There is a part of the Russia-Ukraine thing that I understand and a large part of it that I don’t understand at all.
First of all, by way of background, we should acknowledge that Ukraine has been in the Russian orbit for most of its existence. Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, and didn’t declare its independence until 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Subsequently, Ukraine and others signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which Ukraine essentially traded its substantial nuclear stockpile (amassed during the Soviet days) for the security of its borders. The major nuclear powers of the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States were all signatories to that agreement. (Both China and France gave somewhat weaker individual assurances in separate documents.)
The Part I Understand
The part of the Putin’s unhappiness with Ukraine that I understand is the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. Imagine, if you will, that Ireland wanted to join a military alliance with Russia. How would the United Kingdom feel about it?
Probably not so good.
Putin, and many of his fellow Russians feel that the Ukranians, as fellow Slavs, are practically “brothers.” Many Ukranians beg to differ. It’s how the Irish feel about the English. They may be close, ethnically speaking, but they also feel very much apart.
Now, Putin has said that the break-up of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest mistakes in history, and it’s clear that he’s trying to patch much of it back together. Not surprisingly, states that now have won their independence — especially the old Balkan states — aren’t at all enthused about rejoining the former monolith. Ukraine isn’t enthused either.
All that his threatening Ukraine has accomplished so far is to drive Ukraine further into the arms of the West. It’s probably increased the chances that Ukraine would join NATO, so that it can defend itself from the big bully.
The Part I Don’t Understand
Putin has already bitten off the Crimean Peninsula. That happened, as people may remember, back in 2014. One would have thought that would have been enough. Crimea does have a larger Russian speaking population than their Ukrainian speaking population, and at least a substantial portion of the population actually wanted to reunite with Russia. (How many it really was is hard to know, since the plebiscites that they ran were totally unreliable and untrustworthy.)
So why is Putin wanting to invade Ukraine now?
You’d think he would have wanted to invade it back when Trump was still President. We all know that Trump wouldn’t have objected to Russia taking Ukraine.
And we all know that both Russia and the West can hurt each other. The Russians can really hurt the West Europeans, and especially the Germans, by shutting off the supply of their oil and natural gas (although the Russians would really hurt their own finances by doing so). The West and the United States could really hurt the Russians by exclude the Russians from the international banking system. The Russians (as they’ve already proven) could hurt us with their cyberattacks. (I imagine we could hurt them in similar ways, although we don’t know to what extent we’ve penetrated their systems).
But again, why is Putin wanting to invade Ukraine now?
There is, I suppose, a small chance that Putin doesn’t invade. But it seems small. He’s already amassed all the troops that he needs, and everyone agrees that he could take Kiev in a couple of days. He could then install a puppet regime. However, holding on to Ukraine might prove to be more difficult than Putin has anticipated. (See The Troubles in Northern Ireland, if you don’t know what I mean.)