A correspondent took me to task for suggesting that NATO’s leaders bear some responsibility for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine:
This is all on [Putin]. He and Russia could have turned to the West, become part of Europe, even joined the EU. Instead he has leaned on [Peter the Great’s] 300-year-old idea of a great Russian empire and imagined the rest of the world is preventing him from realizing it. I think even Peter would have joined Europe. (See Peter Massie’s terrific biography—reads like a novel—of Peter the Great and note Peter’s deep interest in things European and bringing Russia into Europe.) NATO is a threat to Putin because he wants that empire back.
“NATO is a threat to Putin because he wants that empire back.” Exactly. Was that a secret? I don’t think so. It’s not news to me, so it should not have been news to all the “great thinkers” who advise NATO’s leaders. Given that, it’s reasonable to ask whether NATO’s leaders considered the possible consequences of the pas-de-deux between Ukraine and NATO, which had been gaining momentum in the years and months before Russia attacked Ukraine.
So, yes, Putin is directly responsible for the attack on Ukraine and for harboring the feelings that caused him to launch it. But NATO’s leaders are responsible for not having foreseen the consequences of their courtship of Ukraine. Or, if having foreseen them, for not having made plans to do more than bluster and sanction while Ukrainians suffer the consequences of the war that the NATO-Ukraine courtship provoked.
And if the whole thing blows up into a war that costs the lives of NATO troops and (perhaps) eventually the lives of civilians in Western Europe and the U.S. (if it comes to nukes), NATO’s leaders should be drawn and quartered for not having been prepared to avert those consequences. They should have asked themselves, for example, what practical difference would it make if Ukraine were an official member of NATO, given the long-standing enmity between Ukraine and Russia.
All of this is preaching from the sidelines with the benefit of hindsight. But NATO’s leaders seek the responsibility to defend and protect us. Putin is one of the bad guys from whom we need protection. If we (citizens of NATO countries) are protected in the end, it will be at a very high cost (in Ukranian lives and economic consequences) — a cost that can’t possibly justify the psychic benefits of baiting Putin.
I share your assessment of Putin. But he’s not the only player in the “game” that has played out into the slaughter of Ukranians and possibly much worse.
P.S. If NATO leaders aren’t to blame for Putin’s aggression, who or what is? This article seems to cover all the bases: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/18329/russia-putin-ukraine-invasion.