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Is Putin haunted by NATO or by Russian history?

By Curtis Scoon

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Recently on his radio program, conservative talk radio host Mark Levin called for American military intervention against Russia in Ukraine. After years of conservative talking heads calling for an end to American involvement in foreign wars, this struck me as contradictory, if not hypocritical. 

During Trump’s presidency, a popular narrative from the right was we could no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. Even former President Trump himself floated the idea of withdrawing our military from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) while in office. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed Russian president Vladimir Putin was waiting for Trump to do just that if re-elected – ostensibly to indulge in expansionism by threatening his neighbors and Europe. 

Russia’s ongoing invasion in Ukraine has captured the world’s attention, and rightfully so. Western media compares Putin to Hitler because his violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty is reminiscent of the Nazis invasion of Poland, which officially started WWII. 

Presently, Russian troops are closing in on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, or ‘Kiev’ if you use the Russian pronunciation. The two Slavic nations have a long-shared history that can be traced back to the State of ‘Kievan Rus’ in the 9th century AD. However, the “Russification” of Ukraine began in the 18th century with Tsar Peter I and continued under Catherine the Great. 

Later, in the early 1930’s after Russia had become the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), Soviet leader Joseph Stalin caused a famine in greater Ukraine known as the “Holodomor.” This was done to seize Ukrainian farmland and punish independent minded Ukrainians who posed a threat to his totalitarian authority. Millions died and the area was repopulated with ethnic Russians. 

Today, one-in-six Ukrainians are ethnic Russians and one-in-three speak Russian as a native tongue. 

It should also be noted that during WWII, significant collaboration existed between ethnic Ukrainians with their Nazi occupiers who were also invading Russia. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators. 

Collaborators such as Stepan Bandera, Andriy Melnyk, and Roman Shukhevych are widely regarded by Ukrainians as national heroes to this day. 

The stage for today’s Ukrainian conflict was set back in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The credit for that collapse is often attributed to the arms race with the United States and Western powers during the post-WWII cold war era. 

Tired of food shortages and a sluggish economy in the 80’s, the Soviet people demanded change. This was accomplished under Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid to late 80’s through ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost.’ Those phrases translate to “Restructuring” and “Transparency.” 

Of the fifteen former Soviet Republics, Russia was the largest and most powerful with Ukraine at number two. Both were nuclear powers at the time of the breakup. Ukraine alone housed many nuclear weapons from the Soviet era. Listed in the Ukrainian nuclear inventory was: 176 ICBM’s (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles), 1249 nuclear warheads, 700 nuclear tipped cruise missiles, 2000 tactical nuclear weapons and 44 strategic bombers – A formidable arsenal making it the third nuclear power in the world at the time. 

In 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum and handed over its entire nuclear arsenal to Russia in exchange for guarantees of its security obtained from Russia, America, and the UK. Additionally, Ukraine received in excess of $1 billion. The US also bought Ukraine’s stockpile of uranium for a massive sum. One can only wonder how much of a deterrent those nukes would’ve been now. 

Today, Russia itself is a world power in decline. The Russian economy is currently smaller than that of South Korea. Militarily, they’re not the force they were as the Soviet Union. This decline may be cause for some geopolitical paranoia that contributes heavily to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine.  

Putin has to demonstrate strength as a defense mechanism. The Russians have China on the Eastern front eyeballing former territory Vladivostok and resource rich Siberia while Europe sits on their doorstep to the West. At the same time, Putin has consistently warned NATO of the consequences for accepting former Soviet Republics. 

His argument is this could potentially place Western strike weapons on Russia’s borders. Putin has also gone on record stating he expressed Russian interest in joining NATO. According to Putin, Clinton said he had no objection. 

While Russia never joined, in 1999 Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic did. That was followed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004. Then, Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. Montenegro joined in 2017. Finally, as recently as 2020, N. Macedonia entered the alliance. 

Historically, Russia has twice been invaded by European Armies in successive recent centuries. In 1812, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte launched his ‘Russia Campaign’ by invading Russia from Poland with a massive force of over 600,000 soldiers. In 1940, the German Nazis invaded the Soviet Union with the largest invasion force in the history of warfare. 

All things considered; Russian wariness of European aggression is understandable. 

Consequently, this has affected the national psyche and the Russian people look to strongmen who can protect them from outside forces. Leaders who fail may end up like Tsar Nicholas II who fell into disfavor after Japan defeated Russia in the 1905 Russo-Japan war. 

The Russian Revolution of 1905 diminished his power further. Only twelve years later, he and his family were executed. 

The Russian people can be unforgiving to weak leaders who miscalculate and make them feel vulnerable. A former KGB (Committee for State Security) agent like Putin understands the importance of projecting strength even if bluffing.

His legend began while stationed in Dresden, East Germany during the lead up to German reunification. In 1989, emboldened East German protesters prepared to storm the local KGB headquarters. A brazen Putin confronted the angry mob alone brandishing his sidearm and delivered this warning, “I urge you to refrain from entering this territory. My comrades are armed, and I’ve given orders to defend this building.” (Emphasis added). 

The truth is Putin bought time for his colleagues to destroy incriminating KGB documents and potentially saved their lives, as they simply didn’t have the firepower to stop the mob. Upon his return to the Soviet Union, Putin embarked on a new career, politics. 

The Soviet Union Putin returned home to was unraveling. The communist system was collapsing and there was little opportunity for an unemployed KGB officer. In his hometown of St. Petersburg, his former law professor Anatoly Sobchak was elected mayor. Sobchak hired Putin and he soon became deputy mayor of the city. 

Putin’s primary role was to mitigate risk for his benefactor by being an intermediary with Russian gangsters. St. Petersburg had a reputation of being the gangster capital of the Soviet Union. Putin worked in the shadows. 

From there, he went to work in Moscow at the Kremlin for Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president. By 1996, Sobchak had lost his re-election bid and investigators were coming after him. Putin, ever the loyalist, saw to it that his political patron escaped prosecution by facilitating his escape out of the country. 

Some theorize this act got the attention of Boris Yeltsin, himself a corrupt Russian politician. In Russia, corruption is par for the course and corrupt politicians need the protection of their successor to escape accountability. Yeltsin recognized this quality in Putin. He also needed protection for his family after his term was up in 1999. 

Although well known among Russia’s power elite, Putin was an unknown quantity to the masses that would have to vote him into power. This would change not long before Yeltsin stepped down in 1999 with the infamous “Russian Apartment Bombings.” This act killed nearly 300 residents as they slept and was blamed on Chechen terrorists. It is often referred to as “Russia’s 911.” Like 911, it has been the source of numerous conspiracy theories. 

In any event, the timing was fortuitous for Putin’s career, as he became the face of justice for the victims. Putin had recently been appointed Prime Minister and he rose to prominence by vowing revenge on those responsible. Thus, the Second Chechen War began. 

That was the second time a war with Chechnya would influence a Russian election. The previous time being when Yeltsin was up for reelection in 1995. The second war made Putin a national hero and president in 2000. One of Putin’s first acts as president was to grant his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and his family immunity from prosecution

At NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit, the alliance promised that former Soviet Republics Ukraine and Georgia would someday become members of NATO. For Moscow, both decisions crossed a red line. Within months, the Russo-Georgian war was underway. 

Like Ukraine’s issues with separatist movements in the Donbas Region (Luhansk and Donetsk), Georgia dealt with pro-Russia factions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At the time, Vladimir Putin was no longer president due to term limits. The Russian constitution did not allow a third consecutive presidential term. 

So, Putin switched positions with his prime minister Dimitry Medvedev – a long time Putin loyalist from his days as St. Petersburg deputy mayor and his campaign manager when he ran for president in 2000. 

In Russia, this role reversal was compared to the “Castle” move on the chessboard and Medvedev was largely viewed as merely holding the presidential office for Putin until he could run again in 2012. 

Most notably, Medvedev wasted no time in extending the presidential term from four years to six, scheduled to begin with his successor. That successor turned out to be Vladimir Putin. 

In a rare public display of emotion, a tearful Vladimir Putin addressed his countrymen after his 2012 election victory with, “I promised you we would win. We have won. Glory to Russia.” Predictably, outgoing president Dimitry Medvedev returned to his position as Prime Minister. The masterful Putin had yet again outflanked his opposition at home and abroad. 

In his third term, one of Putin’s biggest challenges was the toppling of pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was seen by the West as a Moscow puppet, and his rejection of a European Union trade deal served to fuel such claims. 

The deal would’ve brought Ukraine into the sphere of Western influence through greater integration with the European Union. Instead, he took a $15 billion bailout from Russia. Ethnic Ukrainians felt as if Yanukovych sold the country to Moscow and protests called “Euromaidan” broke out in what today is known as Independence Square. By February 2014, Yanukovych fled Ukraine. 

That very same month, Putin invaded and annexed Russian-speaking Crimea. Then, as now, his stated motive was to protect ethnic Russians who wanted to be aligned with the land of their origin. 

Historically, Crimea was always part of Russia. But in 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine to strengthen brotherly ties between the two Soviet Republics. The Crimean conflict quickly spread into the Donbas region of Ukraine, which is another ethnic Russian enclave in Ukraine. Afterwards, some semblance of civility was established via the Minsk Agreement. The agreement called for an immediate ceasefire, military withdrawal, and elections in rebel held areas. The agreement has never been fully implemented. 

Fast forward to September 2020 when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky approved Ukraine’s new ‘National Security Strategy.’ The aim of the strategy was NATO membership. On March 24, 2021, Zelensky followed up by signing Decree No. 117/2021 in which he approved the de-occupation and reintegration of occupied Crimea. 

In response, Putin made it clear that a Ukrainian accession to NATO or any enlargement of the alliance posed a direct threat to Russia. Given Putin’s consistent stance on Ukraine and NATO, his interpretation of these developments as a provocation, if not a declaration of war, should’ve surprised no one. 

It’s almost as if he’s being lured into a trap. Never one to back down, Putin began mobilizing troops and equipment to Crimea and the border with Ukraine. One would think an opposition leader willing to take on “strongman” Putin was of similar pedigree. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was an actor and comedian who starred in a popular TV show as the president of Ukraine before becoming its president. His meteoric rise via pop culture to the height of power in his country has the earmarks of a classic psyop. 

As if this isn’t bizarre enough, he’s also known for his zany comedic antics including wearing tight leather outfits and dancing like Beyoncé, or simulating playing a piano with his genitals. The “tale of the tape” for this “heavyweight” showdown reads like something out of a comic book. Truth can prove to be stranger than fiction. Zelensky is the antithesis of the stereotypical Eastern Bloc leader.  

By February 2022, Russia had amassed a reported 190,000 troops at Ukraine’s border. NATO accused Russia of planning an invasion, which it denied. The official explanation out of Moscow was it was simply a military exercise, and they had no intention of invading Ukraine. By the 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting its president to take to social media and plead for Western assistance. 

Zelensky implored NATO and the world to help him fight the Russians. He’s gone so far as laying blame for the potential suffering of his people at NATO’s doorstep while claiming the entire world is in danger. His latest plea is for a NATO “no fly” zone which Putin has already stated “would be a declaration of war” by NATO. 

For his consistent efforts to expand the conflict, the media has lauded Zelensky as a hero around the world. Not everyone is enamored with his histrionics, though. Retired US Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor offered this while on network television, “Mr. Zelensky is postponing the inevitable in hopes we are coming and we’re not coming.” 

He further added, “I think Zelensky is a Puppet… I don’t see anything heroic about the man.” Before dismissing MacGregor’s perspective, we should wonder why Zelensky hasn’t complied with Putin’s demand for Ukrainian neutrality. We should also wonder if he’s received assurances from undisclosed parties. Obviously, there’s more to this conflict than disclosed. 

World leaders are currently imposing some of the harshest sanctions on Russia but stopping short of direct military aid to Ukraine. Beyond frozen assets, several Russian banks are now disallowed from using SWIFT, a global messaging system for financial transactions. Also, Visa and MasterCard have banned transactions in Russia.  

Consequently, the ruble is tumbling. The potential for more banks to be added later is likely. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire described a SWIFT ban as a “financial nuclear weapon.” 

Putin, on the other hand, has maintained his goal is to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine. Allegations of a Nazi presence in Ukraine seem farfetched, considering Zelensky is Jewish, but anything is possible in such a corrupt country.  

Furthermore, reverence for Nazi collaborators complicit in genocide against Ukrainian Jews during WWII makes Putin’s claims seem plausible. Lastly, there’s the Azov battalion, a right-wing extremist paramilitary group. The battalion is one of several right-wing extremist groups in the country and it also has a political arm called “National Corps Party.” Party leader Andriy Biletsky is on record stating, “Azov’s mission is to lead the white races of the world in a final crusade against Semite-led Sub-humans.” 

Interestingly, Israel’s PM Naftali Bennett is now functioning as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv despite Israel not belonging to NATO or being in Europe. According to Boris Lozhkin, (President Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and Kyiv Jewish Forum founder) the Israeli Mossad has had four Ukrainian directors for twenty-four years of its’ seventy-year history; Meir Amit, Yitzhak Hofi, Danny Yatom, and Meir Dagan.  

One of the most alarming developments in this crisis is that Putin has placed Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert. While Zelensky “courageously” pleads for help on social media, the Russian president is seemingly preparing for Armageddon.  

Compounding matters, the Russian Defense Ministry claims thirty U.S. Bio-Labs were found in Ukraine near the Russian border. The implications here are quite serious. U.S. Under-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland had this to say when asked if Ukraine has bioweapons, “Ukraine has biological research facilities, which in fact we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of.” 

There’s an anecdote in Putin’s biography where he tells the story of a cornered rodent in his childhood home. The cornered rodent jumped at him unexpectedly. He learned a lesson that day. Perhaps, there’s a lesson in that experience for everyone. 

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Curtis Scoon

Editor-In-Chief | Founder

The editor-in-chief, executive producer, writer, and businessman. Curtis is active in helping the black community by employing and providing services in the Washington, DC and Detroit, MI areas.

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