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The invasion of Ukraine has shaken Europe down to its core. As the first major European war since World War II, it is a monumental event, to say the least. During this time, we have seen nothing but support for the Ukrainian people and a unanimous Western decry of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal attacks. 

The conflict seems to operate outside the scope of political polarization in the United States, as there is a bipartisan condemnation of Putin and his actions. In other words, there seems to be little domestic controversy about the topic. Strong and accusational language has been normalized; The Atlantic, for instance, called Putin a “murderous war criminal,” while Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called him “barbaric.” All of this vilification toward Russia from the West seems to roll on a tide of moral integrity that, in a vacuum outside of the West’s historical patterns, is veracious. 

However, under very mild examination, it becomes evident that the West (and by that, I mean the United States mainly) has played an integral role in creating the conditions that Ukrainians find themselves in today. This was precisely the case that has been maintained by Noam Chomsky, a critic of America’s international affairs and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Of course, no one in their right mind questions whether the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a breach of international law. There is, however, a larger context to the situation that reveals an ominous orchestration of events from the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This isn’t to shift the blame from Russia onto the U.S. (because an invasion of any country is an example of a war crime), but it’s to emphasize that America’s support for Ukraine’s induction into NATO was a direct provocation to Russia and has implications that extend beyond the current invasion. Rather than dealing with Russia in a diplomatic manner (ultimately to save Ukrainians), the U.S. has, in several ways, used Ukraine as a pawn in its quest to expand its influence in Europe.

To understand the United States’ involvement in Ukraine, we need to look at the 2014 far-right coup that overthrew the previous pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. This coup was overtly supported by the United States and its allies. After a fair and free election of Yanukovych, the United States was discontent with his rise to power because of his allegiance to Putin. Late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., visited Ukraine to voice his support for the anti-government protests. The intervention became a bit more sinister when the leaked audio of a phone call between the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, revealed deliberate planning for this overthrow. In this phone call, Nuland and Pyatt suggested a decisive plan for Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a prominent advocate of Ukraine joining NATO, to take power. This was all an elaborate stratagem for the United States to westernize a country on the border of Russia. It was a direct challenge to Russia, similar to the Cuban Missile crisis.

Dating back to 2000, it’s also worth considering that NATO was direct in its refusal of Russia joining as a member. From then on, Putin understood that NATO was not an alliance for peace as much as it was an alliance to weaken Russia. He responded by demanding borders near the Black Sea in order to halt the NATO expansion. However, rather than diplomatically working with Putin, the U.S. coordinated the induction of several Eastern European countries into NATO. So, when NATO began poking at Ukraine, Russia expectedly retaliated because it was not going to allow NATO to push up onto its border after its buffer-states request was obstructed long ago.

Strategically, Putin is challenging the unipolar domination that the United States assumed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Again, it was NATO that denied Russia and, since the Cold War, depicted them as the enemy. 

Western news sources have painted Putin as a raging dictator who’s fearful of Ukrainian democracy. However, it’s important to know that Russia is not opposed to the “pro-liberal democracy” in Ukraine at all. Instead, Russia views the NATO expansion, which claims to advocate the “pro-liberal democracy” idea, as an existential threat precisely because NATO is an alliance for compromising Russian power.

The U.S. intervention has reasons that have everything to do with cornering Russia and nothing to do with free and open elections as we claim. From intervention in the conflict in Syria, a Russian ally, to the sanctions on Russia’s oil, it’s evident that the U.S. has long not liked Russia because the country acts as a barrier that’s stopping them from having a complete monopoly on global power. Thus, the Ukrainian conflict is just a means to enfeeble Russia’s presence in international politics.

The U.S. has a machiavellian manner of preaching the need for political stabilization and democracy in foreign countries in the face of its imperial expansion. And a modest probing of dichotomies in the West’s foreign policy reveals this disturbing paradigm. Remember when the U.S., under President George W. Bush’s leadership, invaded Afghanistan to establish democracy? After the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, the Taliban took control and as many as 20 million Afghans are at risk of going into a famine.

It’s critically important for Ukraine to maintain a healthy and functioning democracy, but it is not the job of the U.S. to be the global police facilitating that. While every country has the right to choose its alliances, it’s imperative to remember the historical context of what NATO’s expansion truly means. It’s not just about Westernizing a country; it’s also excluding Russia and placing it as the figurehead of evil, symbolic of the Western enemy. That’s why President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has a moral obligation to cooperate with Putin to heal the damage that Russia has inflicted upon Ukrainians and stop allowing the U.S. to fight its own metaphorical war on Ukrainian ground. 

Of course, working with the oppressor, Russia, is an unfortunate resort, but if the other option is to spill Ukrainian blood for the American cause, then it’s a necessity. As the war progresses, a divided Ukraine is looking more and more likely (and that’s if we don’t enter a full nuclear chaos as Putin may be suggesting). In the meantime, let’s hope that the ego of the U.S. will deflate and we can begin collaborating with other countries rather than constantly challenging and threatening them. 

Ammar Ahmad is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at ammarz@umich.edu.

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