Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Some Context

I wrote this on February 25th 2022, just as Russia was beginning its invasion of Ukraine. It was in reply to a cousin who'd asked me what I thought was going on. So it's just a list of points. Some context. No attempt to write well. And none of it justifies the invasion/war.

If you look at the context, you see it's not coming all out of the blue. Putin hasn't gone insane, and he's not doing anything US Presidents don't and wouldn't do. If people keep that in mind, they're less likely to freak out and call for the kinds of responses that might lead to nuclear war.

* It was the Soviet Union that divided Ukraine and Russia up into republics with pretty much the borders they have now. So that's almost recent history (1917).

* The eastern side of Ukraine, as well as Crimea, have ethnic Russian majorities. Basically because the Soviet Union divided its territories up that way.

* NATO was formed as a military alliance against the Soviet Union. A quote from NATO's first Secretary General about NATO's purpose: to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.

* At the very start of the '90s when the Berlin Wall came down, Germany was allowed to reunify, and the Soviet Union ended (pretty much peacefully), it was all a bit of a surprise. (I remember seeing tanks on TV, and expecting something terrible to happen.)

* It turns out there's something important that didn't get a lot of public attention. (Actually, I don't know if it got any at all, or exactly when it was made public.) But there was an agreement made between Gorbachev, the US, and NATO. The agreement allowed Germany to reunify peacefully, on the condition that NATO would not expand any further toward Russia than Germany.

* Since then, NATO has continued expanding towards Russia (adding about 13 countries, IIRC). Even though the USSR's gone, and Russia's politics and economics are entirely different.

* In 1994, under the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons on the condition that the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, China, and France would defend Ukraine's sovereignty.

* Basically right now everyone's doing exactly the opposite of that. What the signatories should be doing is what they promised: cooperating to make sure Ukraine is a safe, sovereign, un-messed-up place, instead of playing chess-for-psychopaths with it. (And to allow that, the NATO countries need to stop fucking things up for Ukraine.)

* Russia actually asked to join NATO (sometime around the late '90s I think), to remove the confrontational dynamic. But that wasn't allowed to happen.

* In 1997, Russia, NATO, and the US signed a treaty promising that NATO troops and nuclear weapons would not be stationed in eastern Europe. NATO and the US have broken that treaty.

* Ukraine's the last buffer between NATO and Russia. If Ukraine joined NATO, there'd be NATO and US troops, bases, and missiles all the way along Russia's borders with the rest of Europe.

* Fossil fuels. (Ugh.) It was recently discovered that Ukraine has large oil reserves (both on land and in the Black Sea near Crimea), although it lacks the economic clout to access it without outside assistance. I expect Russia will not want to compete with Ukraine for fossil fuel export, and would prefer to profit from that oil itself.

* Ukraine's economy's a bit shit. It could look for support from either the west or the east. (Why not both? You'd think the Budapest Memorandum might've hinted at cooperation all around, but… no.) And so…

* In 2014, the government of Ukraine — which was looking for closer relations with Russia — was overthrown by a US-backed coup following months of work to destabilise the country. (Yes, the US meddling in Ukrainian and Russian politics — right down to which individuals should form Ukraine's new government.) The coup followed the massacre of Euromaidan protesters. The massacre, at first blamed on the government (thus enabling the coup), was carried out by far-right ultra-nationalist thugs. A revolution, a coup, and a horrible disaster all at once.

* One result was ethnic Russian seperatists in eastern Ukraine (the Donbas) opposed to the new government, which they saw as illegitimate, declaring themselves republics (the Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples' Republics), and getting support from Russia's government. Considering the circumstances, it's hardly surprising they felt disenfranchised.

* Another result was a shit-ton of tension and violence, and rising nationalism. (Both Russia and Ukraine have a problem with ultra-nationalist thugs and Nazi pricks. And the US quite likes using that kind of person to stir things up.)

Image: John McCain with Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of Ukraine's far-right Svoboda Party, at the Maidan in 2013.

* Things to look up if you're curious about ultra-nationalist pricks in Ukraine: S14 and Yevhen Karas, the Azov Regiment (more detail), the Aidar Volunteer Battalion, Ukraine's Svoboda party, Andriy Biletsky, Stepan Bandera (…and oh look! here's Bandera popping up in the office of charming Ukrainian mayor Artem Semenikhin, and here's an article about Artem himself).

* Neo-Nazis are influential in Ukraine's government, law enforcement, and military, despite Zelensky's early efforts. A 2019 article in "The Nation" is pretty shocking:

There are neo-Nazi pogroms against the Roma, rampant attacks on feminists and LGBT groups, book bans, and state-sponsored glorification of Nazi collaborators.


Post-Maidan Ukraine is the world's only nation to have a neo-Nazi formation in its armed forces. The Azov Battalion was initially formed out of the neo-Nazi gang Patriot of Ukraine. Andriy Biletsky, the gang’s leader who became Azov's commander, once wrote that Ukraine's mission is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade… against the Semite-led Untermenschen. Biletsky is now a deputy in Ukraine’s parliament.

And from a 2014 BBC World News article:

[The] question of the presence of the far-right in Ukraine remains a highly sensitive issue, one which top officials and the media shy away from. No-one wants to provide fuel to the Russian propaganda machine.

But this blanket denial also has its dangers, since it allows the ultra-nationalists to fly under the radar. Many Ukrainians are unaware that they exist, or even what a neo-Nazi or fascist actually is, or what they stand for.


Ukraine's public is grossly under-informed about this. The question is, why doesn't anyone want to tell them?

* According to the UN, something like 13,500 people have been killed in fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russian seperatists in the Donbas since 2014, with most of the dead being ethnic Russians.

* Personally, I don't believe Ukraine's neo-Nazi problem has a lot to do with Putin's invasion — but he does use it as a pretext, and has probably intentionally exacerbated it over the years with that intent. (I think the real reason's more to do with NATO/US expansion, along with fossil fuel politics. As a bonus, I expect Putin's hoping to renew/strengthen his support within Russia in a couple of ways — e.g. by being the "strong man", and by defending Russian conservatism from perceived western moral decay… you know: taking advantage of popular chauvinistic and nationalistic attitudes.)

* Russia's government has exacerbated the violence, allowing/sending in funding, weapons, thugs/agents/soldiers, etc., to support the separatists, and by pushing its own propaganda.

* The US, too, has exacerbated the violence: funding and sending weapons into Ukraine over the past eight years.

Now, back to NATO…

* The US has somewhere between 800 and 1000 military bases around the world, and it's no secret they're into political meddling, illegal invasions, wars, and occupations. (Putin or not, it doesn't feel unreasonable to me that Russia would feel threatened by the prospect of NATO and US troops, bases, and missiles all along its borders. That'd be like Canada or Mexico inviting Russia or China to put troops and missiles along their borders with the US, or like the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.)

* Although Ukraine isn't officially part of NATO, it does work closely with NATO military operations. Ukraine's been described as a de facto member of NATO.

* Russia sees this NATO encroachment, along with the US-backed coup in Ukraine, as provocative. That's what led to the annexation of Crimea — it happened just after the 2014 coup. Russia and Ukraine had shared naval bases there since the Soviet era, so it's a strategically important place.

* Also important to note a bit of Crimea's history. (It's messy.) Until the 1900s it had a high Tartar population. The Soviets deported/killed huge numbers of Crimea's Tartars and others. In 1954, Khrushchev "gifted" Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. (IIRC, Crimea's Tartar population's about 11% now, ethnic Ukrainians are around 15%, ethnic Russians around 68%.)

* Ukraine's government has put in place discriminatory policies that many of Ukraine's ethnic minorities are not thrilled about. For example, regional laws affecting language use, and a push to ban the Russian Orthodox Church.

* France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia signed the Minsk Agreements in 2014 and 2015 to help sort this shit out. The agreements allowed more autonomy for the Donbas. (There were referenda — not legally arranged or accepted — that suggested a lot of people wanted autonomy from central government without leaving Ukraine.)

* Ukraine hasn't kept to its part of the Minsk agreements, and France and Germany haven't been putting any pressure on Ukraine's government to do so. And it seems pretty clear that Putin's government has been actively "unhelpful" (…encouraging thugs, violence, propaganda, etc.).

* [Update 2022-04-13: According to Former NATO intelligence officer Jaques Baud (interview): In 2021, the Ukrainian government started talking about militarily taking back Crimea and the Donbas. At the beginning of February 2022 there was a large buildup of Ukrainian military in southern and eastern Ukraine, including an increase in shelling on the Donbas region.]

* On February 19th 2022, the Ukrainian government suggested it might consider nuclear arms if the countries participating in the Budapest Memorandum don't get their shit together and provide Ukraine with the security guarantees they promised.

* And now it's late February 2022 and we have Russia announcing recognition of the Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples' Republics, and moving in to do "peace-keeping". And it looks like there's been military violence done by Russia in other parts of Ukraine as well. (I'm not clear on what's happening; I'm guessing it's to make an immediate Ukrainian military response more difficult.)

* I don't think much more "invasion" type stuff is going to happen. But I'm guessing that depends on the US and NATO. They need to butt out, or I think we're all cooked.

* (But yes: we're already cooked because climate change, and our glorious leaders ignoring that. Hurrah.)

Couple of misc notes

* Russia and Germany have a deal to open a gas pipeline (it's already been built — it's just waiting to open), called "Nord Stream 2". The US is dead-set against it. OTOH, Germany and others will struggle for energy without it. That'll prolly affect decisions about escalations of conflict / who cooperates with what. (No comment needed from me about fossil fuels though :p )

* Unless I'm mistaken, a new country can only join NATO if all the other NATO members are in favour of it, and on the condition that there's no international disagreement involving that country's borders at the time it joins. So Ukraine can't actually join NATO: not all NATO members want it, and there's an obvious international disagreement about borders that'd have to be solved first. (And this suggests that Ukraine remaining neutral and everyone taking the Budapest Memorandum seriously are things it makes sense for our glorious leaders to have to sit down and make happen.)

* Russia and China are getting on fine. The US government is mad, but I don't think it's quite mad enough to start a war with either one, because that'd be a war with both. (But the US is crumbling and might become more random on the way out, so there's that.)

* I don't think Putin has any interest at all in expanding Russia beyond Crimea and the Donbas. I mean, none of this would be happening without the US and NATO poking at things.

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