Stand with Ukraine? We should stand with the people of Ukraine: civilians – Russian and Ukrainian alike – that are caught in the middle of this geopolitical power grab. While most of the world is coming to the side of Ukraine (and rightfully so), Ukraine’s leadership since gaining independence in 1991 has proven to be questionable. In 2018, according to Transparency International (TI), Ukraine was the second most corrupt country in Europe.
Russia was the initial aggressor in terms of armed combat in the current battle, but it was debatably inevitable given the procurement of buildup. For many years, influence over the sovereign state of Ukraine has been a battle between the West (America) and Russia.
Post World War I, the animosity and humiliation created from the Treaty of Versailles acted as a grassroots that developed into yet another war of a similar magnitude. Shutting someone off from the rest of the world and expecting them not to retaliate is ill-planning. Such a result is fundamental to human nature. That's precisely why America implemented the Marshal plan to aid recovery following World War II.
However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no ease in the transition for Russia's interests. Influences and alliances with NATO continued to push more eastward in a unipolar effort. In 2014, Putin addressed this issue at a meeting in July, "We do not intend to end our relations with the US, though it is true that our bilateral relations are not at the best stage now. However, it is so not because of us, it is not Russia's fault."
As Mikhail Gorbachev also said in an article in 2016, "This all began when 'the victory of the West' in the Cold War was proclaimed. Our shared victory in the cold war was declared a triumph of one side only, which now thinks that 'everything is permitted.' This is the root from which today's global interest has sprung."
This is a large change from the early years after the fall of the USSR, when Manfred Worner expressed his interests to not hurt relationships with Russia in 1994, "the time has come to open a more concrete perspective to those countries of Central and Eastern Europe which want to join NATO and which we may consider eligible for future membership ... Even if there are no immediate plans to enlarge NATO, such a move would increase the stability of the whole of Europe and be in the interest of all nations, including Russia and Ukraine."
Just four years following, in 1998, US Congress voted to expand NATO into Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. A decision that Tom Friedman, a New York Times columnist, deemed the "beginning of a new cold war". Putin did not instantly see this as a threat though; instead, he had his own aspirations to join the alliance.
In an address in late February of last year, he shared such previous desires. "Moreover, I will say something I have never said publicly. I will say it now for the first time. When then outgoing US President Bill Clinton visited Moscow in 2000, I asked him how America would feel about admitting Russia to NATO. I will not reveal all the details of that conversation, but the reaction to the question was, let us say, quite restrained, and the Americans' true attitude to that possibility can actually be seen from their subsequent steps with regard to our country. I am referring to the overt support of terrorists in the North Caucasus, the disregard for our security demands and concerns, NATO's continued expansion, withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and so on. It raises the question: Why? What is this all about, what is the purpose? All right, you do not want to see us as friends or allies, but why make us an enemy?"
To further contextualize this narrative into the focus of Ukraine, Putin wrote an essay in July 2021, "The Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians." Therein, he explained his belief of Ukrainians and Russians as one people and his take on the course that has divided the two nations over the years. While accepting part responsibility for the actions of Moscow, he also attributed other factors to "deliberate efforts" from the West.
This continued expansion of western influence, which is packed in tightly with NATO alliances, has only shown to be a progressive threat and pit the whole of Europe against Russia. With Ukraine being a vital partner to Russia, if they were to join NATO or completely sever ties, this would put Russia in a much more vulnerable position. Additionally, other than acting as a buffer zone, if Russia takes control of the region, water, energy and access to the Black Sea are also tremendous resources Russia would be able to utilize. Ukraine holds the second-largest known oil reserves in Europe, with Russia having the biggest.
Later in the essay, he also shared the amount of support he has given to the region, "You want to establish a state of your own: you are welcome! But what are the terms? I will recall the assessment given by one of the most prominent political figures of new Russia, first mayor of Saint Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak. As a legal expert who believed that every decision must be legitimate, in 1992, he shared the following opinion: The republics that were founders of the Union, having denounced the 1922 Union Treaty, must return to the boundaries they had had before joining the Soviet Union. All other territorial acquisitions are subject to discussion, negotiations, given that the ground has been revoked.
"In other words, when you leave, take what you brought with you. This logic is hard to refute. I will just say that the Bolsheviks had embarked on reshaping boundaries even before the Soviet Union, manipulating with territories to their liking, in disregard of people's views.
"The Russian Federation recognized the new geopolitical realities: and not only recognized, but, indeed, did a lot for Ukraine to establish itself as an independent country. Throughout the difficult 1990s and in the new millennium, we have provided considerable support to Ukraine. Whatever political arithmetic of its own Kiev may wish to apply, in 1991–2013, Ukraine's budget savings amounted to more than USD 82 billion, while today, it holds on to the mere USD 1.5 billion of Russian payments for gas transit to Europe. If economic ties between our countries had been retained, Ukraine would enjoy the benefit of tens of billions of dollars."
When Ukraine joined the Soviet Union, the state only contained a portion of what it is today. Russia provided significant development and expansion for the region and even continued aid after the fall. Ukraine accepted everything gladly but at the same time began receiving more support and influence from the West and NATO. Countries and an organization that works deliberately in opposition to the interests of Russia.
Transpiring for years, the invasion is Putin's course of affirming that he will no longer allow this unipolar world-spread cultivation to subside his global influence. He's made it clear that he does not agree with Western ideology and is willing to order the killing of innocent lives as he presses forward with his unprovoked invasion into Ukraine.