Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

A Sober Look at Ukraine War Narratives

There are cycles of the new “thing,” and for a while it was Ukraine, and it has also been covid, George Floyd, MeToo, and now the protests in Iran. However, there is now some degree of fatigue and weariness about the Ukraine war from the public, rather than the original gung-ho support. While there is less hysteria about Russia than this spring, there are still signs that the war could further escalate. Regardless, the conflict will have long lasting geopolitical ramifications. I waited to write about the war, and while it might be less timely, now is a good time to take a more sober look at the conflict.

People often get accused of being Russian shills for nuanced or “both sides” takes. Certainly Russia is the aggressor and has blatantly violated international law with the invasion. However, there are complexities from a geopolitical standpoint, and it is dishonest to imply that Russia could not have been negotiated with prior to the invasion. Also the unprovoked narrative lets the US and NATO off the hook, due to the push for NATO expansion eastwards, which Russia alleges was a renege upon an agreement at the end of the Cold War. A hypothetical comparison has been made to how the US would flip out if Mexico became part of the Sinosphere, with Chinese military bases in Baja. John Mearsheimer has made the case that the best way to have prevented war, was for Ukraine to have become a neutral buffer zone, aligned with neither Russia nor NATO, and built up economically, doing business with both Russia and the West. However, that would have required agreement from Ukraine, the West, and Russia, and Ukraine assured that it would not be economically isolated. While Western leadership deserves blame for exploiting Ukrainian resentment against Russia, and sabotaging chances for diplomacy, the narrative of Ukrainians as just pawns of a geopolitical struggle, denies Ukraine agency. For instance Ukraine actively lobbied the West for support and Ukrainians wanted to be part of the West for protection and economic benefits, looking at how neighboring Poland became prosperous after joining the EU.

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