According to the prevailing narrative, the Russian invasion of Ukraine must be entirely blamed on President Vladimir Putin.
The narrative discloses that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was an “unprovoked Russian aggression” against a democratic country, and Putin is a “murderous dictator” who desires to resuscitate the defunct Soviet empire and may even seek to subjugate other European countries to achieve this objective.
To give an example, the British tabloid, The Sun, even compares Putin to Hitler. According to its editorial, “it is paramount, as in 1939, that the free peoples of the West defeat this hideous new evil, this Hitler for our times.”
However, careful consideration of the Ukrainian crisis reveals that there are more sides to this story, only one of which is being told.
John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. For years, he has claimed that the Russian approach towards Ukraine was primarily caused by “Western intervention.”
Mearsheimer argues that the United States, in pushing to expand NATO eastward, “has increased the likelihood of war between nuclear-armed powers and laid the groundwork” for Russia’s aggressive position toward Ukraine.
With regards to Ukraine, he comments that up until 2014, no one envisioned the NATO and EU expansion as policies aimed at containing Russia and nobody seriously thought Russia was a threat before Feb. 22, 2014.
Mearsheimer continues, stating “What happened is that this major crisis broke out, and we had to assign blame, and of course we were never going to blame ourselves. We were going to blame the Russians. So we invented this story that Russia was bent on aggression in Eastern Europe. Putin is interested in creating a greater Russia, or maybe even re-creating the Soviet Union.”
It is therefore instructive to ascertain what happened to Ukraine in 2014—a coup supported by the American government, more specifically, by the then Obama administration.
With the victory of the pro-Russian candidate, Victor Yanukovych, in the Ukrainian presidential elections of 2010, its parliament voted in that same year to abandon NATO membership aspirations (pdf).
However, President Yanukovych, a democratically elected leader, was arbitrarily and unconstitutionally removed from office in February 2014.
Prior to that coup, in December 2013, the late Senator John McCain, then a leading Republican voice on U.S. foreign policy, told leaders of the Ukrainian opposition camped on Kyiv’s main square that “Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better …. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe.”
To understand why the removal of President Yanukovych was unconstitutional, some facts about the Ukrainian Constitution must be considered.
The Ukrainian Constitution lists four circumstances in which an elected president may cease to exercise power before the end of their term: retirement; inability to exercise their powers for reasons of health; removal from office by the procedure of impeachment; and death.
The process of impeachment is laid down in Article 111, which requires the Ukrainian Parliament to create a special temporary investigation committee to formulate charges against the president, seek evidence to justify the charges, and come to conclusions about the president’s guilt.
Prior to a final vote of impeachment, this process also requires the nation’s Constitutional Court to review the case and certify that the procedure has been properly followed, and the Ukrainian Supreme Court to certify that the acts of which the president is accused are worthy of impeachment.
Finally, the removal of an elected president from power must be approved by at least three-quarters of the members of Parliament.
On Feb. 22, 2014, this process of impeachment was not followed at all. No investigation committee was formed, and no courts were involved in the removal of the president. Instead, a bill was rushed through Parliament to remove President Yanukovych from his office, although this was not even supported by three-quarters of members of Parliament.
On that occasion, Putin quibbled that this was an unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically elected president. He labelled it a “coup” and questioned the legitimacy of the process at his press conference on March 4, 2014.
“[Impeachment] has to involve the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Rada (the unicameral parliament of Ukraine). This is a complicated and lengthy procedure. It was not carried out. Therefore, from a legal perspective this is an undisputed fact,” Putin said.
When that “coup” of the Ukrainian Parliament succeeded in expelling the country’s elected president, then American President, Barrack Obama, misled the international community by hiding the imposition of a pro-Western government on “Russia’s most neuralgic and politically divided neighbour.”
Soon after a new government was established, it declared itself unable to control the popular reaction to that coup in the country’s east. The American government then conveniently accused Russia of destabilising Ukraine, thus aiming to turn Russia into a “pariah state.”
Ukraine has never been able to have a functional government since.
Russia almost immediately retaliated by annexing the region of Crimea, in March 2014, but only after a popular referendum that was not recognized by the United States and its Western allies.
Crimeans, who mostly speak Russian, voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation.
Writing for the American Conservative, foreign policy expert Dominick Sansone explains:
“The move into Crimea came as a response, to secure Russia’s key naval interests in the warm-water port at Sevastopol. The coinciding uprisings in the Donbas were additionally a response to the situation in Kyiv … The official position of the Kremlin has subsequently been that these ethnically Russian citizens should not be forced to live under the rule of an illegitimate rebel group that illegally came to power by overthrowing the duly elected government.”
The reality is that the eastward expansion of NATO has triggered the current Ukrainian crisis, primarily because of Washington’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure by building an explicitly anti-Moscow association and supporting a notoriously corrupt government.
The Russian authorities believe that this constitutes a “direct threat” to their national security and have they have bitterly opposed NATO engagement since the mid-1990s. Further, it is the Russians, not the Americans and their allies, “who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them” (pdf).
Despite this important context, speaking to reporters in Adelaide, on Feb. 24 the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, stated: “We should be taking every step we can to ensure Russia pays a price in the international community for the violent and aggressive acts of invasion against Ukraine.”
Asked what he thought of the Russian president, Morrison replied: “I call him a thug.”
This sort of language is unwise and belligerent with 46 million people and a vast territory that is rich in natural resources, Ukraine is by far the largest and most impressive of the states that had split away from the Russian Federation, in 1991.
Above all, the Australian prime minister has denied that Putin’s actions might be “motivated by legitimate security concerns.”
According to Seumas Milne, a British journalist and former Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications:
“No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin’s absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive, and the red line is now drawn: the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by NATO or the EU.”
Commenting on the present situation in Ukraine, Bill Roggio, a senior colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and editor of its Long War Journal, states that:
“Putin appears to want to take Ukraine intact …. The systematic nature of the Russian assault is at odds with the speculation that Putin has lost control of his senses. Nobody knows for sure, but Putin’s actions appear to be that of a cold and calculating adversary. Dismissing his decision to invade Ukraine as a form of madness is effectively an excuse to ignore Putin’s likely motivations and future actions.”
The Russians had already been seriously humiliated by NATO’s decision to expand the Alliance to include former Warsaw Pact countries. And now they sense that NATO is dangerously moving right up to their border by turning one of their most formidable former states into a de facto member of the American military alliance.
Clearly, the Russians have reached the limits of their willingness to tolerate NATO’s expansionist policies.
The consequences of the unconstitutional coup of 2014 should be blamed, at least in part, for Russia’s disastrous military invasion of Ukraine.