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Making sense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

I’ve been pretty quiet about the current Russian Invasion of Ukraine recently, mostly because I really didn’t know a whole lot about it. Instead, I’ve been mostly retweeting people who do. 

What has become clear though, is that Canadian and American mainstream media are manufacturing consent, and presenting the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside of its historical context. According to this narrative, it is impossible that the USA (and therefore NATO) is ever in the wrong. Those of us on the Left know better.

Over the past few days, I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject, and this is what I’ve come up with. Below is a jumbled list of points that I think are very defensible. If anything is incorrect or misleading, I’d love to be corrected as I’m still learning. Send me an email or comment at the bottom of the page and tell me if I’m a pro-Russian or pro-NATO propagandist.

The act of invasion is 100% Vladimir Putin’s decision, and the invasion was not justified. The choice to invade Ukraine, a sovereign country, was not necessary and the blame lies entirely on him. It was a mistake. At the same time, the conditions that led to this were in part due to USA/NATO aggression toward Russia.

As Branko Marcetic writes in Jacobin:

US Policy Has Been Increasingly Unpredictable and Dangerous

Putin is widely seen in the West as a dangerous pariah contemptuous of basic international rules and norms. There’s no doubt that, whatever their motivation, his expansions into neighboring countries flagrantly violated international law and national sovereignty. But you need to understand that in large parts of the world, this is exactly how the US government is seen — and to a far greater degree than Russia.

Over the past twenty years, Washington has launched an illegal invasion of Iraq that destroyed the country and destabilized the wider region; set up a global network of secret torture prisons and kidnapped people off the streets of even Western countries to fill them; carried out regime-change in Libya, further destabilizing the region and reducing the country to violent anarchy; unilaterally imposed crippling sanctions on Iran and Venezuela in defiance of the UN; consistently threatened another war against Iran, pulling out of an international agreement and assassinating one of its top officials; and backed or fomented coups in several different Latin American countries.

The point here isn’t to adjudicate who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. The point is that by any objective measure, this century Washington’s acted increasingly belligerent, erratic, and with little regard for the “rules-based international order” it claims to uphold, often with the support of NATO — making the alliance’s eastward creep all the more threatening.

I am as anti-war as it gets, but I will never tell a country being invaded by another not to defend itself. See also: Palestine, Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

This started a long time ago, during the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The USA and Russia had a verbal agreement that NATO was not to be expanded (4:20). Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, “begged the west not to push Nato to Russia’s borders. It would risk, he said, “the flames of war bursting out across the whole of Europe.”

Countries that joined NATO, by year

The entire point of NATO is to contain Russia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has broken its promise by expanding many times, adding 14 new countries since 1991. Clearly, Russia does have some legitimate grievances, but again, this does not justify the invasion.

Putin has made it clear what he wants: a “buffer zone” of “not anti-Russia” states surrounding Russia. This isn’t entirely irrational, as articulated by Noam Chomsky.

This was all probably avoidable. If NATO were willing to leave Ukraine as a “neutral” state – ie a state not a part of NATO or Russia – tensions may never have run so high. Finland has followed a similar strategy and has avoided high military tensions.  Ukraine probably doesn’t meet the criteria to join NATO anyway.

While condemning Putin for his horrific actions that have already caused senseless deaths is a good thing, Ukraine and its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy aren’t automatically entitled to uncritical support either. Ukraine has a literal neo-nazi detachment in its army, the Azov Battalion.

These neo-nazis were supported by our government by the way:

Volodymyr Zelenskyy (the president of Ukraine) has done a pretty great job of unifying Ukraine and mounting an effective resistance against Russia’s invasion. This has led to an excessive amount of idolization of Zelenskyy, mostly by liberals. But his track record isn’t necessarily so great:

  • He has expressed support to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a move against any real peaceful solution in Palestine
  • When he became president of Ukraine, he instituted neoliberal reforms such as privatizing many state-owned enterprises.
  • The Pandora Papers revealed that he was engaging in tax evasion with his offshore network of companies.

It is great to see so many people, including conservatives, open their arms to welcome Ukrainian refugees. If only they had the same enthusiasm for all refugees. The same people that were attempting to block Syrian and Haitian refugees from entering Canada are now welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Also, if only the same amount of media attention went to people in countries such as Yemen and Palestine.

Anyway, those are my general thoughts on the current invasion of Ukraine. Here are some tweets I liked, mostly by those more knowledgeable than me:

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