The myth of the West’s threat to Russia

Alexander J. Motyl writes: Much Western thinking about the causes of the Russo-Ukrainian War is rooted in a myth. It posits that the West — or, more specifically, NATO — attempted to wrest Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence, thereby forcing Vladimir Putin to defend Russia’s legitimate strategic interests by going to war with Ukraine.

The logic is impeccable. The only problem is that there isn’t a shred of truth to this claim.

Was the West determined to integrate Ukraine into its institutions? Until the Maidan Revolution broke out in late 2013, Ukraine “fatigue” had characterized Western policy since about 2008, when the government of then-President Viktor Yushchenko lost the reformist zeal it had inherited from the 2004 Orange Revolution. Even before that, Western policymakers never talked of including Ukraine in the European Union. Indeed, the EU’s Eastern Partnership program and its offer of an Association Agreement to Kyiv were supposed to placate Ukraine without promising it even the distant prospect of membership in the EU. The reluctance to offer that prospect remains unchanged.

Was the West determined to transform Ukraine into a pro-Western democracy? The United States and Europe pumped several billions of dollars into Ukrainian civil society projects since 1991, while remaining indifferent to the Leonid Kuchma regime’s slide toward authoritarianism in the late 1990s, the abandonment by Yushchenko’s “Orange government” of its democratic reform agenda, and Viktor Yanukovych’s establishment of a full-fledged authoritarian regime in 2010-2013. Some Western policymakers supported the Maidan Revolution rhetorically and insisted that Yanukovych seek a compromise with the democratic revolutionaries; but most did not. No Western state actually provided any material assistance to the Maidan. And no Western presidents or prime ministers called on Yanukovych to step down during the revolution: quite the contrary, they travelled to Kyiv in late February 2014 with the express purpose of saving him. Once he abandoned his office, many Western policymakers welcomed his move — but that was after, and not before, the fact. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “The myth of the West’s threat to Russia

  1. Patrick Cummins

    Motyl: “Three months after the Yushchenko government formally requested a “membership action plan” as a first step toward joining NATO, the alliance’s North Atlantic Council in April 2008 issued the vaguest “welcome” possible of “Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership.”

    Article 23 of the North Atlantic Council’s declaration sounds pretty definite about bringing Ukraine and Georgia in NATO: ” NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. … Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP [membership action plan].”

    According to John Mearsheimer, the ‘West’ was in fact divide on this, with the U.S. pushing for it, while Germany and France were reluctant.

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