“Democracy today is beleaguered but not defeated.” Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
“Sometimes, unusual and extreme events mark the separation between old and new ways of thinking and being,” Shady Hamid
In this week’s edition of More than Meets the Eye, I want to explore several things. What interests me most is not the mainstream media’s editorials on Russia and Ukraine, but what is not being written about, what is not being said. There is always a reason. Trust me, there is much being said. The mainstream media is having a feeding frenzy on this news feast! It is just what they needed to salve their consciences of all the stuff that they have been fabricating over the past few years about those whom they don’t agree with philosophically, existentially, or politically.
This invasion is literally their salvation. There has been a ton of creative writing over the past few years ( I am being generous) as news outlets have tried desperately to keep up with the 24/7 news-athon. Producing poorly thought-out journalistic material 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, must be an exhausting task. It never stops. There is no time to validate sources, ensure journalistic integrity, and create quality coverage. It is just easier to print a retraction on page 9 after you have totally bungled the facts of a news story. So what is not really being addressed by the mainstream media? That is what I want to deal with in More than Meets the Eye this week. I want to try to answer two questions as simply and as concisely as I can: Why did Russia invade Ukraine, and why does it matter?
It is amazing to me how few there are who are trying to tackle these questions. They are not simple by nature, but the impact of their answers could potentially change the world as we know it. That is a bold statement, I know. But it has been plaguing my mind for these past few weeks. The cost to Russia has been astronomical to date. It has changed the entire world’s opinion of President Putin, except for the Chinese, Steven Seagal, and a few Hollywood actors and actresses who continue to cow-tow to Putin’s agenda.
The cost to Ukraine has been staggering, as over 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country to safer destinations. Thousands of civilians and military personnel have died, and the economic cost has risen beyond calculation. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men and women have taken up arms. This war will last for the foreseeable future, and it will impact the world in ways we have not even begun to imagine. Addressing these two questions will at least provide a bit of context as to why our world is being turned upside down.
There is so much more than meets the eye here. Let’s dive into it for a few minutes and see if we can walk away with a better understanding of this despotic insanity.
Why did Russia invade Ukraine? The conflict traces its roots almost exclusively to Ukraine’s decision to forge closer ties with the European Union and NATO, setting a course away from Russia, a nation with which it shares powerful social and cultural ties stretching back to the Middle Ages. It pretty much all boils down to that.
Tensions have dominated relations between Moscow and Kyiv since Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution marked its realignment in the direction of Europe. At the end of 2013, Moscow-backed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych’s decision — under Kremlin pressure — to renege on a trade pact with the EU prompted mass demonstrations, which culminated in Yanukovych’s overthrow in February 2014. Ukraine has drifted westward ever since, much to the dismay and anger of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
In a sense, it is merely the Russian government trying to protect its sphere of influence by ignoring the sovereignty of its neighbors, so much so that it is willing to kill them to protect their sphere. This is a critical piece of geopolitical theory and has served as a precursor for war for centuries.
The United States has had its own “sphere of influence” concerns throughout its young history. It is surprising to me that nobody has thrown a little thing known as the Monroe doctrine on the table as a rebuttal to US objections. The Monroe Doctrine is the best known U.S. policy toward the Western Hemisphere. Buried in a routine annual message delivered to Congress by President James Monroe in December 1823, the doctrine warned European nations that the United States would not tolerate further colonization or puppet monarchs. The doctrine was conceived to meet major concerns of the moment, but it soon became a watchword of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1962, the Monroe Doctrine was invoked symbolically when the Soviet Union began to build missile-launching sites in Cuba. With the support of the Organization of American States, President John F. Kennedy assembled a naval and air blockade around the island. After several tense days, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw the missiles and dismantle the sites. Subsequently, the United States dismantled several of its obsolete air and missile bases in Turkey.
The USA has been deeply involved in approximately 188 incursions into other nations from 1798 until the present. For a full list of these incursions click here. There is a significant difference in that, though US forces have been used over the years, they have never been used to invade and conquer a sovereign state under the mandate of the Monroe Doctrine. Why am I even saying this? It is not to minimize the catastrophic and criminal activities of Russia in Ukraine today. It is simply to say that this matter of sphere of influence is an important geopolitical matter and when leaders go unchecked by their constituents they will do whatever they like to accomplish their desired ends.
This, then, begs the question, “who is holding Putin accountable for these actions?” Obviously, it is not his constituents. Russia has gone from a semi-democratic country to a full-on autocratic government under Putin’s rule. He acts independently of any accountability and that is almost always a dangerous formula. I will deal more with this below in my “Why” section.
For now, let’s turn to the issue at hand. Does all this really matter, and, if so, why?
“If there was any doubt before, the answer is now clear. Vladimir Putin is showing that a world without American power—or, for that matter, Western power—is not a better world.” Authoritarian ideas themselves are a serious threat to global peace and stability.”
“Authoritarian actors grew bolder during 2020 as major democracies turned inward, contributing to the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom,” according to Freedom in the World 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties published in 2021 by Freedom House.”
The world is increasingly becoming less and less democratic. What does that mean? The world is moving increasingly towards autocratically led regimes. Under autocratic leadership leaders will become less and less accountable for their actions. They will do whatever they want, they will stack all the cards in their favor, they will fill their most important roles through nepotism or the wealthy. They will undermine democratic institutions to the point where they will invalidate any form of Justice system in order to silence dissent towards the regime’s policies.
Journalism will become a puppet of the state. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of demonstrations, and open expressions of dissent will not be tolerated and will be harshly suppressed. Across the board, personal freedoms will be taken away and the unelected government will do as they please with the governed, who will no longer be constituents but subjects. It will cease to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It will become a government of the government, by the government, and for the government. How tragic an outcome, when you think of all that has transpired over the past 200 years to achieve the freedoms we are afforded today.
The Russians must not be allowed to achieve their violent goals in Ukraine. To do so would only embolden Putin to continue his rampage all around his periphery of nations. Nations such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the Baltic States should be terribly concerned. The only thing that will keep his egregious agenda at bay will be if the cost is too high, a cost that must be extracted economically, politically, and, if necessary, militarily.
There are a host of actions that can and are being made by the USA, NATO, and governments around the world. If Putin has accomplished nothing else, the one thing he has done is bring the United States and NATO closer together, healing a lot of old wounds from the last decade.
For now, the best actions are being implemented and are still yet to come. Economic sanctions are already having a strangling effect on Russia. The next step will be to sanction all technology imports and exports into and out of Russia. This week the USA has decided to embargo all petroleum products from Russia. Of course, there will be a couple of countries such as China who will not abide by these kinds of sanctions.
Russia will soon find itself in the company of totalitarian states such as North Korea and Iran. This will not bode well for Putin as he is very image conscious. For now the best actions are sanctions and embargoes. They need to be strict and strictly enforced.