I thoroughly disagree with the March 11 opinion posted by C. Augustus Landis regarding blame for the Ukraine war. The blame lies primarily with Vladimir Putin. I read the piece expecting it to discuss Russia’s history with Ukraine and how Putin might feel boxed in by NATO expansion. It did, to a point, but he referenced Professor Stephen F. Cohen, whose favorable opinions on Vladimir Putin were debatable. Then the author slid into an attempt to blame U.S. Democrats for the invasion.

NATO, from its inception, has been a defensive alliance: A mutual military cooperation pact between free nations to protect themselves from Soviet aggression at first, then nationalist Russian aggression under Putin, later. Countries in the pact were effectively placed ‘off limits’ to individual military actions by Russia. Russian territorial sovereignty, the welfare of its people and the stability of its government were never threatened by the NATO alliance. Only Russian expansion by means of war into neighboring NATO countries was effectively prevented.

Vladimir Putin didn’t see it that way, though. Watching nations bordering Russia slipping out of his reach and seeing the U.S. and allies as fractious and weak, he gambled on an invasion of Ukraine. If successful, he would put the remaining unallied nations on notice not to seek NATO membership and attain control over a large bloc of territory, with Belarus, along Russia’s western border. The threat of eventual NATO membership putting the resources of Ukraine out of Russia’s grasp motivated Putin to strike while he thought he could.

U.S. Democrats are not to blame for Putin’s thinking. One could point to President Obama’s response to Syria’s civil war as encouraging to dictators, but what transpired under the Trump administration did much more harm. This man threw acid on our country’s reputation by openly deriding our involvement in NATO, undermining our position in the U.N., shredding some treaties and missing opportunities to ink others. He gutted our State Department and fired our Ukraine ambassador in the most petty and untimely fashion. He was openly deferential to Vladimir Putin and sympathetic to anarchistic U.S. alt-right elements. He laid the groundwork (?) for our exit from Afghanistan. Oh, and he wished for a coup. Not the ‘Clinton Cabal’, or some other Q Anonsense, but Donald J. Trump gave Vladimir Putin the notion that he could get away with taking Ukraine and threatening Europe. Putin’s biggest regret is likely that he didn’t try it sooner.

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