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HomeGeopolitical CompassEurope, Russia, OceaniaThe Causes and Consequences of the Ukraine Crisis

The Causes and Consequences of the Ukraine Crisis

Author: John J. Mearsheimer 

Affiliation: Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago

Organization/Publisher: The National Interest

Date/Place: June 2022/ USA

Type of Literature: Speech given at the European University Institute

Word Count: 5984



Keywords: Ukraine, Russia, NATO Expansion, Provocation, Monroe Doctrine, Soviet Borders, Proxy War  




During a recent speech, distinguished professor John J. Mearsheimer highlighted and compared two wars that he has seen in his lifetime, the Vietnam War and the ongoing Ukraine War. The author says that in both wars the United States miscalculated, and with this speech he wants to shed light on the events that have taken place to clarify the true reasoning behind the war, especially if it is a failure. He builds his analysis through historical facts and their indications, explaining why it was a misstep and how one should read the current situation without being influenced by western countries’ reasoning led by the US.


Mearsheimer addresses two elements regarding the war in Ukraine. Primarily, he sees the US as the main actor that should be held accountable for starting the war by its pushing policies regarding Ukraine joining NATO—which Russia sees as an existential threat, and has repeatedly warned against for many years. Even though Russia is viewed as having started the war through its invasion, it was however the US that provoked Russia to lead its war in the Ukraine. Secondly, after the invasion by Russia, the US and its allies—after being pressured by the US—expanded sanctions to weaken Russia, disregarding any diplomatic efforts which were never the intention. Furthermore, despite the scale of damage in the Ukraine so far as a result of western-funded escalations and its continuing flow of arms, there is still a possibility for NATO to get into the war, hence the nuclear force could be implemented in the long term.        


Since the war started, the mainstream media has repeatedly said that Putin’s initial purpose to invade Ukraine is his dream of having Great Russia, as the Soviet Union. However, the author suggests that regardless of such implications, there is a great lack of evidence that would support this goal. Putin sees Russians and Ukrainians as one people with a common history, however, in one of his public speeches he also stated: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.” Putin in his public engagements seems to highlight that the Bolsheviks created Ukraine and expects his counterparts to acknowledge the fact. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that he follows a goal that he himself doesn’t think is feasible. In fact, Putin very much likes to see Ukraine as an independent state, and in his article on July 12, 2021 he states that Russia respects it. When he announced on February 24, 2021 that Russia would invade Ukraine, he again made it clear that even though he respects Ukraine’s sovereignty he cannot accept the threat of the US’ presence and its influence within its borders. The historical record shows that Putin never lied about his foreign policy as is claimed; on the contrary, occasionally he stressed that he primarily concerns himself with Ukraine’s relationship with the West and NATO. Additionally, Russia’s restraint in its military tactics by limiting itself to ‘aim strategy’ rather than bombardment also proves that Putin has no intention to conquer Ukraine, but wants to threaten Kyiv. Putin is very much aware of the challenges of having occupied states, given the Soviet Union’s experience. When he was invited to the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2014, he strongly argued the opinions of the alliance regarding the entrance of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO, up until the Crimea crisis which happened as a spontaneous decision after the        far-right in Kyiv protested and overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. It was after this that Washington and its Western allies started portraying Putin as a hostile figure with imperial purposes in the region, who must be held under control.           


However, the author describes the crisis as an American-led effort to integrate Ukraine into NATO, to sustain pro-Western liberal democracy and have a reliable pro-Western ally within Russian borders. The forced integration started when the Alliance announced Ukraine and Georgia to become members in 2008. Despite the politicians’ briefs and their analyses which considered the policy as a direct challenge for Russia, the Bush administration proceeded further, disregarding both Merkel’s and Sarkozy’s opposition. The result was a war between Georgia and Russia. From then on, the Alliance continued supporting Ukraine’s integration into NATO, not only sending defensive weapons but training Ukrainian soldiers too; this has also included annual military exercises with NATO forces. While the Alliance advanced Ukraine’s military forces, there was a shift in political objectives in 2021 by Zelensky who didn’t seem willing to enter NATO when first elected, but he suddenly instructed hostile implementations towards Moscow, closing the pro-Russian TV channels and sentencing Putin’s close friend for treason. Zelensky’s political change of the discourse was empowered by the document that was signed between Biden and Zelensky which consists of a strategic partnership alongside the reiteration of the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration. In response, Putin wanted an assurance from the Biden administration that would guarantee Ukraine to not join NATO, not positioning any defensive weapons within Russian borders, and that NATO troops and their weapons move back to Western Europe. Putin repeatedly stated that he sees it as a threat on the doorstep of his house. After going through all diplomatic strategies, Putin had failed to get a peaceful resolution from the West. Meanwhile, America still pursues its Monroe Doctrinal policies of not allowing any distant power to have their military forces in its Western hemisphere, despite its disregard of the Russian hemisphere.           

The author concludes by laying down the current situation in Ukraine and speculates what likely will happen in the foreseeable future. 70% of Ukraine’s territory has been captured and sustained by Russia. The global economy has dramatically declined and the World Bank estimates that 50% of Ukraine’s economy will be withered by the end of 2022 since its exports have already stagnated. Over 6 million people have fled the country and 8 million are displaced internally. Ukraine currently needs $5 billion in monthly aid to run the government; and, all these events have happened in only four months. Mearsheimer suggests that the war will not end anytime soon, since both actors on the scene are quite determined to win. Additionally, none of them are willing to compromise from their perspectives. For Russia, Ukraine must be a neutral, non-Western state. But this is not agreeable to the Biden administration. On the other hand, given the overwhelming number of ultranationalists within the Ukraine and their supporters from NATO countries (especially Poland and the Baltic states), it is not safe for Russia to give up the territory it holds, nor the Ukrainians to be content with what Russia has taken so far. 


Finally, the war may escalate to an extent that NATO allies may be involved, and nuclear weapons may be employed. Because Russia considers this as an existential threat, it has no other choice but to win. For Biden, his administration’s goal is to weaken Russia in every term so that there will be no power left to invade Ukraine again. Failures in the war may result in a great-power nuclear war since none of them can afford to be defeated. Alongside the economic damages that the war has so far caused globally, conditions will further deteriorate. To conclude, it is not challenging to see who the real perpetrators are who started the war. Even though the architect was the Bush Administration, Obama, Trump, and Biden followed his footsteps and have pressured allies to their side. “The tragic truth is that if the West had not pursued NATO expansion into Ukraine, it is unlikely there would be a war in Ukraine today and Crimea would still be part of Ukraine. In essence, Washington played the central role in leading Ukraine down the path to destruction. History will judge the United States and its allies harshly for their remarkably foolish policy on Ukraine.”


By: Cemile Cengiz, CIGA Research Assistant



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