Putin's excuses for starting the war are fake
The former Russian-dominated Soviet Union was powerful and influential, encompassing 15 communist nations. It stood balanced against the democratic states over the years of the Cold War. When the Cold War ended, Russia's borders shrank dramatically. Putin wants to change this.
Regardless of who rules Russia, for hundreds of years, it has repeatedly invaded other nations with varying degrees of success. From its earliest recorded history, Russia has always been hungry for surrounding lands, especially those with arable fields and warm water or North Atlantic ports:
Since 1918, when the communists took power, Russia has sought to impose its will on Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Finland, Belarus, Ukraine, Budapest, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Mongolia, Afghanistan, China, Japan. In the early years of the Soviet Union, many of those countries successfully resisted Soviet incursions, only to have the USSR attack again, more successfully, during and after WWII, under Stalin.
Putin's role model is Joseph Stalin, who executed nearly a million of his own citizens during the 1930s. Millions more fell victim to forced labor, deportation, and famine. The Russian government, replacing the Soviet Union, has acknowledged that a long famine (known as the Holodomor) killed about 4 million in Ukraine in the 1930s. Years later, in April 2008, Russia's lower house of Parliament passed a resolution stating that no famine was organized along ethnic lines. But at least 16 countries recognized it as genocide. The U.S. Senate's 2018 resolution affirmed the findings of the 1988 Commission that Stalin had committed genocide.
Like Stalin, Putin wants to wipe out all his enemies, at home and abroad. To blame this on alleged mental illness, cancer treatments, or Ukraine's failure to honor its promises doesn't explain the abuse of Russian power within and beyond its national boundaries for many decades.
During the previous Russian invasions, Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians appealed to Western Europe and the United States to intervene. Their pleas were ignored because Western governments didn't want to risk a nuclear war. This restraint helped to restore the peace temporarily while leaving the nations of Eastern Europe to serve as buffer states. This time, things have changed. The new sanctions, along with sending weapons to Ukraine, show that the West has decided that it can no longer afford to rely on the buffers.
Putin's own wars began in 2007, with his speech to the Munich Security Conference when he refused to accept the post-1989 European settlement after the fall of the Berlin Wall and protested NATO's continued expansion into Western Europe. Then, in 2008, he invaded Georgia, and in 2014, he occupied Crimea and the Donbas. And of course, he's now invaded Ukraine. It's obvious that Putin wants to re-design the entire world order.
Image: The Soviet Union (bright orange) and its sphere of influence (light orange). Public domain.
Since Ukraine was a part of the old Russian Federation, Putin rationalized in an essay last year that Ukraine's true sovereignty was possible only in partnership with Russia, saying, "Ukraine is not just a neighbor, it is an inalienable part of our own history, cultural and spiritual space." Ukrainians vehemently dispute this.
Another Putin justification for attacking was that Ukraine wanted to join NATO. In fact, the opposite is true: Putin's attack justifies Ukraine's desire to join NATO.
It's clear, in hindsight, that Putin expected a quick war. To everyone's surprise — including Putin's — Ukraine, rather than instantly surrendering, has fought back. Equally surprising is that, this time, Europe has not remained quiet. Instead, it has aggressively used economic sanctions to penalize Russia for its aggression. These sanctions, along with sending weapons to Ukraine, show that the West has decided that it can no longer afford to rely on the buffers.
The news from the past weeks has shown a frustrated Putin escalating his initial, rather lethargic attack. He ordered his troops to use cluster bombs, which the U.N. has tried to ban, and brutal thermobaric bombs against Ukrainians. Using these weapons against a civilian population is so extreme that the International Criminal Court will investigate possible war crimes in Ukraine. Most recently, Russia started raining bombs on Kyiv, hoping to force an immediate surrender.
What we're seeing in Ukraine has surprised the world, but it shouldn't have. Putin's aggression is entirely consistent with Russian behavior for over one hundred years. No matter his excuses and explanations, the root cause of this war is Russia's perpetual pattern of using force to absorb surrounding nations into its empire.
This time around, though, the Ukrainians may have stymied the Russian war machine. Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been watching the Ukraine War from exile in Lithuania. She said, "I am sure Ukraine will win this war," explaining:
The strength of the spirit, the fortitude, determines the outcome of the war. They made such resistance to the huge army of the Kremlin and now this army has lost its face. The invasion was such a huge mistake that could make Russia a rogue state for the next centuries. It's awful because the people of Russia are also not guilty in this.