The world has responded with unwonted unity and determination to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while in the U.S., opinion polls show a substantial margin viewing Ukraine with favor and Russia with disfavor. A large majority even assesses Russia’s action as threatening to U.S. vital interests. Nonetheless, just as Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea dissented from the international consensus to vote with Russia at the UN, so here at home, a miscellany of voices demurred, pointing fingers of blame in other directions, expressing sympathy for Russia’s position, or warning against any strong reaction from Washington.
Almost none offered words of worship to Vladimir Putin, as many had to Joseph Stalin in Soviet days, and none declared outright support for his actions. But still, a number of writers, political groups, and politicians offered a counterpoint to the broad chorus of indignation at Putin’s action. They came from both political poles, as well as from the camp of isolationist ideologues difficult to locate on a left-to-right spectrum. Some registered their disapproval of Russia’s attack before proceeding to their main point: warning against a U.S. response stronger than admitting refugees. Others offered up outright apologetics for Putin’s actions.
On the left, the Democratic Socialists of America—once a fringe group but that now boasts in its ranks four members of the U.S. House of Representatives (Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman) as well as dozens of state legislators and many local officials—issued a statement on January 31 in response to Russia’s massing its army on Ukraine’s borders. It began:
Following months of increased tensions and a sensationalist Western media blitz drumming up conflict in the Donbas, the US government is responding to the situation in Ukraine through the familiar guise of threats of sweeping sanctions, provision of military aid, and increased military deployment to the region. [DSA] opposes this ongoing US brinkmanship, which only further escalates the crisis, and reaffirms our previous statement saying no to NATO and its imperialist expansionism and disastrous interventions across the world.
Nowhere did the document attempt to explain what had caused the sudden “increased tensions,” or so much as mention the Russian forces. It called instead on the U.S. “to reverse its ongoing militarization of the region.”
When the Russians attacked, DSA issued a new statement, which did indeed condemn the invasion while opposing any “coercive measures… economic or military” to counter it. In contrast to the UN General Assembly, which voted almost unanimously to “demand” the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces, DSA merely “urge[d]” this. It went on to “reaffirm our call for the USA to withdraw from NATO, and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict,” and it declared “solidarity with…antiwar protestors in both countries [Russia and Ukraine],” although it did not explain where the latter had been sighted.
Others on the left were less flagrant but also assigned more blame to Washington than Moscow. Noam Chomsky, in a lengthy interview in the online journal Truthout, explained:
The crisis has been brewing for 25 years as the US contemptuously rejected Russian security concerns, in particular their clear red lines: Georgia and especially Ukraine. There is good reason to believe that this tragedy could have been avoided.
Now, he said, focus must turn to the future. He warned, “repeatedly, [America’s] reaction has been to reach for the six-gun rather than the olive branch.” But the superior wisdom of a gentler approach, he explained, had been taught to him personally during his wartime travels to North Vietnam by representatives of the Viet Cong, a group whose penchant for gentleness was lost on less acute observers than Chomsky. Moreover, he added, “like it or not, the choices are now reduced to an ugly outcome that rewards rather than punishes Putin for the act of aggression—or the strong possibility of terminal war.” In short, our only sure path to avoid nuclear Armageddon is one that “rewards” Putin.
Writing in the Nation, Rajan Menon described the original sin that led to today’s crisis. As always in that journal, America was the sinner:
Instead of seizing the opportunity to create a new European order that included Russia, President Bill Clinton and his foreign-policy team squandered it by deciding to expand NATO threateningly toward that country’s borders. Such a misbegotten policy guaranteed that Europe would once again be divided, even as Washington created a new order that excluded and progressively alienated post-Soviet Russia.
That magazine’s publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, has recently been awarded a weekly column in the Washington Post. There, at the end of January, she warned of the danger of war and of “screeching hawks.”
In Russia, Putin is already under fire for not having taken Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in 2014.…In Washington, Biden is under fire for not being tough enough…For all its hysteria about imminent war, it’s clear that the Biden administration believes Putin is bluffing….the danger is that Putin will face escalating pressure from more hawkish factions within Russia.
When the Russians attacked, she spoke for the Nation, “condemn[ing]” the invasion in somewhat roundabout words, before resuming her theme that equal or greater blame lay with the West:
Putin’s actions are indefensible, but responsibility for this crisis is widely shared. This magazine has warned repeatedly that the extension of NATO to Russia’s borders would inevitably produce a fierce reaction. We have criticized NATO’s wholesale rejection of Russia’s security proposals. We decry the arrogance that leads U.S. officials to assert that we have the right to do what we wish across the world, even in areas, like Ukraine, that are far more important to others than they are to us.
A week later, in her Washington Post column, she advised against countering Russia. “By invading Ukraine,” she opined, “Putin demands a return to [an] archaic and obsolete Cold War order. The world would be wise not to accede.” In other words, Putin is trying to start a fight; we could frustrate him by turning the other cheek. She counseled out-of-the-box thinking:
What’s needed above all is a courageous and transnational citizens’ movement demanding not simply the end of the war on Ukraine but also an end to perpetual wars. We need political leaders who will speak out about our real security needs and resist the reflex to fall into old patterns that distract from the threats we can no longer afford to ignore [i.e., “pandemics and climate change”].
The Nation’s competitor among left-wing journals, Jacobin, took a similar tack. Staff writer Branko Marcetic asserted that Putin’s invasion was “reckless and illegal,” before going on to argue that it might have been averted by “a different set of US policies over the past few months.” He explained:
Already, the army of war-hawk pundits that has been predicting—salivating over, may be more accurate—a Russian invasion has seized on this latest move as vindication of their usual talking points: Putin is Hitler, he seeks to revive the glory of the Soviet Union, he can’t be reasoned with, and only a show of force, not further “appeasement” or negotiations that “reward” his behavior, can make him stop. This is…exactly the approach Washington and its allies…have taken to get us to this point.
If readers wondered whether it wasn’t Moscow, rather than Washington and its allies, who had gotten us to this point, Marcetic offered an example of “the most over-the-top of Western predictions” that had inflamed the situation, namely, the image of Russian soldiers “marching to Kiev and toppling the Ukrainian government.”
Elected officials on the left tended to be more forthright in denouncing the Russian invasion, while often adding caveats. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, called it “premeditated aggression,” but he did not retract his previously expressed sympathy for Russia’s adamancy about Washington’s refusal to rule out NATO membership for Ukraine. “Does anyone really believe,” he asked, “that the United States would not have something to say if, for example, Mexico was to form a military alliance with a U.S. adversary?”
Sanders is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Its chair, Representative Pramila Jayapal, together with the chair of its Peace and Security Taskforce, Representative Barbara Lee, spoke for the caucus during this crisis. As Russian forces poised on Ukraine’s borders, they issued a statement voicing “alarm,” although this seemed to be mostly about possible American reactions. “We have significant concerns that new troop deployments, sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions, and a flood of hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal weapons will only raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation,” they said.
They offered an interpretation of the mobilization on Ukraine’s borders akin to vanden Heuvel’s: “Russia’s strategy is to inflame tensions; the United States and NATO must not play into this strategy.” Apparently, the way to stymie Putin would be to go about our business of reforming America or saving the planet and to ignore his belligerent actions entirely.
Their colleague Rashida Tlaib seconded this, adding: “Enough of rushing to war… . Diplomacy and de-escalation must be the focus, not ‘lethal’ aid. My constituents are tired of war and are demanding we use everything in our toolbox to prevent conflict.”
When the Biden administration began warning of an imminent Russian invasion, and Congress rushed to enact emergency legislation to shore up Ukraine and deter Russia, caucus member Ilhan Omar voiced her opposition:
The proposed legislative solution to this crisis, escalates the conflict without deterring it effectively….The consequences of flooding Ukraine with half a billion dollars in American weapons, likely not limited to just military-specific equipment but also including small arms and ammo, are unpredictable and likely disastrous. It also threatens unbelievably broad and draconian sanctions that will utterly devastate the Russian economy, likely doing very little to deter Putin’s aggression while causing immense suffering among ordinary Russian civilians who did not choose this.
After the Russian forces rolled across the border, caucus members were clearer in “condemning the violent invasion of Ukraine,” while still focusing most of their appeals on the need to restrain the U.S. response. In their new statement, the caucus said:
We urge the Biden administration to be guided by two goals: to avoid dangerous escalation that is all too easy in the chaos of war, and to ensure we are minimizing harm to civilians. We applaud President Biden for rightly saying there can be no military solution to this conflict, and wisely committing to not deploying U.S. troops… . The president must seek congressional authorization…before any U.S. troops deploy into areas or situations where there is a risk of imminent hostilities.
Since deploying U.S. forces to Ukraine had already been ruled out, the latter sentence seemed to aim at the movement of several thousand troops into frontline NATO states. In addition to objecting to these deployments designed to deter the Russians from moving against the Baltic states, the progressives also were chary of economic sanctions. They said: “The goal of any U.S. sanctions should be to stop the fighting and hold those responsible for this invasion to account, while avoiding indiscriminate harm to civilians or inflexibility as circumstances change.”
These attitudes on the left, if in some ways shocking, are not surprising. And the same might be said about the camp of ideological isolationists. It is centered today in the Quincy Institute, a D.C. think tank of relatively recent vintage, lavishly funded from the two extremes, George Soros on the left and Charles Koch on the right.
In the run-up to the Russian invasion, Quincy’s website was replete with items diverting blame from Russia, casting aspersions on Ukraine and its sympathizers, and warning against U.S. involvement. Research fellow Ben Freeman posted an exposé, claiming to reveal that “lobbyists from Ukraine are working feverishly to shape the U.S. response.” It went on: “Firms working for Ukrainian interests have inundated congressional offices, think tanks and journalists with more than 10,000 message and meetings in 2021.” Freeman added, “With U.S. weapons manufacturers making billions in arms sales to Ukraine, their CEOs see the turmoil there as a good business opportunity,” citing another Quincy exposé by another staff member.
In addition to the various writings of vanden Heuvel, a Quincy board member, that are posted on its site, its other principal commentators on this issue were Andrew Bacevich, the institute’s president, and senior fellow Anatol Lieven.
As the Biden administration issued warnings in February, citing intelligence that Putin was intent on war, Bacevich published an op-ed debunking it, warning that “a full-fledged war scare is upon us.” He likened the administration’s revelation of Russian plans for staging a false-flag attack to the Bush administration’s erroneous 2003 warnings about Iraqi nuclear weapons. And he vented anger at news organizations for reporting the Russia story. “The incessant warmongering of the American media [is] disturbing and repugnant,” he lamented, protesting reports that 130,000 Russian troops had massed on Ukraine’s borders. He didn’t dispute this number but rather the verb, “massed,” which he called “a favored media mischaracterization.” He suggested no preferable term, but reporters might have said more neutrally that Russian soldiers “convened” or “congregated” or “flocked” or “disembarked” at Ukraine’s border.
Two weeks later, as the crisis intensified, Bacevich took to print again, adding to his indictment of the media and of America more broadly. “Some members of the American commentariat will cheer” war, he said, owing to “the depth of their animus toward Putin.” This in part reflected “the unvarnished Russophobia pervading the ranks of the America political elite” and “disdain for Russia” that has “roots going at least as far back as the Bolshevik Revolution.” However, the “deeper” source of “our present-day antipathy toward Russia [lies in] a desperate need to refurbish the concept of American exceptionalism.” In “our collective identity [w]e Americans…are the Chosen People.” It would be more accurate, he went on, to characterize ourselves as “reckless,” “incompetent,” “alienated,” “extravagantly wasteful,” and “deeply confused.” Rather than “flinging macho-man insults,” Bacevich concluded, the U.S. should “acknowledge the possibility that Russia possesses legitimate security interests” in Ukraine.
The day after Russia’s assault began, Bacevich published yet another op-ed. “The eruption of war creates an urgent need to affix blame and identify villains,” he began, with gentle sarcasm that then grew stronger. “Russia is the aggressor and President Vladimir Putin a bad guy straight out of central casting: on that point, opinion in the United States and Europe is nearly unanimous. Even in a secular age, we know whose side God is on.” It would be better, he said, to avoid a “rush to judgment.”
Yes, Russian aggression deserves widespread condemnation. Yet the United States cannot absolve itself of responsibility for this catastrophe… . By casually meddling in Ukrainian politics in recent years, the United States has effectively incited Russia to undertake its reckless invasion.
Quincy’s most prolific commentator on the Ukraine crisis was senior research fellow Anatol Lieven. He, too, sounded a note of contempt for Americans. “A mythological monster is haunting the fevered imagination of the West,” a cartoon image of a creature whose name Americans ignorantly mispronounce “Put’n.” In contrast,
the real Putin is cautious and levelheaded—too much so, in the view of more ambitious and hotheaded members of the Russian elite. …This should give confidence that we can emerge from the present crisis without disaster… . Only the mythological Putin would March into Kiev and central Ukraine, let alone attack Poland or the Baltic states. These are ridiculous Western fantasies generated partly by genuine paranoia, partly by members of the US and European blobs who need to demonize Russia in order to cover up their own appalling mistakes and lies over the past 30 years and to parade heroic resistance to a threat that does not in fact exist.
The recurrent theme of Lieven’s many articles was that Western anxieties were unwarranted. In early February, he wrote:
One Western line about Russia’s demands has already been proved false, namely that they were never intended as a serious basis for negotiations; and that Russia always planned to use their rejection as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Clearly if that were the case, Russia would have invaded by now.
Then, when their intelligence prompted Western governments to withdraw diplomatic personnel, Lieven wrote mockingly that Russia therefore had no need to invade. “Western policy towards Ukraine is evolving from the ridiculous to the positively surreal… . Putin can enjoy a quiet cup of coffee while Western governments run around squawking hysterically and NATO’s credibility collapses along with the Ukrainian economy.” And a week after that, he forecasted: “If by the time of the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, Russia has not in fact invaded Ukraine except for the Donbas, then all these Western warnings about an imminent Russian invasion will start to look a bit silly.”
When the invasion finally came, Lieven did not stop to acknowledge who it was that now looked silly, but he did condemn it in clear terms before proceeding to suggest the outline of a negotiated settlement in which Ukraine would cede substantial territory and a bit of sovereignty.
Finally, once the war was underway, two other Quincy authors, Matthew Burrows and Christopher Preble, chimed in airily that “one way or another, the Russian war in Ukraine will wind down” and the really important thing was to avert “a new Cold War between Russia and the West.” In other words, Ukraine’s cities could end up resembling Grozny after Putin finished suppressing the Chechen uprising, but then we could move on.
If the stance of the isolationist Quincy Institute as well as that of the left was to be expected, the response on the right was less predictable, but here, too, Putin found apologists. Foremost among them was Donald Trump. In the first two days after Putin announced diplomatic recognition of the two breakaway “people’s republics” in Donbas, Trump several times called it “smart” and “genius” that Russian troops were going in as “peacekeepers.” He gushed that Putin is “very savvy,” although his words of admiration stopped short of directly endorsing or defending Putin’s action.
Indeed, characteristically, he added that the invasion wouldn’t have happened if he were president. He didn’t explain why that would have been so, beyond sneering that Biden “has no concept of what he’s doing.” Would he have mollified Putin? After all, he had recently recalled aloud that he “got along great with President Putin,” and said, “I liked him. He liked me.” Or would Putin have been afraid of him? He had once boasted of having a bigger “nuclear button” than Kim Jong Un (before he and Kim “fell in love”). Credulous admirers were left to fill in their own scenarios.
Within a week, however, as, at home and abroad, a near-consensus of indignation at Russian actions crystallized, and Ukrainians heroically stalled Russia’s advance, Trump switched the script. He branded the Russian rampage a “holocaust” and demanded that it stop. Then he claimed that the Ukrainians were able to hold off the invaders because of weapons that he had provided them.
General Mike Flynn, Trump’s first appointed national security adviser, spoke more coherently than Trump and defended Putin entirely:
Russia has…one core concern… . If Ukraine were admitted into NATO…the Russians understand that would likely result in nuclear weapons being placed at its doorstep—closer to Russia than Cuba is to the United States.…If president John Kennedy was justified in risking war to prevent nuclear missiles from being installed in Cuba in 1961, then why exactly is Russian president Vladimir Putin being reckless in risking war to prevent NATO weapons from being installed in Ukraine in 2022? Would any great nation allow the development of such a threat on its border?
Another former Trump aide, now a social-media figure with a large following, Candace Owens, took a similar stance:
I suggest every American who wants to know what’s *actually* going on in Russia and Ukraine, read this transcript of Putin’s address. As I’ve said for month [sic]—NATO (under direction from the United States) is violating previous agreements and expanding eastward. WE are at fault.
Various Trump acolytes in the media adopted similar positions. As Christopher Roach suggested on the website American Greatness: A war of some kind has been going on for eight years in Ukraine. “While the West is now hyper-focused on the Russian invasion…the people of Donetsk have been shelled nearly every day by Ukrainian forces since 2014,” he wrote. “As Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman described the matter, the war began eight years ago and Russia is ending it.” Drew Allen, another contributor, did not condone the Russians but proposed that Biden might be complicit. The president’s warnings that a Russian invasion was imminent, said Allen, “began to sound more like a wish.” He elaborated:
We know that the Democrats are using this conflict to escape blame for their policies, which are ruining the American economy. We know Biden has failed to prevent a Russian invasion. But the question remains: is Biden simply taking advantage of a crisis or did Biden have a role in creating the crisis?
In the American Conservative, Patrick J. Buchanan explained:
When Russia’s Vladimir Putin demanded that the U.S. rule out Ukraine as a future member of the NATO alliance, the U.S. archly replied: NATO has an open-door policy… . Russia—believing its back is against a wall and the United States, by moving NATO ever closer to Russia’s borders, put it there—reached the point where it chose war with Ukraine rather than the accept the fate the West had in store for it.
Also in that publication, Rod Dreher saw an interesting analogy: “As a great power, Russia claims a right to secure, peaceful, and friendly borders, free of military alliances designed to circumscribe, contain and control it. And the protests that Moscow is making are not without validity?” Dreher likened the possibility of Ukraine’s joining NATO to the 1917 Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany invited Mexico to ally against the United States in World War I.
Dreher made an additional point that illustrated the connection between the passions of the populist right on various domestic issues and their temptation to view America’s foreign adversaries with sympathy. “I adamantly oppose risking the lives of boys from Louisiana and Alabama to make the Donbas safe for genderqueers and migrants.” This thought was generalized by Scott McConnell, a founder of Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, who tweeted that he was put in mind of Muhammed Ali’s quip about refusing the draft: “No Viet Cong ever called me a n—-r.” (The quip is apocryphal.) Turning upside down the patriotic American tradition that politics stops at the water’s edge, McConnell’s tweet suggested that opponents in disputes over domestic issues warrant more passionate antipathy than our country’s foreign enemies. This balance of values seemed to run through much of the Trumpist right.
At David Horowitz’s website Frontpage, Robert Spencer quoted Putin’s declaration of war: “In December 2021 we once again made an attempt to agree with the United States and its allies on the principles of ensuring security in Europe and on the non-expansion of NATO. Everything was in vain. The US position did not change.” Then Spencer offered this gloss:
If this is an accurate summation of what happened, and there is no reason to believe that it isn’t, then…the questions must be asked: was it really necessary to begin maneuvering to incorporate Ukraine into NATO, and to ignore all Russian entreaties. . ? Were State Department officials too preoccupied with implementing the woke agenda to bother to negotiate with Putin over NATO?
The most baroque of these apologetics for Putin appeared in Tablet, of all places, from the pen of Lee Smith. His account is filled with dark insinuations about conspiracies and covert machinations in which the main victims are Russia, Putin, and Trump, the secondary victims are the dying Ukrainians, and the villains are U.S. security officials. “It was Americans that put [Ukrainian soldiers] in harm’s way by using their country as a weapon, first against Russia and then against each other [i.e., against Trump],” Smith wrote. He elaborated:
Putin…finds the U.S. government’s relationship with Ukraine genuinely threatening. That’s because for nearly two decades, the U.S. national security establishment…has used Ukraine as an instrument to destabilize Russia, and specifically to target Putin. [It was secretly behind] two separate, destructive coups: the first, in 2014, targeting the government of Ukraine, and the second, starting two years later, the government of the United States.
“And that,” confides Smith, “was only the beginning.” He explains:
Just as Russiagate seemed to be coming to a close in July 2019, U.S. national security officials injected yet another Ukraine-related narrative into the public sphere to target the American president… . [When it was learned that] Trump had asked the Ukrainian president for information regarding allegations about the Biden family’s corrupt activities in Kiev, [U.S. officials panicked]. In order to cover up for what the Bidens…had done in Ukraine, a Democratic Congress impeached Trump for trying to figure out what American policymakers had been doing in Ukraine over the past decade. As for the Ukrainians, they again put themselves in the middle of it, when they should have stayed home… . The 2020 election victory of Joe Biden… . can have done little to quiet Putin’s sense that Ukraine needed to be put in its place before it was used yet again as a weapon against him.
The most dramatic and demagogic Putin apologist appeared not in print but on screen, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who is said to boast an audience second to none. In 2019, when the conflict between Russia and Ukraine became entangled in U.S. presidential politics, leading to Trump’s first impeachment, Carlson had announced that he was “rooting for Russia.” This year, the day Putin announced recognition of the Donbas “people’s republics,” paving the way to pouring his forces across the border two days later, Carlson devoted his show to the subject. He began his monologue with these remarks:
Since the day that Donald Trump became president, Democrats in Washington have told you it’s your patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate. Anything less than hatred for Putin is treason. Many Americans have obeyed this directive. They now dutifully hate Vladimir Putin. Maybe you’re one of them. Hating Putin has become the central purpose of America’s foreign policy.
Why? Carlson and Lee Smith offered similar explanations, but they spoke to disparate audiences. Smith’s version was aimed at the cognoscenti, Carlson’s at the man in the street. Carlson offered this tutorial:
The main thing to know about Ukraine for our purposes is that its leaders once sent millions of dollars to Joe Biden’s family. Not surprisingly, Ukraine is now one of Biden’s favorite countries. Biden has pledged to defend Ukraine’s borders….
How will this conflict affect you? It will affect you quite a bit, actually. Energy prices in the United States are about to go way up, and that means that everything you buy will become much more expensive.…You’re about to become measurably poorer…. It seems like a pretty terrible deal for you and for the United States. Hunter Biden gets a million dollars a year from Ukraine, but you can no longer afford to go out to dinner.
Carlson topped this off with an interview with Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by appealing to the party’s peacenik wing and who now has made herself a darling of the Conservative Political Action Committee, a daredevil leap from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Gabbard took Carlson’s common-man shtick to a whole new level, limning a nightmare scenario. Economic sanctions, she said, “are not going to cost [Biden] or Kamala Harris or the power elite in this country [or] even the power elite in Russia; it is the people who will suffer.” What’s more,
Putin…will respond, and it’s likely he’ll retaliate, using cyberattacks on our financial systems, our communication systems, [and] our basic infrastructure. Biden will then be forced to respond.…We end up in this endless tit for tat that leads [to the] likelihood of this thing going nuclear.
And then, she served up a “pretty terrible deal” even worse than the one Carlson had sketched:
If there is a nuclear attack, the power elite…are going to go hide in their bunkers [where] they’ll have their shelter…their food and water and everything that they need [while] you and I and the American people, we will be left out… to suffer and deal with that destruction and death.
As the war has put on display a stunning contrast of Russian viciousness and Ukrainian valor, the global and American consensus of sympathy for Ukraine has crystallized further. What motivates the voices to the contrary? The left has long nurtured an anti-war reflex that entails aversion to all robust measures when interstate interests clash. This is coupled with the idea that the American system, as an avatar of capitalism and systemic racism, is inherently malign. Therefore, as Jeane Kirkpatrick put it nearly 40 years back, “they always blame America first.”
The ideological isolationists don’t share the anti-capitalist views of the left, but they do share the left’s contempt for America. The Trumpist right is harder to understand. Its adherents like to identify themselves with the moniker “patriots.” But their passions focus powerfully on disputes with other Americans rather than those between our country and current or potential adversaries.
The arguments brought by these camps are mostly flimsy, at best. Their most plausible one was that Putin is genuinely afraid of NATO and wants only to keep Ukraine from joining it. If true, it was in any case nonsensical: NATO does not threaten Russia and has never threatened it. Even in Cold War days, it was entirely a defensive alliance, with its forces configured and designed for defense, while those of the Warsaw Pact were the opposite. Adding Ukraine to NATO would not change this a whit. Perhaps Putin does not believe this, but as his speech recognizing the Donbas “people’s republics,” and in effect launching his war, made clear, his possessive thoughts toward Ukraine go much deeper: “It is,” he said, “an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.” Putting deeds to words, the actions of his armies make clear that their goal is to conquer that space, not merely to coerce a promise to eschew NATO.
Thus far, pace Trump, Putin’s war appears to have been anything but a “savvy” stroke of “genius.” The Ukrainians are suffering terribly although heroically. Putin has his apologists, but decent people everywhere hope that he will end up suffering terribly, too.
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