As a general rule, I tend to view with deep skepticism the reasons given by political leaders for their actions, especially when they go to war, since they usually justify the decision in lofty but vague terms while what drives their actions is usually more concrete and far less noble. So when Russian president Vladimir Putin said prior to the invasion of Ukraine that the west was threatening Russia by bringing NATO forces ever closer to his country and that Ukraine entering that western military alliance would be an intolerable threat to their security, I tended to think that there must be at least some other factors driving his decisions.
Whatever one might think of Putin, he does not strike one as an impulsive and reckless risk taker. He strikes me as someone who does careful cost-benefit calculations and he had to have known that the cost of invading Ukraine would be huge, even if a military reaction by other countries were left out of the equation. The US and its western allies have a stranglehold on the international banking, finance, and credit systems, the institutions that drive commerce around the globe. The US in particular has been ruthless in using that power over and over again against countries like Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Afghanistan and other nations that the US has decided to undermine economically, even if it causes immense hardship to the people of those countries. Being shut out of that system would cause massive harm to the Russian economy and Putin had to have anticipated that. He also had to know that if his takeover of Ukraine failed, that country would almost definitely accelerate its push to join the EU and NATO, the very things he wanted to prevent.
So Putin clearly thought that the benefits of invading Ukraine would be worth the risk. But what are the benefits? As far as I am aware, there is nothing particularly special about Ukraine. As far as I am aware, it is not a source of valuable raw materials that Russia needed access to. I am sure that it is a nice country with lovely people but so are all countries. True, it is a large country (about the size of Texas) and is one of the major exporters of grain to the world but that seems hardly sufficient to justify the costs of invading it and risking the global fallout.
So maybe Putin did what he did because of what he actually said, that Ukraine edging closer to the west and eventually joining NATO and adding to the growing military encirclement of Russia did constitute an existential threat to the existence of his country and that if the west did not give guarantees that it would not happen, then he had to take steps to prevent it. I cannot think of any other factor that would tip the equation in favor of an invasion.
I am encouraged by the emerging reports that there are ceasefire talks currently underway between Russian and Ukrainian diplomats, although not at the highest levels.
As talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials ended early Monday evening, CNN reporters in Kyiv heard several large detonations, followed by sirens going off across the city.
Both sides discussed a potential “ceasefire and the end of combat actions on the territory of Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak told reporters.
Without going into detail, Podolyak said that both sides would return to their capitals for consultations over whether to implement a number of “decisions.”
“The parties discussed holding another round of negotiations where these decisions can develop,” he said.
But it made me wonder why such direct talks did not take place before the invasion. Leading up to that fateful event, we had various world leaders, most visibly France’s president Macron, shuttling back and forth between those two and other European countries relaying messages but I do not recall hearing of any direct talks between the two countries that are at the center of this conflict.