Ukraine, because hey — anybody else got a better idea?
How to Make Peace Between Russia, Ukraine, and the West
Here is where my unvarnished opinion is going to come out. The United States has totally screwed up this situation, and a lot of this is our fault. No, we did not invade Ukraine, but as I said before, Putin was NOT HIDING HIS INTENTIONS AT ALL in this matter. But for some stupid reason, we were surprised when it happened.
We wanted “peace” and “security,” and we got none of it. Putin has repeatedly broadcasted that Ukrainian membership in NATO is a red line. Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia and Ukraine not only have a strategic tie, but “historical” and “spiritual” ties. But regardless, that didn’t change anything, and now Russia and China are in a close strategic, economic, and political partnership, united AGAINST the United States.
Regardless of whether we agree with his view on NATO and Russia and Ukraine, why did Washington flirt with that idea FOR 14 YEARS? Did we think he was bluffing? How about now? Do we still think he is bluffing? So what are my qualifications for giving this path to make peace between Russia, Ukraine, and the West?
I have no experience in the matter, and I don’t intend to claim any special international relations skill. But at least this means I don’t have any of the BAD experience in Washington DC foreign policy that got us to this point.
As you can see, I like pictures, so here is a picture of what we need to do:
And here is the explanation of this picture:
FIRST, We need to stop “advancing” NATO to the East, and this is a no-brainer. The POINT of NATO is peace and security. But the Bucharest Declaration has led DIRECTLY to TWO WARS INVOLVING RUSSIA – one in Georgia, and one serious one in Ukraine. No matter what the “correct” assessment of the moral standing of Putin and Russia is, only an idiot – or a defense contractor whose stock price rises in wartime – could fail to recognize that expanding NATO is having an effect that is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE TO THE PURPOSE OF NATO. This isn’t hard, people. It’s basic.
And while we’re on the subject, we know that if Russia attacks any NATO country, this will lead (most likely) to the brink of nuclear war – as NATO was designed to be a deterrent to Russia with a nuclear umbrella. However, what kind of IDIOT puts the line that Russia must not cross – or else nuclear war will come – RIGHT ON THE BORDER OF RUSSIA. Do you WANT nuclear war, or not? At least in the Cuban Missile Crisis, we had the buffer zone of the Atlantic Ocean, which quite literally gave time for Soviet Transports to turn around while diplomacy went to work. If that is the case, WHY ON EARTH DOES NATO LOOK LIKE THIS:
Does that look like a map that George H.W. Bush would have drawn? Absolutely not.
SECOND, we need buffer zones, because buffer zones are the place where diplomacy can work. But when you have a buffer zone, it is good that the buffer zone be difficult to conquer and not a “buffer” that is a rubber stamp that will just roll over when you apply pressure.
If only we had a nation that doesn’t buckle in the midst of a Russian invasion. If only there was a nation and a leader that could stand on its own in the face of a superpower. Oh wait… WE HAVE ONE.
Therefore, Ukraine HAS TO BE a buffer-zone. We can sell them weapons. We can do all sorts of things that smarter people than me can describe and delineate, but what we cannot do is flirt with the idea of Ukraine joining NATO.
THIRD, we need to cut back on Russian hegemony in supplying Europe with oil and natural gas. Since Russia has two (and only two) non-military diplomatic tools: oil and natural gas, it would be foolish to cripple the only non-military weapon that Russia has.
On the other hand, it is wrong to give Russia a diplomatic sledgehammer with an effective monopoly on natural gas to Europe. We should not have any problem with Russia getting RICH off of selling gas to Europe, but we should have a problem with Russia getting POWERFUL by not having any competitors in selling gas to Europe. Beyond Norway and Russia, we need a third close-by European neighbor to provide significant resources to Europe to allow Russia to remain diplomatically influential, but not diplomatically all-powerful. That nation could be Ukraine, and the degree of influence is where diplomacy needs room to work.
FOURTH, the Kosovo doctrine is stupid, and we need to kill it, because Putin is way better at using it than we are. The genocide in Kosovo ended a decade before we “protected” Kosovo by letting it be independent, contrary to Serbia’s claims over its own territory. I mean, why did we take territory away from Serbia in the first place? It makes no sense.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to give Kosovo back with no guarantees or protections, but WHY ON EARTH would we want to set that precedent in the future, when we see what its done in the past? We need to renounce that doctrine, and the war in Ukraine needs to be the excuse to do it.
FIFTH, we need to recognize the LEGITIMATE complaints Russia has in Ukraine so that the illegitimate complaints Russia has are not confused. The fact is, whether they are genuine or not, Russia has a legitimate “human rights” complaint when it comes to certain factions in Ukraine removing language and cultural rights from minority Russians in Ukraine. We need to recognize that the Sevastopol port in Crimea is a vital strategic interest of Russia, and that Crimea is the MOST Russian and LEAST Ukrainian part of Ukraine. And because of this last one…
SIXTH, we need to give the basic territorial rights of Crimea to Russia (to preserve the strategic interests of Russia and the cultural and historic ties), but preserve the oil and natural gas in the Exclusive Economic Zone for Ukraine to prevent Russia from being an energy hegemon in Europe. Russia does not need any more oil, and we do not need to wage “total economic war” (as a high-ranking French official bragged) against Russia, but we do need to make sure that Russia cannot exercise veto powers on the European Union by exercising veto powers on oil and gas going to Germany. We need to build nuclear plants and develop Ukrainian oil in a neutral buffer-zone nation. No, we don’t need to replace Russia, when it comes to oil and natural gas, but we need to soften their power when it comes to Europe.
SEVENTH, we should NOT be sending American troops to Ukraine, but we do what we can to prevent Russia from an absolute victory in Ukraine. This is the tough one.
If we had gotten our “supporting democracy” head out of our “Russia-bad!” butts, and if we had not recklessly and stupidly pushed for Ukraine to join NATO, then we would not need to be having this conversation. However, now, we are where we are. At the same time that Ukraine should NEVER be a member of NATO, we should now secretly be FLOODING Ukraine with Javelin missiles to hopefully keep Russia from winning completely in Ukraine (at which point, why would they need to negotiate?). However, we should never let a neo-con within 50 miles of this strategy, because the GOAL is not to “defeat” Russia or do anything like that. The GOAL is to create a buffer zone where DIPLOMACY can work.
EIGHTH, Russia has a lot of cards in their hands right now, and we need to recognize that. We might have to carve out the territory of Ukraine and give those two provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk their independent status. But we don’t have to. We could also send them back to Ukraine. I don’t care. However, no matter what happens, we should preserve the language and cultural rights of citizens in local courts, in schools, and in daily life of whatever minority population is living in those territories, regardless of whether that territory belongs to Ukraine or Russia.
NINTH, we need to give Russia AN OUT. We need to put our moral indignation on hold (regardless of whether it is deserved) because it is STUPID to put a nuclear power in a position where they don’t have an “out.” When nuclear powers don’t have an “out,” that starts nuclear wars. Even if they don’t start nuclear wars, failed nuclear states create a market for selling nuclear materials. George H.W. Bush would NOT stand for that crap, and neither should we. Therefore, we need to give Russia an out with dignity. Russia needs the “win” of some territory and a sliver of legitimacy. Ukraine needs the “win” of stopping the Russian army. The United States needs the “win” of getting our head out of our butt, and recognizing that our real problem is not with Russia, but with China.
TENTH AND FINALLY, we need to start saying what we should have been saying 14 years ago:
“Ukraine will never join NATO, and NATO will stop expanding to the East.”
No, this does not mean that Ukraine will be a puppet of Russia, buffer zones are not puppets. No, this does not mean that Ukraine will be cut off from the West, as Ukraine should be able to join the EU or whatever it needs to join for its own benefit. No, this does not mean that Ukraine must buy weapons only from the United States or Russia or wherever, because ideally, they should be able to pick whomever they want.
So that is my peace plan:
And the Nobel Peace Prize Commission can comment below if they want. I’m done here.
One Comment Add yours
I have to disagree with the dismissive tone about Cossack states. First, however multi-ethnic the Hetmanate may have been, it was dominated by Cossacks/Ukranians. Second, I would not say the Cossacks were as much Russian as they were Ukrainian. This is not true at all. Nearly the entire modern Ukranian identity comes from Cossacks, Cossack culture was a small part of Russian identity and culture until fairly recently when they pretty much stole the identity from Ukraine.
Let’s not downplay the Ukrainian national identity to try and make other points.