The Cold War never ended
Does the West bear a share of the blame in bringing war to Ukraine?
In his Pensées, Pascal eloquently captured the insanity of war by highlighting that we kill people because they live on the other side of the river from us; whereas if we killed those on the same side of the river as us it would be murder. In Paradise Lost Milton similarly recalled that we slaughter each other despite the fact that we are all the progeny of Adam. As a Slovak, living across the border from the Ukraine, and seeing fellow Slavs slaughtering each other because of the tyrannical impulses of Vladimir Putin, it breaks my heart.
The purpose of this article is not to validate Putin’s invasion of Ukraine; it is a tragedy and a crime. However, it is worth looking to see what contributing part the West has played in this war. I would argue that while Putin’s actions have been grossly disproportionate, the West’s approach to the Ukraine leading up to the invasion has been self-serving, aggressively woke, lacking in seriousness and ultimately impotent. The EU, United States and NATO have all played the role of the cad, seducing Ukraine with dreamy talk about what could be, only to leave it to its own devices once any real accountability needed to be shown.
Arguably, the long road to this war began in 2012. Ideological colonialism, for better or worse, played a significant role in the 2014 Maidan Revolution. The Ukrainian Government, under President Yanukovych, had been in ongoing talks with the EU to sign a political association and free trade agreement, which would include steps towards visa-free movement of people. In 2012, the official posture of the EU towards Ukraine changed, with the EU now requiring the Ukrainian parliament to pass LGBT anti-discrimination laws as a pre-condition of any agreement. In that year, as part of its Neighbourhood policy, the EU published a report saying that it must raise awareness about LGBT discrimination in Ukraine and “modify” widespread attitudes on the subject.
On the eve of the agreement being signed, the EU began making demands that an agreement could only be concluded if sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination legislation was put in place, despite Ukraine already having spent years transposing large amounts of EU legislation in a good faith effort to meet the EU’s demands. Believing that such legislation would be wildly unpopular and culturally abrasive for the majority of Ukrainians, Ukraine asked the EU to allow them an exemption from having to pass legislation relating to those two particular characteristics. It had noted that precedent for this existed as the EU had provided Moldova exactly the same exemption the Ukrainians were seeking.
NATO has had Ukraine jumping through its hoops
The EU rejected the government’s request, which essentially ended discussions on any agreement being settled. The reaction from Brussels was to incite discord in the Ukraine with messaging that Ukraine did not wish to be part of Europe. It is arguable that such messaging was reckless and aimed towards a regime change in the Ukraine. The message was received loudly by Ukrainians, many not aware that the bilateral EU/Ukraine agreement was pre-conditioned on terms that most Ukrainians would not have been pleased with. The result was the Maidan Revolution which led to the deaths of 108 protestors and 13 police officers. The Yanukovych government was removed, with the President fleeing the country.
While it is absolutely true that Ukrainians were better off under new Western looking leadership, the EU’s role in stirring up a regime change cannot go unrecognised. In 2015 the new government passed the EU’s desired anti-discrimination legislation after eight previous failed voting attempts. Yuriy Lutsenko, Parliament’s majority leader, famously commented that “it is better to have gay parades in Kiev, rather than Russian tanks”.
Ukraine had done everything Brussels had asked of it with the expectation that there would be some palpable return. When Russian tanks did indeed enter the country, however, the EU was quick to point out that the association agreement did not include any security against aggression. EU leaders also rejected fast-tracking EU membership for Ukraine after receiving the request from President Zelensky.
Like the EU, NATO has had Ukraine jumping through its hoops with promises of closer cooperation, which in the end seems to have only furthered NATO’s interests in the region. Since 2017, NATO has deployed four international battalions to EU nations bordering Russia and were providing lethal military force to the Ukrainians. With the Russians claiming that their military build-up on the border was in response to NATO’s provocation of placing more and more troops and weapons on Russia’s doorstep, and NATO claiming it was doing so to prevent Russian aggression, it is difficult to say if either party is telling the truth.
What is clear is that, whether legitimately so or not, Ukraine was relying on NATO military intervention against Russia to its detriment. Both NATO and the Ukrainian government could not be naïve to the fact that having Ukraine engaging NATO at such a high level was nothing short of a serious provocation to Russia. With this foreknowledge, NATO should have either admitted its moral obligation towards Ukraine once armed combat began, or it should have been transparent with Ukraine that NATO was not willing to provide direct military support should cooperation lead to Russian intervention.
There is some precedent for Putin’s actions. History does show us that when Russia sent nuclear missiles to Cuba in 1962 at Cuba’s request for security, following the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion, the US government at the time was ready to begin a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union unless the Russians removed their presence from the region. The Russians agreed to do so if the US committed to not invading Cuba again. This does at least provide some insight into the question of whether Russia has a just right to ask Ukraine to become neutral and disavow a relationship with NATO as part of a potential peace agreement. What it does not do, of course, is legitimise Russia’s request that parts of Ukraine be ceded to it as part of that agreement. Nor does it acquit Russia of its guilt for the disproportionate and deadly military campaign it began in Ukraine.
The United States
Lastly, the United States’ relationship with Ukraine cannot go ignored. It has consistently been providing Ukraine lethal military aid, long before the troop build up on the border foreshadowing the invasion began. The U.S. also famously tried to use Ukraine and President Zelensky, who wanted nothing to do with the matter, as a pawn in the Democrats’ impeachment attempt of then President Donald Trump. In addition to this, as the Durham investigation is beginning to uncover, forces in the Democratic party were weaponizing invented Russian propaganda against Trump to delegitimise him and prevent him from keeping office. In doing so, the US went to great lengths to demonise Putin and make a bogeyman of Russia, all the while stoking greater and greater ill will with Russia.
Ukraine has been the new cold war battle ground
What is clear from everything that has happened in recent months is that the Cold War never ended. Ukraine has been the new cold war battle ground. Not unlike Poland in 1939, the world’s superpowers have been using a proxy to further their own security and political interests at the expense of another country’s security. The EU similarly used its neighbourhood policy to try and further its socio-political goals in the area, with little regard to the consequences that might arise with provoking Russia. There is irony in how undemocratic the EU was in its efforts to “democratise” Ukraine, making demands of a sovereign parliament that went against the cultural will of the Ukrainian people. When a political demand is so unpopular that it leads to the violent toppling of a government, one begins to wonder how fair that demand really is.
Like many things in the world, nothing is black and white. The Russians are clearly a guilty party in the bloody war that is raging in Ukraine. There is no question that Vladimir Putin has blood on his hands and there should certainly be consequences for that. But if you ask Ukrainians, you might be surprised to learn of their anger also towards the EU, NATO and the US. Ukraine put a great deal on the line to have relationships with these powers, and arguably it gave far more than it received. When the war planes and tanks entered their nation, they were right to believe that international help would be coming.
What is equally clear is that there is nothing clear about this war. Should any of the aforementioned powers intervene with troops or military force, or even enact a no-fly zone, the inevitable result would be World War III. As sympathetic as the Western World may be to the plight of Ukrainians, very few people are willing to sacrifice their own peace or risk the possibility of nuclear conflict to aid the Ukrainians.
The lessons learned from war always pale in comparison to the human toll that occurs as a result of it. It is still unclear what those lessons will be as this particular war rages on. What is apparent however, is that Western interests need to be tempered by a greater level of accountability than has been the case in this conflict. As this article has made clear, Putin is guilty. There are no questions as to that.
The question that does need to be asked, and which we are not hearing a great deal about, is what guilt does the West bear in all of this? Whether it acted with clear intentions or negligently in escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia, it is inexcusable that it did so in a manner which has left Ukraine to fight on its own. The West should have known the risks Ukraine was taking in strengthening Western ties, particularly military ones. It was wrong to encourage Ukraine without a clear understanding that should Russian forces attack, the West would not be there to lend direct military aid.
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