The desperate attempt to blame anybody else for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

See update for March 3, 2022, at end of post.



Julia Ioffe is responding to a phenomenon on Twitter and elsewhere that has provoked my fury. While a number of people on the right seem to admire Vladimir Putin’s “strength” against Joe Biden’s alleged “weakness” and blame the North Atlantic Treaty Organization[1] for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,[2] there are also a lot of people, who claim to be on the Left, who repeat the right-wing talking points at least in part. They necessarily assume that Russia has rights beyond its own borders, a position I continue to categorically reject.[3]

I do accept the right of countries to band together against an aggressor, hence former Soviet Republics, including, potentially, Ukraine, joining NATO,[4] hence NATO against Russia, because any other view inescapably enables the bully, and if Russia feels threatened by this, Russia has only itself to blame.[5]

All this said, there are a few fallacies that deserve recognition: If Vladimir Putin is indeed so “strong” and to be admired accordingly, why does he fear “weaker” countries banding together against him and why do his admirers fail to recognize that fear for the weakness it is? Why do those who object to U.S. and NATO adventurism in Afghanistan and Iraq, for examples, effectively embrace Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine? Finally, I understand that right-wingers, especially Trumpists, are all about the strong bullying the weak—hence, “Fuck Your Feelings” and “Make a Liberal Cry”—but why do so many who claim to be on the Left now effectively embrace the very same thing?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine[6] is a tragedy in itself. That Putin apparently also wants Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as well, to rebuild the Soviet Union,[7] threatens a yet wider war. And that Putin threatens nuclear war to get his way[8] erases any doubt that he is a madman.

But if we hold people responsible for their own actions, then Russia is responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. No one else. And if you’re trying to blame someone else, you’d better have a far better explanation than any I’ve seen so far.


Update, March 3, 2022: Having already written and published this entry, I find Roane Carey’s op-ed in the Intercept from March 1. His logic often coincides with mine and he refers to the hypocrites of the Left as “tankies,” as I have.[9] I disagree with the blame he attaches to NATO’s eastern expansion and while skeptical—I might be too skeptical[10]—of the economic sanctions against Russia, disagree with his opposition to them.

A sovereign country must have the freedom to choose its alliances. If Ukraine wants to be part of NATO and NATO is willing to have it, that must be its right. Russia’s whining can only be considered relevant by granting Russia rights that extend beyond its borders. This is a position I absolutely reject: It is the logical foundation for any war of expansion, to borrow another metaphor from Nazi Germany: Lebensraum. You cannot logically claim to be anti-imperialist and embrace any country’s claim to rights beyond its own borders.

  1. [1]Philip Bump, “‘Genius,’ ‘Savvy’: Trump reacts to Putin’s moves on Ukraine exactly as you’d expect,” Washington Post, February 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/22/trump-reacts-putins-invasion-ukraine-exactly-youd-expect/; Adam Gabbatt, “Tucker Carlson leads rightwing charge to blame everyone but Putin,” Guardian, February 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/feb/25/tucker-carlson-fox-news-russia-putin; Robert Mackey, “Russian TV Uses Tucker Carlson and Tulsi Gabbard to Sell Putin’s War,” Intercept, February 24, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/02/24/russian-tv-uses-tucker-carlson-tulsi-gabbard-sell-putins-war/
  2. [2]Associated Press, “Russia-Ukraine War: What to know as Ukraine resists advance,” February 28, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-what-to-know-1c7a5fc5e9cf84134592c855c363e791; Larisa Brown, “Ukraine resistance shatters Putin’s plan for victory in 48 hours,” Times, February 28, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk//article/ukraine-resistance-shatters-putins-plan-for-victory-in-48-hours-0flscp323; Anthony Faiola, “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine could be backfiring,” Washington Post, February 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/27/russia-invasion-backfiring-ukraine/; Martin Farrer, Andrew Roth, and Julian Borger, “Ukraine war: sanctions-hit Russian rouble crashes as Zelenskiy speaks of ‘crucial’ 24 hours,” Guardian, February 28, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/28/ukraine-war-sanctions-hit-russian-rouble-crashes-as-zelenskiy-speaks-of-crucial-24-hours; Roman Goncharenko and Andreas Illmer, “Ukraine: What will the next days bring and what is Russia’s overall plan?” February 26, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-what-will-the-next-days-bring-and-what-is-russias-overall-plan/a-60927957; Shira Hanau, “Declaring war on Ukraine, Russia’s Putin cites goal of ‘denazification’ of country with Jewish president,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 24, 2022, https://www.jta.org/2022/02/24/global/declaring-war-on-ukraine-russias-putin-cites-goal-of-denazification-of-country-with-jewish-president; Luke Harding, “How Ukrainian defiance has derailed Putin’s plans,” Guardian, February 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/26/how-ukrainian-defiance-has-derailed-putins-plans; Luke Harding, Jon Henley, and Martin Farrer, “Russia aims to erase Ukraine, says Zelenskiy, as bombardment intensifies,” Guardian, March 2, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/02/ukraine-cities-bombardment-russia-attack-kyiv-kharkiv-russian-war-invasion; Yuras Karmanau et al., “Ukraine’s capital under threat as Russia presses invasion,” Associated Press, February 25, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-vladimir-putin-volodymyr-zelenskyy-boris-johnson-business-08f569df695831ee467979527ea2e241; Yuras Karmanau et al., “Russia pummels Ukraine’s No. 2 city and convoy nears Kyiv,” Associated Press, March 1, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-united-nations-general-assembly-kyiv-business-europe-abc3e297725e57e6052529d844b5ee2f; Roland Oliphant, “The Russians rolled into Kharkiv like victors, but it was another disaster for them,” Telegraph, February 28, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/02/27/dispatch-russians-rolled-kharkiv-like-victors-another-disaster/; Reuters, “Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now,” February 26, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-russia-what-you-need-know-right-now-2022-02-26/; Emily Schultheis, “Ukraine invasion: What to know as Russian forces target Kyiv,” Associated Press, February 26, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-conflict-updates-today-c489b6f56d84f9483802dc3f142cbc8e; Ann M. Simmons, Alan Cullison, and Yaroslav Trofimov, “Russia Begins Military Operation in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-shifts-to-war-footing-tells-citizens-to-leave-russia-11645616181; Ann M. Simmons and Matthew Luxmoore, “Putin Finds Himself Isolated, Out of Touch as Invasion of Ukraine Sputters,” Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-his-invasion-of-ukraine-sputters-putin-finds-himself-isolated-and-out-of-touch-11646000993; Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe, “The war in Ukraine isn’t working out the way Russia intended,” Washington Post, February 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/27/ukraine-russia-invasion-tactics/; Adam Taylor, “War in Ukraine enters a new phase, even more unpredictable and dangerous than the last,” Washington Post, March 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/03/01/ukraine-putin-nuclear-sanctions/; Nataliya Vasilyeva, Robert Mendick, and Mason Boycott-Owen, “Russian troops in disarray and ‘crying’ in combat, radio messages reveal,” Telegraph, March 1, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/03/01/russian-troops-disarray-crying-combat-radio-messages-reveal/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Poor Ukraine, so far from God and so close to Russia,” Not Housebroken, January 1, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/01/01/poor-ukraine-so-far-from-god-and-so-close-to-russia/
  4. [4]Thomas E. Ricks, “7 Former Communist Countries Join NATO,” Washington Post, March 30, 2004, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2004/03/30/7-former-communist-countries-join-nato/476d93dc-e4bd-4f05-9a15-5b66d322d0e6/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin is a fool,” Not Housebroken, March 2, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/01/24/vladimir-putin-is-a-fool/
  6. [6]Associated Press, “Russia-Ukraine War: What to know as Ukraine resists advance,” February 28, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-what-to-know-1c7a5fc5e9cf84134592c855c363e791; Larisa Brown, “Ukraine resistance shatters Putin’s plan for victory in 48 hours,” Times, February 28, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk//article/ukraine-resistance-shatters-putins-plan-for-victory-in-48-hours-0flscp323; Anthony Faiola, “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine could be backfiring,” Washington Post, February 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/27/russia-invasion-backfiring-ukraine/; Martin Farrer, Andrew Roth, and Julian Borger, “Ukraine war: sanctions-hit Russian rouble crashes as Zelenskiy speaks of ‘crucial’ 24 hours,” Guardian, February 28, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/28/ukraine-war-sanctions-hit-russian-rouble-crashes-as-zelenskiy-speaks-of-crucial-24-hours; Roman Goncharenko and Andreas Illmer, “Ukraine: What will the next days bring and what is Russia’s overall plan?” February 26, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-what-will-the-next-days-bring-and-what-is-russias-overall-plan/a-60927957; Shira Hanau, “Declaring war on Ukraine, Russia’s Putin cites goal of ‘denazification’ of country with Jewish president,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 24, 2022, https://www.jta.org/2022/02/24/global/declaring-war-on-ukraine-russias-putin-cites-goal-of-denazification-of-country-with-jewish-president; Luke Harding, “How Ukrainian defiance has derailed Putin’s plans,” Guardian, February 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/26/how-ukrainian-defiance-has-derailed-putins-plans; Luke Harding, Jon Henley, and Martin Farrer, “Russia aims to erase Ukraine, says Zelenskiy, as bombardment intensifies,” Guardian, March 2, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/02/ukraine-cities-bombardment-russia-attack-kyiv-kharkiv-russian-war-invasion; Yuras Karmanau et al., “Ukraine’s capital under threat as Russia presses invasion,” Associated Press, February 25, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-vladimir-putin-volodymyr-zelenskyy-boris-johnson-business-08f569df695831ee467979527ea2e241; Yuras Karmanau et al., “Russia pummels Ukraine’s No. 2 city and convoy nears Kyiv,” Associated Press, March 1, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-united-nations-general-assembly-kyiv-business-europe-abc3e297725e57e6052529d844b5ee2f; Roland Oliphant, “The Russians rolled into Kharkiv like victors, but it was another disaster for them,” Telegraph, February 28, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/02/27/dispatch-russians-rolled-kharkiv-like-victors-another-disaster/; Reuters, “Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now,” February 26, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-russia-what-you-need-know-right-now-2022-02-26/; Emily Schultheis, “Ukraine invasion: What to know as Russian forces target Kyiv,” Associated Press, February 26, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-conflict-updates-today-c489b6f56d84f9483802dc3f142cbc8e; Ann M. Simmons, Alan Cullison, and Yaroslav Trofimov, “Russia Begins Military Operation in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-shifts-to-war-footing-tells-citizens-to-leave-russia-11645616181; Ann M. Simmons and Matthew Luxmoore, “Putin Finds Himself Isolated, Out of Touch as Invasion of Ukraine Sputters,” Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-his-invasion-of-ukraine-sputters-putin-finds-himself-isolated-and-out-of-touch-11646000993; Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe, “The war in Ukraine isn’t working out the way Russia intended,” Washington Post, February 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/27/ukraine-russia-invasion-tactics/; Adam Taylor, “War in Ukraine enters a new phase, even more unpredictable and dangerous than the last,” Washington Post, March 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/03/01/ukraine-putin-nuclear-sanctions/; Nataliya Vasilyeva, Robert Mendick, and Mason Boycott-Owen, “Russian troops in disarray and ‘crying’ in combat, radio messages reveal,” Telegraph, March 1, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/03/01/russian-troops-disarray-crying-combat-radio-messages-reveal/
  7. [7]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/; Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s New Iron Curtain,” Puck News, February 24, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-new-iron-curtain/; Julia Ioffe, “Europe’s 9/11,” Puck News, March 3, 2022, https://puck.news/europes-9-11/; Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  8. [8]Yuras Karmanau, “Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions,” Associated Press, February 27, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-business-europe-moscow-2e4e1cf784f22b6afbe5a2f936725550; Alexander Graef, “Four ways the Russia-Ukraine war could end – from palace coup to Pyrrhic victory,” Telegraph, March 2, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/03/02/four-ways-russia-ukraine-war-could-end-palace-coup-pyrrhic/; Robin Wright, “What Does Putin’s Nuclear Sabre Rattling Mean?” New Yorker, March 1, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/what-does-putins-nuclear-sabre-rattling-mean
  9. [9]Roane Carey, “Don’t Be a Tankie: How the Left Should Respond to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine,” Intecept, March 1, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/03/01/ukraine-russia-leftists-tankie/
  10. [10]Con Coughlin, “The oligarchs are turning on Russia’s new tsar,” Telegraph, March 3, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/03/03/oligarchs-turning-russias-new-tsar/

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