In December 1999, Vladimir Putin takes over for Boris Yeltsin. After nearly a decade of independence, the allure of Western-style capitalism and liberal democracy failed to deliver in Russia: the economy had been completely appropriated by newly-minted oligarchs as a result of rapid privatization schemes proposed by Western economic consultants; there was internal strife marked especially by the attempted secession of Chechnya and the ensuing war there; there was widespread poverty and, Yeltsin’s overwhelming incompetence and impotence both domestically and abroad had diminished Russia’s standing.
Russia was reeling from Western-prescribed capitalism and liberal democracy but while the West claimed to be helping Russia, it had already started expanding NATO, the Cold War alliance created as a defense against the Russian-led Soviet Union, even though Gorbachev had received assurances from the West that NATO would not expand eastward toward the Russian border. Most famously, US Secretary of State James Baker said to Gorbachev in 1990 about any potential NATO expansion: “not one inch eastward.”
Nevertheless, in March 1999, NATO admitted former communist states Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic – and released a Membership Action Plan for how other countries, including former Eastern Bloc states Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania could join. They did.
It was an embarrassing and insulting downfall for what was previously one of the two poles of world power. For many in the Russian establishment, including Putin, if Russia did not quickly regain its footing, it would surely be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Putin wasted regaining that footing. Within the first five years, Russia’s GDP/capita was up over 40%; he reined in the oligarchs and ensured they understood that he was running the country, not the other way around; and he crushed the insurgency in Chechnya, which stopped a spate of Chechen terror attacks, including terrorists taking over 800 Moscow theatergoers hostage in 2002 and over 1,000 people (over 700 were children) hostage at a school in Beslan, in Russia’s south. Chechen terrorists in Moscow.
Despite the horror of these tragedies, Western media would go on to suggest that they were false flag ops organized by Putin to consolidate power. This was frustrating to Russia since, after 9/11, Putin had expressed its resolute support in the US’s fight against terrorists.
Which brings us to Ukraine. In 2004, Ukraine had presidential elections. It was clear to the West that they had scuttled their opportunity with Russia and Putin was not the docile, amicable, cheery post-Soviet leader looking for friends: Russia’s interests came first with him.
In 2003, Western-backed anti-Russian extraordinaire Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia’s Rose Revolution by deposing Eduard Shevarnadze. This was the first major indication that the West was encroaching on Russia’s traditional sphere of influence even beyond Europe.
Then, in March 2004, NATO expanded yet again to include most of the rest of the former Eastern bloc countries. Russia was not pleased.
The 2004 Ukrainian election was going to be an opportunity to assert dominance in the second largest ex-Soviet country for both Russia and for the West.
Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia candidate, and Viktor Yuschenko, a pro-West candidate, were both unable to gain a majority in the first round. In the second round, Yanukovych barely eked out a victory. The EU and the US refused to accept the election results; Russia did.
This presented an opportunity to Yuschenko and his team to challenge the results. Suddenly, Ukraine was somehow awash in orange-colored paraphernalia and protests in the country, eventually called the Orange Revolution, led to a “redo” where Yuschenko, unsurprisingly, won.
Yanukovych accepted defeat rather gracefully, saying “I didn’t want mothers to lose their children and wives their husbands. I didn’t want dead bodies from Kiev to flow down the Dnipro. I didn’t want to assume power through bloodshed.”
Yuschenko became the 3rd president of Ukraine – and was a monumental failure. He had a major falling out with his chief ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, another dubiously pro-West politician. Yuschenko actually appointed former rival Yanukovych prime minister.
Yuschenko eventually lost popularity and in his reelection campaign in 2010, garnered 5% of the votes. But before leaving, he rehabilitated Ukrainian ultranationalist Stepan Bandera, an anti-Russian, anti-Polish, anti-Semitic Nazi collaborationist. Stepan Bandera, an anti-Russian, anti-Polish, anti-Semitic Nazi collaborationist.
His two former opponents, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, vied for presidency. Again no one won in the first round and again in the second round, Yanukovych prevailed – and again the loser challenged the results.
This time, however, Tymoshenko was unable to rouse support and Yanukovych was recognized as the legitimate president. Tymoshenko would eventually be discredited given seemingly endless corruption scandals.
With Yanukovych’s reelection, it became clear that flipping Ukraine was going to be more difficult than in the other countries. So, the EU turned to economic incentives.
The main one was the EU Association agreement, a way of shifting Ukraine’s economy toward the EU and away from Russia. But Ukraine was already a part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Community, to which Ukraine was a party and which predated the Orange Revolution.
Yanukovych was in talks with the EU over the Association Agreement but, in 2013, they stalled. Yanukovych eventually tried to abandon EU integration and chose the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union instead. That’s when things fell apart.
Western-funded opposition groups in Ukraine organized massive protests in Kiev against the decision to abandon the EU agreement. The protests quickly devolved into violence and hooliganism.
Many of the “protestors” were full-fledged neo-Nazis. One was the leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, who was previously part of Yuschenko’s faction, though he was kicked out for a speech referring to kicking out the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” from Ukraine.
The West went into full regime-change mode, not wanting to waste the opportunity to replace Yanukovych. Victoria Nuland, the US Asst. Sec. of State for European and Eurasian Affairs under Barack Obama, flew to Kiev and was photographed passing out sandwiches. Victoria Nuland passing out sandwiches to Euromaidan protest
In Odessa, an historically Russian city, anti-Russian Euromaidan protesters reportedly set a building on fire that had anti-Maidan protesters in it. Over forty people were either burned alive or died from asphyxiation.
A peace agreement was signed between Yanukovych and three opposition members, one of whom was the anti-Russian neo-Nazi Tyahnybok (who had also managed to get a meeting and picture US Senator John McCain).
Yanukovych fled and the West, led by the US, effectively succeeded in performing a coup d’etat in Europe. One of the first acts of the new government was to sign the EU Association Agreement that had been stalled.
The ethnic Russians in Donbas in the east decided to declare the independent republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. In a bolder move, Crimea declared its independence in March 2014 and voted to become a part of Russia; Russia accepted.
Ukraine was already falling apart. The country was irretrievably split and the new government did not seem interested in making amends and bringing peace.
With the aid of groups like the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi group whose logo incorporates two prominent Nazi symbols, the new government in Kiev launched a massive attacked on the overwhelmingly Russian Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
The Azov Battalion would eventually be implicated in war crimes by the UN Human Rights Commissioner for torturing and beheading ethnic Russians during the fighting.
The Western-backed government in Ukraine would carry on a deadly fight against the majority-Russian parts to the east of Kiev that would lead to thousands of deaths.
When Petro Poroshenko became president, he made no secret of his anti-Russian stance, banning any military cooperation with Russia. But, possibly the biggest move was the politically-motivated separation of the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Poroshenko was otherwise a failure and he would not even garner 25% of the vote when it came time for his reelection in 2019. He would lose to a comedian-turned-politician, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Although Zelensky said his goal was to end the war in Donbas, he continuously failed to implement the Minsk II Agreement that would have potentially led to its end. Then in July 2020, inexplicably, his office said Ukraine would no longer take part in the negotiations.
Russia had warned that if the Minsk II Agreement was not implemented by Ukraine then it would risk losing Donbas entirely. It was not as if this was a secret.
Zelensky and his government started to get more brash: in April 2021, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany said that his country might develop nuclear weapons and in June 2021, Zelensky said that Ukraine was ready to join NATO.
Throughout it all, Ukraine was publicly supported by the West, including US president Joe Biden, who suggested that Ukraine could indeed become a NATO member if it wants.
Russia under Putin had long realized that its passivity would lead to a western frontier that was almost entirely lined with NATO troops and weapons. And, if that weren’t enough, Ukraine was now threatening to become a nuclear power. This was not something Russia could afford.
There is no doubt that the protests led by Western-funded NGOs and their activists in Armenia in 2018, which installed a Western-oriented government, and similar protests in Belarus in 2020-2021, were also on the mind of the Russians.
In the case of Armenia, the Western-oriented government scrapped the longtime peace negotiation process which ultimately led to a war with neighboring Azerbaijan, with the assistance of Turkey, a NATO country.
In the end, Russia made the decision to forcefully intervene in Ukraine and, as Putin said, to “denazify” and “demilitarize” the country. It was not willing to allow Ukraine to turn into another Syria or to have a puppet government wholly beholden to the West on its border.
One thing is certain: the Russo-Ukrainian War would not have happened if it were not for the millions of dollars poured into Ukraine from Western governments and organizations to fund NGOs and activists and if NATO did not insist on expanding east.
If one took just a moment to ask what the American reaction would be to Russia continuously meddling, destabilizing, and arming Canada, none of Russia’s actions now in Ukraine would seem terribly surprising.
Originally appeared as a thread on Twitter.