Putin is looking for an excuse to invade Ukraine and blame it on NATO and the US: experts


  • Putin is looking for an excuse to invade Ukraine and blame the West, experts say.
  • The Russian president is ratcheting up warnings of a military response to alleged NATO aggression. 
  • In reality, Putin created the tensions of Ukraine by annexing Crimea and supporting rebels in the Donbass region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seemingly searching for a pretext to invade Ukraine as he continues to blame tensions on NATO and the US while ratcheting up talk of a military response.

“What the US is doing in Ukraine is at our doorstep … And they should understand that we have nowhere further to retreat to. Do they think we’ll just watch idly?” Putin said during a speech to Russian military leaders on Tuesday, per Reuters. “If the aggressive line of our Western colleagues continues, we will take adequate military-technical response measures and react harshly to unfriendly steps.”

Russia’s defense secretary also claimed without evidence that over 100 US mercenaries were on the ground in eastern Ukraine and threatening Russia with chemical weapons, an accusation that experts dismissed as groundless and bordering on fantasy; the Pentagon called it “completely false.”

Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under the Obama administration, in a tweet said that Putin “just declared war on Ukraine (pretending it’s war against the US and its allies, provoked by us).”

Echoing these sentiments, Alina Polyakova, the president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, said that Putin’s “framing of Russia as a victim is disinformation.”

“Ukraine didn’t invade Russia,” Polyakova added. “Russia has been the aggressor in every recent conflict — but it serves a purpose: justifying military aggression to the Russian people.”

Putin’s comments came as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s borders, prompting fears of an invasion for the second time this year.

The Russian leader, who invaded and unilaterally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has repeatedly accused the West of not respecting the Kremlin’s “red lines” in the region. Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has backed separatists in a war against Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbass region that’s claimed over 13,000 lives. Russia, for its part, claims to have no involvement in the Donbass conflict despite evidence to the contrary. 

The Russian government in recent days has made demands that NATO and the US would be unlikely to agree to in any context — including a firm commitment that the alliance will never accept Ukraine and Georgia as members.

Ukraine has sought to join NATO for years, and maintains a robust partnership with the alliance that’s coincided with members offering security assistance. In addition to training Ukrainian special forces, the US has provided Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles, armored Humvees, radios, and unarmed drones.

‘Completely nuts’

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday baselessly claimed that US mercenaries were in eastern Ukraine and preparing a “provocation using unknown chemical components.”

“We have identified the presence of over 120 members of U.S. mercenary groups in the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations … Tanks filled with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations,” Shoigu said, the Moscow Times reported, citing a state-run news agency. 

The Russian defense minister was essentially alleging that the West was poised to commit war crimes against it, as international law prohibits the use of chemical weapons. 

Russia Crimea amphibious military landing

Russian landing ships and military vehicles during an exercise at the Opuk training ground in Crimea, April 22, 2021.

Sergei MalgavkoTASS via Getty Images


Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, in a tweet responding to Shoigu’s groundless assertions said, “These are not the words a rational actor seeking to discuss ‘legitimate’ concerns about European security. These are the false words of someone looking for an excuse for war. Hoping it’s all still bluff; fearing it’s not.”

McFaul dismissed Shoigu’s claims as “completely nuts.”

Similarly, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer said that “Putin faking some serious anger” at the West for “forcing Russia’s hand” when it comes to Ukraine. “If you only watch Russian state media, you’d think war is inevitable and NATO’s fault,” Bremmer said.

To his point, a recent poll found that half of the Russian public blames the US and NATO for the tensions over Ukraine, while just 4% blamed the Russian government.  

In reality, Putin has manufactured the recent crisis. His actions in Crimea in 2014 and support for rebels in the Donbass pushed Ukraine closer to the West, increasing the tensions with NATO and the US that he’s now banging the war drum over. But he continues to portray Russia as the victim, characterizing NATO’s growing influence in Ukraine as an existential threat to his country. 

Experts say that Putin views Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, as unfinished business. The Russian president has referred to Russians and Ukrainians as “one people.” Steven Pifer, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, in a recent op-ed said such rhetoric from Putin is “utterly tone-deaf,” adding that “millions of ethnic Ukrainians heard it as a denial of their culture, history and language.”

The US has warned of severe economic consequences if Russia invades Ukraine, but President Joe Biden recently said the US would not be obligated to send in troops in the event of a Russian incursion. 

US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried, the top US diplomat for Europe, in a call with reporters on Tuesday warned “we are poised to move in a dramatic way if Russia does undertake further military aggression against Ukraine.” 

Donfried said the US would be prepared to provide military equipment “above and beyond” what’s already been sent. 





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