The U.S. and NATO Helped Trigger the Ukraine War. It’s Not ‘Siding With Putin’ to Admit It

By Ted Galen Carpenter
S
enior Fellow, Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a monstrous act of aggression that has plunged the world into a perilous situation. By any reasonable standard, his move was an over-the-top response to any Ukrainian or NATO provocations. However, that conclusion is different from saying that there were no provocations, as far too many policymakers and pundits in the West are doing now.

It has become especially fashionable in such circles to insist that NATO’s expansion to Russia’s border was in no way responsible for the current Ukraine crisis. Many dismiss all arguments to the contrary as “echoing Putin’s talking points,” “siding with Putin,” or circulating Russian propaganda and “disinformation.” Leaving aside the ugly miasma of McCarthyism enveloping such allegations, the underlying argument is factually wrong.

Russian leaders and several Western policy experts were warning more than two decades ago that NATO expansion would turn out badly—ending in a new cold war with Russia at best, and a hot one at worst. Obviously, they were not “echoing” Putin or anyone else. George Kennan, the intellectual architect of America’s containment policy during the Cold War, perceptively warned in a May 2, 1998 New York Times interview what NATO’s move eastward would set in motion. “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” he stated. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake.”

Kennan was speaking of the first round of enlargement that brought into the Alliance Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Later rounds, which added the Baltic Republics and other East European countries, were considerably more abrasive, and Washington’s subsequent attempt to make Ukraine and Georgia members was contemptuous of Russia’s core security interests. Moscow’s complaints and warnings were becoming increasingly sharp as well.

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