A COUPLE of weeks ago I asked who is really to blame for the war in Ukraine, and referred to the American political scientist who has long argued that pushing to expand Nato eastward and establishing friendly relations with Ukraine increased the likelihood of war between nuclear-armed powers. In an interview with the New Yorker John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, explained that in his view this had laid the groundwork for Vladimir Putin’s aggressive position toward Ukraine; and that ‘the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for this crisis’.
Now he has published a more detailed chronological analysis of the series of events which Putin would have seen as provocation, and why the West is principally responsible for the Ukraine crisis:
‘The trouble over Ukraine actually started at Nato’s Bucharest summit in April 2008, when George W Bush’s administration pushed the alliance to announce that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members”. Russian leaders responded immediately with outrage, characterising this decision as an existential threat to Russia and vowing to thwart it. According to a respected Russian journalist, Mr Putin “flew into a rage” and warned that “if Ukraine joins NATO, it will do so without Crimea and the eastern regions. It will simply fall apart.” America ignored Moscow’s red line, however, and pushed forward to make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. That strategy included two other elements: bringing Ukraine closer to the EU and making it a pro-American democracy.
‘These efforts eventually sparked hostilities in February 2014, after an uprising (which was supported by America) caused Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, to flee the country. In response, Russia took Crimea from Ukraine and helped fuel a civil war that broke out in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
‘The next major confrontation came in December 2021 and led directly to the current war. The main cause was that Ukraine was becoming a de facto member of Nato. The process started in December 2017, when the Trump administration decided to sell Kyiv “defensive weapons”. What counts as “defensive” is hardly clear-cut, however, and these weapons certainly looked offensive to Moscow and its allies in the Donbas region. Other Nato countries got in on the act, shipping weapons to Ukraine, training its armed forces and allowing it to participate in joint air and naval exercises. In July 2021, Ukraine and America co-hosted a major naval exercise in the Black Sea region involving navies from 32 countries. Operation Sea Breeze almost provoked Russia to fire at a British naval destroyer that deliberately entered what Russia considers its territorial waters. The links between Ukraine and America continued growing under the Biden administration. This commitment is reflected throughout an important document, the “US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership” that was signed in November by Antony Blinken, America’s Secretary of State, and Dmytro Kuleba, his Ukrainian counterpart. The aim was to “underscore . . . a commitment to Ukraine’s implementation of the deep and comprehensive reforms necessary for full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.” The document explicitly builds on “the commitments made to strengthen the Ukraine-US strategic partnership by Presidents Zelensky and Biden,” and also emphasises that the two countries will be guided by the “2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration”.
‘Unsurprisingly, Moscow found this evolving situation intolerable and began mobilising its army on Ukraine’s border last spring to signal its resolve to Washington. But it had no effect, as the Biden administration continued to move closer to Ukraine. This led Russia to precipitate a full-blown diplomatic stand-off in December. As Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, put it: “We reached our boiling point.” Russia demanded a written guarantee that Ukraine would never become a part of Nato and that the alliance remove the military assets it had deployed in eastern Europe since 1997. The subsequent negotiations failed, as Mr Blinken made clear: “There is no change. There will be no change.” A month later Mr Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine to eliminate the threat he saw from Nato.’
Unusually, Mearsheimer communicates these events from Vladimir Putin’s point of view, although he emphatically states that ‘there is no question that Vladimir Putin started the war and is responsible for how it is being waged’.
What he does stress, however, is that Western leaders rarely described Russia as a military threat to Europe before 2014 and that Mr Putin’s seizure of Crimea was not planned for long, but was an impulsive move in response to the coup that overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader.
In his view, once this latest crisis started, ‘American and European policymakers could not admit they had provoked it by trying to integrate Ukraine into the West. They declared the real source of the problem was Russia’s revanchism and its desire to dominate if not conquer Ukraine’.
He says the West is continuing to exacerbate the risks by its policy of doubling down. In conclusion he states: ‘At this point it is impossible to know the terms on which this conflict will be settled. But, if we do not understand its deep cause, we will be unable to end it before Ukraine is wrecked and Nato ends up in a war with Russia.’
You can read the full article here.