On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, effectively inciting the largest military invasion in Europe since World War II. The military assault — which was, in its inception, allegedly supposed to be a 72-hour “military operation” seeking to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine — has since turned into an atrocious, prolonged conflict responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and the displacement of millions more. As Kenyon students, outside observers and sympathetic human beings, it is imperative that we do not attempt to justify Russia’s senseless, imperialist violence with the Kremlin’s own deceit and lies — we cannot, and must not, fall into the fallacious trap of “bothsidesing” Russia’s cruel invasion of Ukraine. Make no mistake: Russia, and only Russia, is to blame.
Unfortunately, some of the American discourse in both liberal and conservative media spheres has mirrored the rhetoric of Putin’s propaganda that absolves Russia of this blame. In the weeks preceding the onset of the Russian invasion, leftist and right-wing talking heads alike vocally and cynically doubted the many alarms of invasion raised by the White House and U.S. intelligence, with some, such as independent journalist Glenn Greenwald, openly dismissing the accurate warnings as baseless “anti-Russia propaganda.” After the start of the invasion, other individuals, like 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, blamed NATO for encroaching on Russian territory, implying that NATO’s eastward expansion forced Russia to act accordingly: by bombing Ukranian children’s hospitals and other civilian targets, of course. Even the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) said that American imperialism “set the stage” for Russia’s invasion and subsequent slaughter of innocent Ukrainian civilians.
Each of these talking points are not only egregious and astonishingly false, but tacitly dilute the true magnitude of Russia’s humanitarian atrocities. Everytime someone repeats the lie that “Nazis run Ukraine,” or that Russia is simply trying to rid of “American-funded biolabs,” Russia evades due culpability on the world stage. After all, Russia’s motives are entirely imperialistic, with the propaganda serving as a cover for Russia’s true desire to annex additional eastern Ukrainian territory, as they did with Crimea in 2014.
This is not to say that Ukraine’s politics and wartime policies are infallible, of course; in just the last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has outright banned 11 opposition parties, all while enlisting extremist militias, like the far-right neo-Nazi Azov Battalian, for military assistance. However, while these actions are inherently problematic to say the least, they in no way justify the Kremlin’s decision to senselessly slaughter innocent Ukrainian men, women and children under blatantly false pretenses. It was Russia’s decision to amass nearly 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, it was Russia’s decision to break the Minsk agreements and ultimately it has been Russia’s decision to act the way it has — not America’s decision, not NATO’s decision and most certainly not Ukraine’s decision. To say anything different is deliberately dishonest.