In the Western industrialized world, at least, the condemnation of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine has been nearly unanimous.
Witnessing such things as Russia celebrating International Women's Day by postponing the shelling of a maternity hospital until the following day certainly contributes to such a climate of opinion.
However, there have been dissenting voices, even so. One of the chief arguments has been that the United States in particular, and Western nations in general, especially those in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have been behaving in a needlessly provocative manner towards Russia, which ultimately led up to this tragedy.
And so some people have said that up until 2008, Vladimir Putin tried to create friendly relations with the West, but was unjustly spurned.
Is this true? Also, does Russia have a legitimate security interest in not having countries on its borders joining NATO?
It is difficult for me to approach that question without derision. I remember well what Hungary suffered in 1956, or what Czechoslovakia suffered in 1968. I remember the long agony of both the satellite nations of the Warsaw Pact, and of the captive nations within the Soviet Union itself, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.
And, of course, we must never forget the Holodomor, Stalin's artificial famine that cost the lives of about four million Ukrainians.
Also, Stalin's Russia trained Mao Tse-Tung, who imposed a particularly brutal Communist regime on China, leading to massive starvation in the Great Leap Forward and brutal repression in the Cultural Revolution, and which also contributed to the Korean War in which many people from both the United States and its Western allies, including Canada, perished.
Russia under Communism was an evil aggressor nation, in precisely the same sense as Germany under Nazism was an evil aggressor nation. That is a very basic and obvious fact, and attempting to deny or minimize it only destroys the credibility of the rest of an argument.
But after democracy dawned in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, what was the role of the West? And who is Vladimir Putin?
1720: A decree of Peter I forbade the printing of religious literature in the Ukrainian language.
1863: The Valuev Circular, a secret decree severely limiting the types of works that could be printed in the Ukrainian language was promulgated, it included the claim that "a separate Little Russian language never existed, does not exist, and will not exist".
March 16, 1917: The Provisional Government of Russia was announced after the February Revolution, which overthrew the Tsar and established a democratic government in Russia.
Russia, still reeling from the damage of the strife of this revolution, had difficulty in bearing the strain of its role as one of the nations allied against Germany in World War I. Because of strong pressure from Britain and France, however, the Provisional Government felt unable to take Russia out of that war, leading to discontent with it by the Russian people.
April 1917: Germany, in a plot to ease pressure on its Eastern front, provides Lenin with transportation from exile in Switzerland back to Russia.
November 7, 1917: Lenin overthrows the Provisional Government, ultimately establishing Communist tyranny in Russia.
Spring 1932 and 1933: The Holodomor, a mass famine in the Ukraine, was caused by the seizure of food from the Ukraine under Stalin, leading to the death of four million or more Ukrainians.
Areas in the Eastern Ukraine that were depopulated by the famine were later settled by Russians; this occured in the Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Thus, Donetsk and Luhansk were not areas inhabited by ethnic Russians since time immemorial, but instead are land stolen from the Ukrainian people.
1933: A new orthography was imposed by Stalin on the Ukrainian language in the Soviet Union, aimed at reducing the differences between Ukrainian and Russian. Among the changes was the elimination of the Ukrainian letter for "g"; the letter that is used in Russian for "g" is used for "h" in Ukrainian.
September 5, 1945: Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Russian Embassy in Canada, defects, exposing extensive Soviet espionage activities in North America, including espionage activities aimed at obtaining secrets related to the development of nuclear weapons.
Fall 1946 - Fall 1947: Ukraine is affected by another famine, due to the compound effects of several factors: Communist agricultural policies, a failed harvest, and the destruction wrought by World War II. Nikita Khruschev, later to become General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, is in charge of Ukraine during this time.
March 11, 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev is appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
April 26, 1986: The Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster took place. This led to Gorbachev putting an increased emphasis on the policy of glasnost which he had already begun some time previously, as attempts to cover up the seriousness of the event by some Russian officials only produced rumors that were worse than the truth.
June 12, 1991: In Russia's first presidential election, won by Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky places third. He recieves some attention in the Western press as representing extreme nationalist views within Russia.
August 18, 1991: A coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev by Communist hardliners begins; popular resistance causes it to fail within days.
August 29, 1991: The Supreme Soviet suspends activities of the Communist Party. Gorbachev remains its General Secretary until December 25.
November 6, 1991: Boris Yeltsin bans Communist Party activity in the Soviet Union.
December 8, 1991: The Commonwealth of Independent States is created as the successor to the Soviet Union.
December 11, 1994: Russia begins open military aggression against Chechnya, which was marked by indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian population, ultimately leadilng to the defeat of the Chechen people on August 31, 1996.
This aggression against Checnya, of course, contributed significantly to the murders of several Americans on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon, since their killers were people affectected by the Russian aggression who, as a result harbored an unreasonable resentment at the failure of the United States to intervene and prevent it.
However, Russian participation in the Boston Marathon has only been restricted now, in 2022, as the result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rather than in 2014.
March 25, 1999: Despite a campaign by Serbia against Kosovo which involved the murder of civililans, and the destruction of housing, similar to what is happening now in Ukraine, Boris Yeltsin issued a statement condemning NATO airstrikes against Serbia in response as aggression.
At the end of the conflict, Kosovo is not immediately rebuilt; the United States asks Europe to take the lead in rebuilding Kosovo, given that it had contributed its share by contributing to the defeat of Serbia. The idea of making Serbia, and Serbia alone, pay for the entire cost of immediately rebuilding Kosovo in every possible respect to its previous condition does not appear to have been even considered, which sets a distressing precedent for the current struggle in Ukraine.
December 31, 1999: Boris Yeltsin resigns as Premier of Russia.
March 26, 2000: Vladimir Putin is elected President of the Russian Federation.
November 23, 2003: Mikheil Sakashvili comes to power, ousting Soviet-era leader Eduard Shevardnadze, as the result of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, one of the "Color Revolutions" along with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
November 22, 2004: Massive protests in cities across the Ukraine in response to election fraud by Viktor Yanukovych mark the beginning of the Orange Revolution, which leads to genuinely democratic government there.
August 1, 2008: South Ossetian rebels shell Georgian villages, in violation of a 1992 ceasefire agreement.
August 7, 2008: The Georgian military responds to these attacks by entering the breakaway province.
August 8, 2008: Russia invades Georgia, using the Georgian response to their engineered provocation as a pretext for their aggression. This was done while President George W. Bush was attending the Beijing Olympics, thus potentially complicating the ability of the United States to respond to the situation.
February 18, 2014: After coming to power in a democratic election, Viktor Yanukovych reneges on his promises to lead the Ukraine in the pro-Western direction sought by the people, by declining to join the European Union, leading to his overthrow in the Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Maidan Revolution. It was this revolution that led to the discovery of a private zoo in the mansion of Viktor Yanukovych, and other extravagances at the expense of the Ukrainian people.
February 27, 2014: Russia begins its seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine. Following the annexation of the Crimea, Vladimir Putin makes public statements to the effect that Russia has no further territorial ambitions in Ukraine.
March 24, 2014: Ukraine withdraws all its military forces from the Crimea. The United States fails to line the borders of Ukraine with U.S. troops so as to render any further Russian attacks on Ukraine as impossible as, say, Russian tanks rolling into Germany or France.
August 22, 2014: Russian soldiers, not wearing their uniforms, and claimed by the Russian government to be volunteers, invade the Donetsk region, beginning the Russian conquest of portions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
May 21, 2015: Vladimir Putin awards Vladimir Zhirinovsky the Order of Aleksandr Nevsky.
July 25, 2019: Donald J. Trump, then President of the United States, has a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky in which he pressures Zelensky to engage in an "investigation" of totally fabricated accusations against Hunter Biden; absent Ukrainian aid in this scheme, Trump would block a $400 million military aid packate to Ukraine legislated by the U.S. Congress. This phone conversation led to the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, in which a conviction did not take place, due to Republican Senators voting along partisan lines instead of honestly executing their sworn duty on behalf of the American people.
May 23, 2021: Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, was forced to land in Belarus, so that dissident Roman Protasevich could be seized along with Sofia Sapega. Subsequent to this event, Russia showed support for this action by the regime in Belarus, preventing immediate regime change for this violation of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and act of piracy and state terrorism.
July 12, 2021: An essay by Vladimir Putin, On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians is published, which denied the long history of the Ukrainian people as a nation suffering attempts at suppression by first the Russian Empire and then by Soviet Communism.
December 28, 2021: Memorial, a human-rights group in Russia that sought to bring to light the record of the human rights violations in Russia under Communism, is suppressed by the Russian government. The lawyer representing the Putin regime criticized Memorial for having the goal of "making us repent the Soviet past, instead of remembering glorious history", which is reason enough, from my perspective, to hold Russia once again responsible for the crimes of the Soviet Union in addition to those of the Putin regime.
February 12, 2022: A one-hour telephone conversation between U. S. President Joseph R. Biden and Vladimir Putin fails to resolve the apprehension of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. neither gives Putin the security guarantees he wants, or supplies the Ukraine with U.S. troops so as to send a clear message to Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences.
February 20, 2022: Vladimir Putin states that a failure on the part of NATO to take Russia's demands for security guarantees seriously could result in conflict. The United States and NATO, being notified of the possibility of aggressive military acts by Russia towards Ukraine, again fail to take the necessary steps to render such aggression impossible, by lining the borders of Ukraine with areas under hostile control with U.S. and NATO troops.
February 24, 2022: Russia invades the entirety of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin threatens any country that would come directly to Ukraine's aid by sending in troops against the Russian forces with nuclear attack. This has meant that while the world has come to Ukraine's aid in a number of limited ways, it has been unable to prevent Russian forces from killing people on Ukrainian soil, including direct attacks on civilians.
March 16, 2022: The International Court of Justice calls for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. While this, in itself, is likely to have no practical consequence, it is indicative of a new phase in Russia's internatiional isolation.
Also, Vladimir Putin issued a statement harshly critical of those Russians who think in a Western fashion instead of a Russian fashion, calling on the real Russian people to "spit them out". This has been described as "chilling", and indeed it is, on a number of levels. Certainly, if one is a "rootless cosmopolite", the time to leave Russia was yesterday. One can look on the bright side, and note that it is a sign of increasing desperation under the fierce Ukrainian defense and Western sanctions, but rather than entertaining possibly unrealistic hopes about Putin being deposed, I will wait to rejoice in it when it actually happens.
April 1, 2022: After Russian forces withdraw from Bucha, a suburb of Kiev, evidence of massacres which were commited during their control of the city, even including the rape of some women before they were killed, emerged.
April 3, 2022: RIA Novosti published an opinion piece by Timofey Sergaytsev claiming that the majority of Ukrainians are passive accomplices of Nazism, that history has shown that Ukraine is impossible as a nation-state, and that Ukraine will have to be thoroughly cleansed of Nazism through harsh measures by Russia.
Of course, the Russian government only allows the ideas it wishes to see expressed to appear in the mass media, but this does not mean that this is necessarily the official intent of the Russian government; it could just as easily be only a threat meant to demoralize the people and government of Ukraine.
May 17, 2022: Finland and Sweden officially request admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Turkey expresses its intention to deny them the unanimous consent they require for admission, citing several issues on which those countries had taken positions against Turkey.
May 18, 2022: The Ukrainian troops holding out at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol end their fight, but are unable to escape, and thus surrender to Russian forces. As many of them belong to the Azov Regiment, which Russia claims harbors "Nazis" among its members, there have been calls in Russia's news media to try them for "war crimes". As such charges would be utterly baseless, this would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions by Russia.
May 25, 2022: Russia offered to allow ships to leave Ukraine to export food if the West would lift some of the sanctions against Russia.