Published February 23, 2022
For months now, the world press has described Russian troop deployments along Ukraine’s borders as spearheads of a possible invasion. The truth, however, is that Russia invaded Ukraine seven years ago, when it annexed Crimea and Russian “little green men” ignited a war in eastern Ukraine that has taken over 14,000 lives and displaced over a million people. Whatever the current military developments, a Russian invasion of Ukraine has not been “imminent”; the invasion is ongoing.
That fact has been obscured by a massive Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign. So some truth-telling is imperative.
The first fact: This is a Russian crisis, not a “Ukraine crisis.” What is typically called the “Ukraine crisis” is entirely of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s making. Ukraine did not create this crisis. The United States did not create it, and neither did NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is, was, and always will be a defensive alliance, is no more a threat to Russian national security than NATO is to Botswana’s national security. The claim that NATO threatens Russia is a Big Lie that obfuscates the security realities in central and eastern Europe: Former Soviet satellites (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) and the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) joined NATO because they fear Russia, not because they intend to invade Russia. The same rationale explains Ukraine’s NATO application.
The second fact: This artificially created crisis, aimed at Ukraine’s destabilization and subjugation, is one expression of Putin’s determination to reverse history’s verdict in the Cold War. Putin has been quite clear about this for twenty years, and only fools or those peering through the ideologically befogged lenses of the new “national conservatism” fail to grasp what is afoot here. Putin, the old KGB apparatchik, is bent on overturning the victory of imperfect democracies over pluperfect tyrannies in the Revolution of 1989 and the Soviet crack-up of 1991. That grand strategic goal is at the cold heart of the recently announced alliance of purpose between Putin’s kleptocratic regime in Russia and Xi Jinping’s genocidal regime in China—an announcement these two wicked men made just before the Winter Olympics. Putin and Xi want nothing less than a fundamental re-ordering of world affairs in which their oppressive regimes call the tune. In the tyrants’ bid for global hegemony, Ukraine and Taiwan are in the role played by Austria and Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s: If they fall to the tyrant-regimes, others will follow.
The third fact: The ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine is underwritten by a false rendition of history, including Christian history. Putin’s claim that Ukraine is not a real country is buttressed by another Big Lie: that Russia is the sole heir of the baptism of the eastern Slavs in 988, and thus the sole legitimate guardian of what Putin’s ideologues and apologists call the Russkiy mir, the “Russian world.” Yet Ukraine, its Orthodox communities, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have at least as strong a claim to that historical patrimony as Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. The revival of Russian imperialism today is perhaps not all that surprising; old habits die hard. But the role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in supporting Putin’s falsifications of history and his new imperial designs is doing grave damage to the cause of Christ in a country recovering from the ravages of state-sponsored atheism. Metropolitan Hilarion, the ROC’s chief ecumenical officer, recently received from President Putin the “Order of St. Alexander Nevsky” for his “great contribution to the development of international and inter-confessional relations.” The award citation might have more honestly read, “for services to the Russian state and the current Kremlin regime.”
The fourth fact: Russian aggression in Ukraine targets everyone, including children. Russia’s hybrid war against Ukrainian democracy has included some 1,000 fake bomb threats that have emptied schools throughout Ukraine since the beginning of the year—ten times higher than the rate of fake bomb threats in 2020 and 2021. What kind of people deliberately terrify hundreds of thousands of children and their parents in an effort to destabilize a non-threatening neighbor? The same kind of people who murdered Boris Nemtsov and poisoned Alexei Novotny, who interfere in other countries’ elections, and who lie in public with a brazenness that would make Joachim von Ribbentrop blush.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has worked with great effect to rebuild civil society in today’s Ukraine, has asked its fellow Catholics for prayerful support. That courageous church deserves nothing less and indeed is owed much more: and not just by Ukrainians.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.