There has been much ink spilled over what the war in Ukraine means for the western democracies. It is hard to get at both sides of the issue because any question of what our interests are in Ukraine gets you labeled as a Putin puppet.
While it is difficult to pin down exactly what the United States gains by involving itself in a regional war in Eastern Europe, what is not hard to understand is Putin’s stated motivations.
Over the past decade, Putin and his mouthpieces have repeatedly stated that NATO expansion eastward that would include Ukraine would result in Russia having to act. Instead of pursuing a policy of encouraging a neutral Ukraine to act as a buffer between East and West, both Republican and Democrat administrations adopted a policy of trying to bring Ukraine into the fold.
If not as a member of NATO, then at least as a partner. For perspective, imagine China trying to forge an alliance with Canada or Mexico. Fairly certain the authorities in Washington DC would not let that happen.
This is not to excuse Russia’s invasion. NATO’s expansion would have stopped at the Russian border. Unlike Putin, NATO has never invaded a sovereign country. No one believes that NATO or its partners would engage in an offensive campaign for regime change in Russia, except Putin that is.
The Russian President’s current stance is extremely concerning. In an interview with L’Economica Sergey Karaganov, former Russian Advisor to Putin has stated that his country is at war with NATO, not Ukraine. He alludes to the possibility of attacks in NATO countries to stem the tide of lethal aid pouring into the country. Such an escalation would be extremely destabilizing. To further complicate matters Sweden has expressed its desire to join NATO.
It is not known how far Russia is willing to go, especially given the losses it has suffered in the campaign so far. What is known is that Putin views the current world order as an existential threat to Mother Russia. It is important to keep that in mind when evaluating what is happening. Unfortunately, an escalation in the conflict is highly likely.