On February 24th, 2022, I was sitting on my living room floor with my eyes glued to the television. My dad turned on SkyNews, a British television agency that had seconds ago announced the Russian government’s declaration of a “special operation” on Ukrainian soil. War had once again come to Eastern Europe, a place my own family hails from. My heart sank and my blood pounded like artillery fire in my own ear drums, I could feel my face go paper white and I shivered from numbness. My immediate reaction was not completely of shock, in fact I had expected this to come sooner. Rather, my first thought was, “Who’s fault is this?”
You, the reader, may have thought to yourself, “Putin, of course!” The new Russian Hitler, a KGB warlord drunk on power and bent on flexing his military muscle both to stomp out domestic opposition and to prove to the post Cold War “free world” that Russia was not to be trifled with. In fact, in the previous 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Russia had shown the West just exactly what they thought of their attempts to ally with their hostile next-door neighbors. What then, when the West began urging Ukrainian admission into N.A.T.O, did the West think Russia would do? Would Russia give the West a diplomatic green pass onto their own front yard when the Russian people are fully convinced that the West poses an existential threat to them? Surely not.
To understand the war is to understand the history. Rarely has Ukraine governed itself. In fact, many events and people that are so historically important to Russian culture (especially church figures from the early days of Kiev) coalesced on modern-day Ukrainian soil. Russian history and identity is so strong that during the 1991 independence referendum, the Donetsk and Luhansk region had more than 20% of voters against independence, and in the Crimean oblast (county) 45.81% of the population voted against as well. Notice how the currently Russian backed or held territories all had significant anti-Ukrainian sentiment. Furthermore, in the early 2000’s, language reform bills were passed through Ukrainian legislature, stipulating that certain quotas of how often Ukrainian is spoken is to be maintained on radio and television. All schools were to teach Ukrainian only, and to discourage the use of Russian as a minority language. So not only did the East of Ukraine and Crimea identify politically with the old boundaries of the Russian Federation, but many thought of themselves as culturally and linguistically Russian.
The Ukrainian government itself is partly to blame in this sad drama of modern war. America’s government contractors, in this context being the military-industrial complex, are always eager to test out their new and shiny weaponry. Even better if it comes with the moral approval of legions of verified Twitter accounts, bent on the image of Vladimir Putin as the great Russian Boogeyman, if not Hitler himself (ironic considering the Azov battalion’s history of Nazism and neo-Nazi inspired regalia). While many American politicians conveniently ignore the rising threat of Chinese military resurgence in the Pacific, they readily cling to the old and tired Cold War caricature of the evil communist Russia. Russia sees this war as a battle for life itself.
Russian attitudes towards the war, despite Western media coverage, are almost wholly positive. Russia does not lack for consumer products, however even if they did, their strength lies in their cultural value of surviving with little. Russia knows how to suffer: from the days of the Mongols, to Napoleon, to Hitler, the Russian people have mastered living through suffering. Today even, while the Kremlin is focused on oil pipelines and strategic shipping ports, the people of Russia see the war as returning a wayward brother to the family.
Many Americans have already grown weary of American involvement. More money has been sent to the Ukrainian government in these past few months than the entire 5 year war in Afghanistan. In April, nearly 53 billion dollars in military and humanitarian aid was given to Ukraine, In May, legislation was passed to give Ukraine another $40 billion. In a time of significant domestic pressure and rates of inflation that continue to only rise, many Americans fail to see American involvement in Ukraine as little more than money laundering on a titanic scale. I would like to propose another question: if we cannot stop the invasion of its own southern border, why should we focus on Ukrainians? While the only innocents in this war are perhaps the people of Ukraine and Russia, the bloody red trail of blame does not begin in Moscow, but it begins from the capitals of the West. Perhaps the biggest driver of this war, aside from economic gain, has been ignorance. I urge everyone to, before passing rash judgment and holding unfounded opinions, to understand the conflict’s history first. Maybe then, and only then, will the path towards peace not end in the death of nations.