On Thursday, Americans awoke to news that Russian forces had finally invaded its neighbor Ukraine.
I say “finally” because Russia had been seemingly preparing for an invasion along its border with Ukraine, with President Vladimir Putin posturing before news cameras like an MMA fighter in the lead-up to a match.
On Monday, after pressuring the advisers on his Security Council to agree with the decision, Putin announced that Russia was recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine currently occupied and defended by Russian troops.
In that speech he also described Ukraine as being “not just a neighboring country for us,” but “an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.”
“These are our comrades, those dearest to us,” he said, “not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.”
Sending Russian troops into Ukraine, Putin seemed to say, would be less of an invasion and more a homecoming.
We’ve heard countless explanations for the conflict, but the true gist of it seems to be that the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union, a.k.a. Russia, never actually ended—and the main indicator of that, if anything, is the continued existence of NATO.
NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded shortly after World War II by the United States and its Western European allies as a bulwark against the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European comrades, known as the Eastern Bloc.
When the Berlin Wall came down at the end of 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed soon thereafter, the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc should have coincided with the dissolution of NATO. After all, with the Eastern Bloc dead and gone, NATO had outlived its purpose—which has been Russia’s argument ever since.
But power, once amassed, is rarely surrendered willingly, and so not only was NATO kept alive, but the United States kept looking to add new members, in a bid to further empower the strategic bloc it held in the palm of its hand. Since the official end of the Cold War in ’91, NATO has steadily crept eastward toward Russia, bringing first Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into its fold in 1999, and then Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
Now NATO is considering two more countries on Russia’s border, Ukraine and Georgia, with talks about someday adding Finland too.
What if it were the other way round? Imagine if, instead of dissolving after the Cold War, a Russian-led Eastern Bloc kept adding members closer and closer to the United States’ own borders —first Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, then all of South America, then Central America and the Caribbean— and then started openly talking about adding Mexico and Canada. How would the United States respond?
Russia has voiced its opposition to Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO since at least the 2008 summit in Romania (which joined NATO in 2004), with Putin saying that Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO would be “a direct threat” to Russia’s national security. In light of Article 5 of NATO’s treaty, which states that an attack on one member is an attack against the entire bloc, some NATO members have expressed hesitation in seeing two countries directly on Russia’s border join the organization, which would essentially amount to picking a fight with NATO’s sworn enemy.
Would the United States invade its neighbor to check the advance of a rival superpower? Of course it would—and it has, countless times.
The fledgling United States invaded Spanish Florida in the early 1800s under the pretense of subduing the Seminoles and retrieving enslaved Africans who had escaped.
In 1846, the U.S. invaded and occupied the Rio Grande Valley, then part of Mexico, and dared Mexican forces to attack, which they did, sparking the Mexican-American War.
U.S. Marines invaded and occupied Honolulu in 1893 to secure Hawai’i as a naval station in the Pacific, and then invaded Puerto Rico five years later for similar reasons.
The subsequent century is so crowded with U.S. invasions, from Panama to Syria, that a condensed list naming each might alone require another 600 words at minimum. Suffice it to say, the United States has assumed the role of global police, with every corner of the world as part of its beat.
Which is why I don’t put much stock in today’s headlines in the mainstream press saying “Biden condemns ‘Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine,'” or Biden labeling Putin a “pariah on the international stage.”
It takes a pariah to know a pariah.
For decades now, the United Nations has been calling on the United States to decolonize Puerto Rico and grant the islands their independence, to which the U.S. government hasn’t even felt the need to respond. Another cop who thinks they’re above the law and human rights.
And Putin may be a thug —in fact, there’s no maybe about it— but so was Trump, and Clinton, the first Bush and his predecessor, Nixon of course, and Johnson…
Half the countries of the world are ruled by thugs, most of them in freshly pressed suits, some in fatigues, but all thugs nonetheless. Government tends to be thuggish business, and I hate thugs no matter where they are or which alphabet they use.
So if the United States wants Russia to keep its hands off Ukraine, or wants any nation to respect its neighbors, it must first practice what it commands. Uncle Sam can’t be kicking up his heels in San Juan and telling Putin to keep out of Kiev.
Because what’s good for the eagle is good for the bear.