It has been over two weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Although it is not certain what the exact count of casualties is, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier put the number somewhere between 2,000–4,000 KIA Russian soldiers, despite being uncertain of the actual number. On March 10, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported a total of 1,506 civilian casualties, with 549 of those being deaths and 41 of those deaths being children. On top of this, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees counted a total of 2,316,002 refugees fleeing Ukraine. Despite all of this, the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, continues to stand tall, unconquered. Unfortunately, this is subject to change due to Putin’s method of “let’s throw everything at them.” In short, this is a huge humanitarian crisis, with many Ukrainians feeling heartbroken and angry about the state of their country.
But why would Putin invade a sovereign nation with which Russia has a large amount of shared culture and history? To be honest, there is much speculation as to why exactly Russia has gone to war against Ukraine. According to BBC News, Putin has claimed that the purpose of his mission is to protect the Ukrainian people from their country’s bullying and genocide and to go about the “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. Ukraine is a democracy, not a military regime. Simply put, Putin is likely still upset that his pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was thrown out of office in 2014 due to months of protests.
Another concern that Putin alleges is Ukraine joining NATO, which is the North Atlantic Trade Organization. This is unlikely because, since 2010, the country has merely flirted with the idea of joining NATO and has made no progress towards that end. The closest they have come is when ex-President Petro Poroshenko signed a constitutional amendment that agreed that Ukraine would seek membership both in the EU and NATO in 2019. After signing this, Poroshenko admitted that Ukraine was a “long way” from being accepted into NATO considering the criteria. As an expert in transatlantic relations and a former international security officer, Stanley Sloane articulated that, “the feeling was, and probably still has been, that Ukraine hadn’t completely taken care of political corruption, that it was still developing its democracy. So there were some formal reasons why the Alliance could say that Ukraine was not ready yet to join the Alliance.”
A far more realistic reason behind the Russian invasion is Putin’s mission to re-establish a Russian empire. This theory relies on Putin’s pro-Soviet Union outlook. In 2021, Putin described the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union as “historic, strategic mistakes on the part of Bolshevik and Soviet Leader.” To Putin, Russia and Ukraine are “one nation,” and therefore, Ukraine is not a sovereign nation and is rightfully Russia’s property. As a former KGB agent, the U.S.S.R.’s equivalent to the CIA, it is not difficult to accept that Putin truly believes in Soviet supremacy.
This attack is not an unexpected one. Putin has been attempting to reunify the Soviet Union for quite some time. In 2008, Putin invaded Georgia, another ex-Soviet country, and later in 2014, he invaded Crimea, also an ex-Soviet territory. But at that time, it was under the protection of Ukraine. Despite these blatant attacks, the West was extremely lenient on Putin. President Bush did next to nothing, and President Obama focused on a “Russian Reset,” which sought to charm Moscow with “win-win” initiatives like curbing Iran’s nuclear program. With the 2014 invasion of Crimea, Obama promised to isolate Russia, but instead secured the Minsk Agreements with Russia, which had the goal of normalizing the two rebel states within Ukraine, the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.
These docile U.S. reactions to previous aggressive military tactics could very well have led to Putin’s belief that the U.S., and therefore the West, was nothing more than a paper tiger. After Biden’s recent Afghanistan debacle, Putin must have believed he could get away with this with nothing more than a mere slap on the wrist. Former President Donald Trump agreed with Putin in the belief that Russia’s punishment would be moderate, stating that, “The problem is not that Putin is smart, which, of course, he’s smart. The problem is that our leaders are dumb… and so far, allowed him to get away with this travesty and assault on humanity.” Historically speaking, no one can blame Trump for making this assumption for which he, of course, was crucified by mainstream media.
It seems important to note here that Russia invaded under the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and now the Biden administration. The only administration missing from this 21st-century list is the Trump administration. It is quite possible that Trump’s foreign policy strategy of unpredictability contributed to this. He played a tough leader, especially when it came to foreign policy. Trump’s administration enacted 52 policy actions, with 15 of those being sanctions against Putin, including those in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.
In conclusion, Vladimir Putin is on the march to reunify the Soviet Union, or perhaps, as he claims, to exterminate the Nazi tendencies of the Ukrainian Jewish President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (2003–2006) John E. Herbst stated regarding Putin, “His ambitions are not limited to Ukraine.” First, it was Georgia, then Crimea, now it’s Ukraine — when will it stop? Will the West’s sanctions pay off in the end and cease the Russian march forward? Only time will tell.
Victoria Foley is a fourth-year Political Science major with a minor in Politics, Law, & Society. VF964426@wcupa.edu