Oppression in 20th Century Ukraine:
Throughout the 20th century, Ukraine has been inadvertently involved in several international conflicts. From 1932-1933 in the USSR, more than 3 million people died from famine in Ukraine, engineered by Stalin’s collectivization. During WWII, 5 million were killed as Nazis preserved the collective-farm system, systematically carried out genocidal policies against Jews, and deported many Ukrainians to forced labour in Germany. And in 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, causing a disaster that contaminated large areas of northern Ukraine as well as parts of Belarus.
After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine became independent, but remained somewhat in between the West and Russia. In 1994, Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from the United States and Russia. Then, in 2014, after the government’s failure to cooperate with the EU, the February revolution occurred, placing a more “Western” administration in power. Also in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and also facilitated Russian separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine, which has an ethnic Russian majority.
Putin’s Rationale Against NATO:
During the Cold War, NATO and the Warsaw Pact Organization understandably had significant tension. However, in the 1990s, Putin alleges that NATO promised not to expand eastward into former Soviet states. Putin claims that this, along with NATO’s increasing assertiveness and Ukraine’s domination by the West, among other reasons, have justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As stated, Putin claims that NATO agreed not to expand into former Soviet territory, such as Hungary and Romania. However, in formal documents and agreements, there were no explicit promises made to not expand eastward. And although the United States may have been eager to admit new members into NATO, independent states like Poland and Czechia had willingly voiced their decision to join. Such sentiment was unsurprising, as states located between Germany and Russia have experienced significant oppression (like with Napoleon, WWI Empires, the Nazis, and the USSR), which NATO ascension will prevent.
Secondly, Putin sees NATO as not, as claimed by Article V, a purely defensive alliance. Citing their involvement in the bombing of Kosovo and the ousting of the Gedaffi regime in Libya, Putin claims that NATO should not overextend its authority in such a manner. However, NATO was involved for humanitarian reasons, not to advance their own objectives.
Thirdly, Putin asserts that NATO is a political and cultural project that compels member states to become “Western,” meaning more liberal and democratic. However, NATO does not actively expand membership and only accepts countries that are already democratic.
In regards to Ukraine, Putin justifies the war by saying Ukraine is not a real country and that it has been hijacked by the West and taken over by Neo-Nazis, even though Zelensky is Jewish.