1. NATO Enlargement
NATO has been antagonizing Russia since the 1990’s with their push to expand eastward to Russia’s border. Russian leaders heavily opposed the 1999 and 2004 admittance of Eastern European countries into NATO and threatened consequences if NATO makes moves on other countries on their border. (Estonia and Latvia border Russia and were admitted into NATO in 2004. Russia opposed but because they were small countries they were willing to deal with it.) Despite the opposition, the alliance issued a statement endorsing the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and boldly declared, “These countries will become members of NATO.” Alexander Grushko, then Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, “Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have most serious consequences for pan-European security.” In response, Putin invaded Georgia that August and Russian forces took control of two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the Georgian President was planning to reincorporate into his country.
Moscow had made its point. Yet despite this clear warning, NATO never publicly abandoned its goal of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance. In fact, NATO expansion continued marching forward, with Albania and Croatia becoming members in 2009.
2. EU Expansion
In 2008 the EU unveiled a program to foster prosperity in such countries as Ukraine and integrate them into the EU economy. Not surprisingly, Russian leaders viewed the plan as hostile to their country’s interests. And in the eyes of Russian leaders, EU expansion is just a gateway for NATO expansion.
3. Democracy Promotion
Russian leaders have made it clear that they would not stand idly by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. But in 2014 the United States illegally overthrew Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president. Putin responded by annexing Crimea (which he did through a Crimean Parliament vote) a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base.
Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly.
Russia is a powerhouse and they view democracy as an enemy, no matter how right Western leaders think democracy is. Ukraine is on Russia’s doorstep but the West has kept acting like it is entitled to it. Professor of Political Science John J. Mearsheimer wrote in his article called The Ukraine Crisis Is The West’s Fault, “Great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on their borders.”
What if China were to build an impressive military alliance with Canada and Mexico? Would the U.S. tolerate that? They certainly did not let Cuba form a military alliance with Cuba in 1963 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So why would the Russians think any different about Ukraine forming a military alliance with the West? “The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play,” Mearsheimer writes.
Some people argue Putin has been waiting for the right moment to invade Ukraine because he wants it back under Russian rule due to their shared history. Weak Western leadership and Russia having the upper hand in energy, gave Putin that “right Moment”. But by assuming that is Putin’s core motivation, people are missing the other factors that play a major role in his decision to invade.
While most Western leaders and the media portray Putin as being irrational and the “bad guy,” some even comparing him to Hitler, Mearsheimer says, “Although Putin has autocratic tendencies, no evidence supports the charge that he is mentally unbalanced. On the contrary: he is a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy.”
The mainstream media and the majority of the world’s leaders—even most conservatives—claim Putin’s invasion of Russia indicates he plans on taking over all the countries that were previously under the Soviet Union. That claim is simply illogical and holds no validity by looking at the facts. Especially when Putin clearly warned the West that they will face consequences if they keep trying to include Ukraine into NATO. He also said himself that his intentions are simply to “demilitarize” Ukraine. (I am not indicating that I approve of how he does this or the innocent lives killed) This invasion is not something new. Putin invaded Georgia over basically the same reasons 14 years ago.
Ukraine is a huge expanse of land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia. It has always served as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. The West has overplayed its hand and Putin says he has had enough. And according to Mearsheimer, that land is so important to Russia that they will defend it at all costs, even if it means a nuclear war.
The real question is, why are Western leaders willing to start a nuclear war over a piece of land that is not a vital strategic interest for the West? What interests could they possibly have in Ukraine?