Russia invades Ukraine: Putin’s paranoia and what it means for the Ukrainian people

Anthony Lopez, Investigative News Editor

The warnings were all there, the signs laying bare for months, if not years. Predictions were made and the drums of war were beat. Yet few words can truly describe the horror of watching one nation invade another, a tumultuous wave of carnage ripping through the Donbas region that has only threatened to escalate. 

On Feb. 24, Russia affirmed much of what many in the international community feared the country might do, invading Ukraine following several weeks of uncertainty over President Vladimir Putin’s motivations and potential actions. While the concern over a potential invasion has reached global attention in recent months, the threats of such an attack have loomed over the country for decades, a tension lingering since Ukraine declared independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

Ukraine’s potential induction into NATO has served as yet another pressing matter for Putin. The organization’s eastward expansion, through the added membership of nations such as Georgia and particularly Ukraine, might arguably serve among his greatest fears. The breakdown of diplomatic talks over the permanent refusal of a Ukraine membership into NATO brought Putin no assurances to dissuade his fears. 

When Russia recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, two territories that have long sought to break away from Ukraine, Putin effectively justified his way into escalating a war that has simmered since 2014, when Crimea was annexed from Ukraine following Russian recognition of the territory. Russia exploited this opportunity to invade Ukraine, calling the act a peacekeeping mission to defend Russians seemingly trapped within the region and held under the perceived clutch of the Ukrainian military. 

It was all a farce, a lie to excuse a bloody war that has in only a few days resulted in a host of deaths and countless wounded. Missile strikes have become a common occurrence piercing major Ukrainian cities, and the nation’s capital of Kyiv is currently serving as a battleground for this conflict. 

The reality of rapidly developing stories mean that articles such as these could, and almost certainly will, become woefully outdated. The strikes in Kharkiv that resulted in the deaths of at least ten and the wounding of dozens more could pale in comparison to what might come in the next few days, or even the next several hours. A convoy rolls through Ukraine just forty miles from the capital as I write these words on a Tuesday night. I can not say where it will arrive, or what the fallout will be. I can only make my grim predictions, and hope that they are wrong. 

The invasion and all of its implications have been harrowing to read about, yes. But little of it could have come as a surprise, given the former nation’s history of intervening in Ukrainian affairs and repeatedly declaring its most tenuous territories as independent. The current numbers of casualties and injuries will most assuredly rise while Russia escalates its tactics in a bid to proclaim victory over Ukraine, while the relatively small country continues to feverishly repel the Russian onslaught. 

One of the most notable members of the Ukrainian defense is President Volodymyr Zelensky. A former actor turned political leader, he emerged victorious nearly three years ago with overwhelming support for him as well as his party, Servant of the People. But his promise to serve as an alternative voice in Ukrainian politics grew to be perceived as merely more lies from a leader serving the establishment. Recently Zelensky’s approval ratings had been teetering around 25 percent, a far cry from the 70 percent of the election vote he received to enter power. But that all changed following the Russian invasion, turning the president from an increasingly unpopular candidate with uncertain reelection prospects to an inspirational figure on the global scale. Putin has effectively turned his primary opposition into a venerated war hero. 

In fact, one might argue that through all of Putin’s paranoia and devastating maneuvers, he has failed in many regards. He has thus far been unable to take Kyiv, the city defying all military predictions of falling within 96 hours of the invasion. He too has failed to find much international support, although he has garnered the affection of nations such as China and India. 

Though no other country has entered the conflict through direct military responses, a current reality Putin has strived to preserve through nuclear threats, numerous nations have offered support to Ukraine through supplies, ammunition and the condemnation of Russia’s actions. 

One could only theorize how an extension of Donald Trump’s presidency might have influenced the United States’ relationship with Russia, particularly given the former President’s recent appraisals of the invasion as a “genius move” by Putin. But Biden has presently taken a harsh stance against Russia, collaborating with other countries to impose, as Biden referred to it, “severe costs and consequences” that will assuredly decimate Putin’s economy. 

Though sanctions have had a checkered success record, the most effective are those that are both multilateral and enduring. The United States has barred Americans from conducting business with Russia’s central bank, a move matched by the European Union and one that threatens to plummet the value of Russia’s ruble.

If Putin somehow sought to preserve his country’s economic conditions through warfare, he certainly failed there as well.

Putin has endured constant resistance and pushback, diplomatically, economically and militarily. None of it was a surprise to him. The past weeks have been a swell of warnings from foreign leaders and companies dissuading Russia from engaging in warfare. Little, if any, of the country’s current stratagems have any tangible benefit for its own prosperity, yet the actions remained not only a possibility, but highly probable.

The current repercussions for Russia’s invasions are limited not only to it and Ukraine, but will effectively cause a damaging shift on the global scale. According to the United Nations nearly 700,000 refugees have fled amid the raging conflict, and over a million trapped within Ukraine are internally displaced. The war will assuredly have economic consequences for other nations. Middle Eastern countries such as Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon, will reel from the stifling of Russian and Ukrainian wheat imports. Italian sanctions on Russia might mean a potential retaliatory loss of gas supplies from one of its leading sources. 

So why invade? Why fall prey to sanctions that will eviscerate Russia’s economy and risk losing international support, let alone the opposition that might grow at home?

Putin has often been referred to as a madman for his brazen actions, simply by virtue of failing to adhere to our traditional understanding of international dynamics. Most tactics from leading nations rely on how best it may economically suit their needs. By nearly every standard, the escalation of the Russo-Ukraine war was going to be an economic catastrophe for Putin, yet he still chose to forgo such plain rationality in favor of invasion. His failure to adhere to the typical international rulebook has made him unpredictable, not because war was so laughably implausible – his actions are not dictated by impulse, and his aggressions are not random. But he has retained his unpredictability because his actions are dictated not by reason, but rather by emotion. The war, one might infer, has morphed into a terrifying prospect: it is not merely a conflict to destabilize Ukraine, but a personal battle to maintain Putin’s hold on his empire. It didn’t matter that Ukraine would likely never be a member of NATO. That would never be enough for Putin, and so he made impossible demands that could never be met. 

They were not accepted, of course. So he attacked. 

Thirty minutes ago a maternity clinic was hit by a missile just outside of Kyiv. Forty minutes ago Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi claimed that missiles struck a sacred memorial in the capital. 

I can posture and claim how likely this invasion was to me given Russia’s plain desperation. I can postulate that sanctions are rarely effective, their spare successes largely serving to harm the citizenry rather than the leaders sending troops to die for a worthless cause. 

I could say all of that, but I’ll think instead about my Ukrainian brothers and sisters, whose blood is my own and runs as red as anyone else’s. I can not possibly know what might come next – none of us can. 

I can only hope that we are all still here.

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