This is Leonid Kuchma.
During Soviet times he was a Ukrainian politician and the General Director of a Soviet Aerospace company. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he became the 2nd president of Ukraine from 1994 to January 2005.
In 2004, he and his friends tried to fix the Ukrainian presidential election in favor of Viktor Yanukovych, the Pro-Russian candidate.
But the people of Ukraine weren’t having it. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets in the Orange Revolution.
In a bloodless protest, they forced the annulment of the corrupted election, organized a re-vote, and with intense international scrutiny, held an election deemed 'free and fair', with the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko winning by a wide margin. He was installed as president on 23 January, 2005, and Kuchma retired to his government-bankrolled dacha.
Then, in 2010, Pro-Russian Yanukovych was voted into office by popular majority, a position he held until 2014, when he tried to move closer to Russia, and another wave of protests forced political change. This time, people died.
Some say that the 2014 protests were largely a coup orchestrated by the US. Others claim this is just Russian propaganda, but since 2014, Ukraine has had Pro-NATO leaders who favor the west.
But, Putin got his too. In March of 2014, while things were still confused in Kiev, Russia annexed Crimea, and a Pro-Russian separatist movement erupted in the far-east of Ukraine, in the Donbas region containing Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.
Since 2014, that conflict has killed 14,000 people and displaced 1.5 million.
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Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been the rag doll in a violent game of tug-of-war between the vast and sophisticated Anglo-Saxon Kleptocracy, and the newer, smaller, and cruder Post-Soviet Kleptocracy.
On one side you have NATO, with The United States, Germany, England, and France leading a coalition of 30+ nations under a charter that designed to contain Russia.
On the other side you have Russia, with centuries of nominal control over Ukraine, and a leader who needs to boos his sagging internal support. Russia has recently made loud statements claiming sovereignty over Ukraine.
Ukraine doesn’t belong to Russia, but it shouldn’t belong to Russian antagonists either. That’s not cool.
Russia shares a 1,282 mile border with Ukraine. Neither Russia nor Ukraine shares even one mile of border with the top 6 contributing nations to NATO.
The combined GDP of the top 6 NATO countries is in excess of $32 trillion dollars. Russia and its closest 6 allies (Kazakhstan is the biggest) have a combined GDP of less than $2 trillion.
And let’s not forget that Putin was open to joining NATO early in his rule. If NATO had let Russia skip the line and join quickly, could it have transformed the global order? Who knows. But Putin wasn’t given the chance to be an ally. The US needs him as a villain. (Lucky for us, he is one.)
Yes, Russia is a vast nation with enormous resources, a massive army, and roughly 4,500 nuclear warheads. But compared to the coalition nations of NATO, Russia is a minnow.
I’m no fan of Vladimir Putin. If his lips are moving, he’s lying. But he’s justified in feeling backed into a corner.
He just wanted to get Crimea back and run a quiet little war of industry in Donbas, but the west kept piling on the pressure in Ukraine with guns, equipment, advisors, and rhetoric, forcing Putin to escalate.
It’s a good time for him to escalate too. The US is in shambles. Putin might be able to get permanent control of Crimea, and keep the Donbas conflict going as well. That would make everybody happy. But NATO might push him to go further, and it’ll be hard for us to tell who was the bigger asshole.
For political, economic, and psychological reasons, Putin’s cabal cannot allow NATO to steal Ukraine from their sphere of influence. It’ll wreck their already sagging support at home, tarnish their legacy, and shatter thousands of nationalist egos, including his own.
But neither do Putin and his cronies want to invade Ukraine. It would bring internal resistance, international derision, and harsh sanctions, if not open warfare.
By pushing men and material into Ukraine, so close to Putin’s doorstep NATO is forcing Putin’s hand while he’s in a strong position. He has a lot of cash, and huge fossil fuel reserves.
To my eyes, admittedly new to this theater, it looks like the west is squeezing Putin hard, forcing him to back down and either cede influence over Ukraine, losing face at home, or take action to keep it and risk economic ruin.
Ultimately, I think all of this is about making sure Putin and his fossil fuel reserves don’t get too powerful.
Clearly the US is happy to paint Putin as the bad guy here, but I’m not so sure.
What do you think? Tell me in the comments below.