Andrew Plunket, Staff
Header Image: BNN Bloomberg
After recent reports that Russian troops have been authorized to invade Ukraine by military officials, the world waits in anticipation. While Russian forces continue to mobilize upon Ukraine’s border, Western leaders, including President Joseph Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have levied sharp criticism against Vladimir Putin’s aggressive maneuvers. In fact, in a press conference last week, Biden boldly exclaimed, “if Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice … the United States and our Allies are prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory from any threat to our collective security as well.” Yet, as news continues to permeate the media landscape about Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine, one thing remains crystal clear: the United States and its allies should not be surprised by recent displays of Russian aggression.
Since Putin’s rise to power in the early 2000s, Russia has demonstrated that it is not a reliable international partner. Its blatant interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and other democratic staples within the Western world, continual attacks upon fundamental principles of human rights like the right to free speech and attempts to subvert international resolutions have proven that a Putin-led Russia is not to be trusted. Putin’s distinctive Machiavellian-style politics has replaced the pursuit of peace with the attainment of power and global prestige as the main goal of Russian foreign policy. The established norms do not matter for Putin; rather, total control manifested through military campaigns and propaganda is the only matter of chief importance.
In his endless pursuit of power, Putin has single-handedly isolated Russia from the international community and has transformed a once emerging center of Eastern democracy into an unrecognizable stronghold of authoritarianism. As this crisis continues to worsen, it is evident that the days of SALT treaties, perestroika, glasnost, and good-faith negotiation have far passed.
It remains bewildering, therefore, as to why Western leaders, particularly those within the U.S., continue to be surprised at Russian efforts to expand its influence. In observing the remarks made by Western leaders about the proposed invasion, sentiments of shock, vague threats, and disappointment seem to characterize most of the West’s formal press releases, statements, and speeches. Putin has demonstrated time and time again that he is not to be trusted, and yet, the West’s only response has involved measly economic sanctions and condescending finger-wagging. For example, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, the Western world replied with sanctions, empty promises, and lengthy speeches, thus ignoring the plethora of international transgressions committed by the Russian state. It is clear that Russia is unwilling to cooperate with international law. And, until measures of democracy are restored within the nation and its despotic leader is replaced, Western leaders must recognize that diplomatic pleas for peace will only fall upon deaf ears.
Moreover, in addition to the dangers posed by Putin’s rule, the U.S. must recognize that its own pattern of brutal imperialism and cultural hegemony is directly responsible for Russia’s aggression. Although the U.S. likes to model itself as a picturesque beacon of democracy, an in-depth study of its history reveals that it has consistently abused human rights, unjustly invaded foreign nations/territories, and exercised soft power through propaganda, censure, and “big stick” diplomacy. It is the ultimate hypocrisy that the U.S. so strongly protests the Russian occupation when, just a few months ago, it ended a twenty-year invasion of Afghanistan.
Additionally, U.S. occupations in Latin America and East Asia further point to its natural proclivity towards violence as a means to secure power. Therefore, the U.S. cannot be surprised that other nations attempt to imitate its own strategy. If the U.S. can invade Afghanistan, Iraq, and other nation-states without much international backlash, why would Russia not do the same thing? The American sense of moral superiority must end. The U.S. has set an extraordinarily dangerous precedent of imperialism, and now that Russia is seemingly set upon the same path, it condemns its actions. The U.S. must not pretend to be ignorant about the causes of this crisis. It is a direct result of American imperialism, and thus, the U.S. must accept this crucial fact if any solution is to be attained.
Of course, in order to secure peace and liberty for future generations, diplomacy still must be triumphed as the primary solution. Russia currently maintains the second-largest military behind the United States and is still an integral component in the political structure of Europe/Asia. However, the time for big stick diplomacy and coercive politics is over. Displays of strength will not solve this crisis; if they did, then Russia would have already won the day. If real progress is to be achieved, transparency, empathy and a commitment to preserving peace must replace the current machismo-style diplomacy which has characterized the crisis thus far. Until these goals are pursued, it seems that our darkest days lie ahead.