I am not immune. Putin is bad, perhaps crazy, he is a dictator who is presently egregiously aiming to break the will of Ukraine through armed attacks that are killing civilians and the most vulnerable of them, including pregnant mothers. He is trying to destroy the possibility of Ukraine becoming a democracy, and he should be stopped at the risk, by the way, that he could resort to the use of Russia’s great arsenal of nuclear weapons. Ukrainians want to be independent from Russia, with whom they border, and to become part of NATO and the EU.
This is the story line I have gleaned along with the almost non-stop footage of tragedy, pain, death, terror and determination to fight off the Russians at almost any cost. NATO countries and America as well, have provided weapons to Ukraine and have taken in vast numbers of Ukrainian refugees. Everyone I know is on the side of the people of Ukraine and how could one not be?
So this version of an important aspect of life went for me, until it started not to. I was one-sided until I spoke to friends in Italy whose viewpoint is generally smart and even astute. Their views were very different than my own. I heard them speak about how NATO, with the US, was provoking Russia/Putin to the brink of a nuclear war by continuous sanctions. These sanctions, our friends said, were only pushing the Russian population into a victim position ever more loyal to Putin, Putin who was then perceived as fighting for their own vindication and liberation from the perceived invasion of Western forces into Ukraine, their neighbor. Our friends pointed out how NATO had been constructed as a defensive institution to balance power with the then Soviet Union, and how having Ukraine in NATO would shift the balance of power in ways legitimately dangerous to Russia’s need for some control in Europe.
I took in what they were saying, along with similar viewpoints posed by some Italian publication. However I seemed to bounce back to my empathy for Ukrainians taking precedence, an empathy I still have even if I increasingly am influenced by what I am hearing, particularly from the knowledge and opinion base of John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendall Harrison Distinguished Service Professor in the Political Science department at the University of Chicago where he has taught since 1982. I came upon an eerily current-sounding assessment on YouTube in a talk he gave in June 2015 at the University of Chicago, entitled “The Causes and Consequences of the Ukraine Crisis”. In fact…