The Inevitability, Tragedy and Opportunity in the Invasion of Ukraine

By Jim Garrison


By Jim Garrison

There is a saying in the Gospels from Jesus: “It must needs be that the Son of Man must be offered up to die but woe unto the man by whom this comes. It would be better for him to tie a millstone around his neck and cast himself into the sea.”

What Jesus was indicating here is that some things are inevitable — Jesus knew he was destined to die — but woe unto the man by whom this would be brought to pass. In betraying Jesus and triggering the events that led to the crucifixion, Judas was completely culpable for his action. He was to pay the ultimate price by eventually going to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem and hanging himself. In a highly ironic way, this applies to what is happening with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. There is a certain inevitability to what Putin has done and yet his action condemns him to being considered one of the arch villains of our time. Like Judas, Putin will reap a whirlwind.

First let’s discuss the inevitability of what has just occurred by examining the historical context for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Twice in the last two centuries, Russia has been brutally invaded from Europe — first by Napoleon in 1812 and second by Hitler in 1941. Both invasions were unprovoked and devastating. After Napoleon’s invasion, Czar Alexander I pushed the French forces back and consolidated control in parts of Eastern Europe. After Hitler’s invasion, the Soviet Union pushed the German forces back, taking control of Eastern Europe. The Soviets remained in Eastern Europe for the next 44 years determined to keep a buffer between the Russian heartland and Western Europe. Their rule over Eastern Europe was dictatorial and rapacious, triggering numerous revolts.

At the end of the Cold War in 1989 with the Fall of the Berlin Wall when Soviet President Gorbachev allowed the Eastern European nations to become free sovereign states, he proposed that the protagonists of the Cold War create a common security arrangement in which “the security of one is understood to be the security of all.” There was a tacit understanding between Gorbachev and President George Bush Sr. and Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would not push east and would honor the need for Russia to have a buffer on its western frontier.  But this understanding did not last. Neoconservatives and war hawks in the US became intoxicated by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and felt that this was the moment for the US to gain total world supremacy, not establish a wider peace.

When Putin assumed the Russian presidency in 2000, he approached President Clinton about Russia joining NATO. He was rebuffed. Presidents Bush Jr and Obama also chose the path of supremacy and encouraged the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO toward Russia’s borders. President Biden continues this policy. Just imagine for a moment what the world would be like today if the US had embraced Gorbachev’s and Putin’s proposal and worked with the Russians to create a zone of peace that would have united the former enemies. There would have been no invasion of Ukraine. 

The eastward expansion of NATO began under Clinton in 1999 when Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined. Putin repeatedly warned that continued encroachment on Russia’s frontier would produce a response. The West ignored this and NATO expanded eastward until Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which share borders with Russia, joined in 2004.

In 2008, NATO announced its intention to expand further still to Ukraine and Georgia. If you look at a map, you will see that Ukraine juts into the Russian heartland, which is a large reason why for several centuries before World War I, Ukraine was part of Russia and then after World War I Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine became an independend state only in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is where Russia decided to take its stand.

To take in what the eastward expansion of NATO into Ukraine means to Russia, remember back to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when the Soviet Union attempted to send nuclear missiles to Cuba 90 miles off the coast of Florida. The US came within a hair’s breadth of going to nuclear war over this. The joint chiefs of the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense actually recommended a first strike nuclear attack. President Kennedy refused and a deal was made whereby the Soviet misseles were taken down in exchange for the US withdrawing missiles from Turkey. Ukraine is to Russia roughly what the Cuban Missile Crisis was to the United States.

Imagine if the Russians or Chinese came into Canada or Mexico and placed troops on the US border reinforced by a military alliance. The US would become apoplectic with anxiety and almost certainly go to war. Ever since 1823 with the Monroe Doctrine, the US has stated that it will not tolerate a foreign power encroaching on any territory in the entire Western Hemisphere. That is how sensitive the US is to foreign power encroachment. 

Russia is no different. This is why there has been an aura of inevitability around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Russian bear feels cornered and is biting back. This is at the heart of the reason why Putin has invaded. As the leader of Russia, he feels a sacred trust to protect the Motherland. This is also why Putin has put Russian nuclear forces on high alert. Like the Americans in 1962, he is signalling that he is deadly serious. 

Now, for the second part of the saying of Jesus — It would have been better for Putin to put a millstone around his neck and cast himself into the sea rather than invade Ukraine. If he had been a statesman, Putin would have used the inevitability he faced as an opportunity to create something that would advance history rather than repeat history. Instead, he reacted to the NATO expansion in a reptilian way and invaded Ukraine, which is a violation of international law, an assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and a disruption of a peace in Europe that has endured more or less intact for 75 years. His action can only be described as catastrophic at every level — for Russia, which will now be considered a pariah state; for Ukraine, which will be devastated; for Europe, which has now been destabilized; for the world, which is seeing the return of great power invasions; and for Putin himself, who has acted as a thug and will almost certanly meet a tragic end. 

Here is where a comparison to Kennedy in 1962 might be instuctive. Kennedy was able to rise to statesmanship. Rather than go to war, he worked out a bargain that gave each side something of what they needed. Putin did not rise to statesmanship. He descended into warmongering. Had Kennedy acted then like Putin is now, he would have probably gone to nuclear war. If Putn would act now like Kennedy did then, he would find a way to higher peace through some reconciliating bargain.  

Putin had other choices. Consider one of them: What if rather than invading, Putin had acted proactively rather than reactively and initiated a diplomatic offensive across Europe, traveling to major capitols and articulating the actual history and his proposal that rather than NATO pushing east to the Russian border, Russia should join NATO and the European Union and all the nations formerly divided by the Cold War should come together in a common security and economic zone. He could have called for a major Summit to discuss this. Not only would this have changed the context, it might have gained significant popular support and political traction because this proposal is the obvious way forward. 

It is worth remembering that it was this kind of vision that created the EU. It was the Frenchman Jean Monnet after the end of the Second World War who proposed the obvious. He had lived through the carnage of the war and articulated a vision of a common security and economic zone between the former enemies. Starting as simply agreements around steel and coal, this vision grew and evolved into what became the Common Market and is now the European Union. Of course Ukraine should join it. And so should Russia. They should also join NATO. Together. The world is an interrelated whole. The sooner humanity comes to understand this, the better off everyone will be. 

The creation of a common security and economic zone is actually the best move both Russia and the EU/NATO could make. It creates a single zone from the Atlantic to the Pacific across the roof of the world and would unite much of both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. It is the masterstroke that could come out of the invasion that would transcend and include the current crisis and unite former warring nations. It is the single most dazzling possibility for all the protagonists and it actually emerges out of the history of the post Cold War world itself. In this larger context, the Russians and the Ukrainians, Putin and Zelenski, NATO and Russia are actually partners not enemies, co-creators not competitors, joining together to advance the unity of humankind when nothing less will sufice to enable us to solve the critical challenges facing us. We need to think and act globally in a global world.  

The deeper the crisis, the greater the opportunity. We are now in the deepest crisis in Europe since World War II, triggered by the invasion of Ukraine. What lies before us is deepening enmity and the prospect of a new Cold War along with the heightened possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. The only way for the current crisis to be truly solved is to create a process in and through which all the former antagonists can come together around the creation of a common security and economic zone that brings Russia together with Ukraine as partners in a larger zone of peace. It is possible. If Germany and France could do this after World War II, Russia and NATO can do this now. All we need is vision and political will. This is the time for a history making political process that unites rather than divides, that brings former competitors together into a higher order unity.

What would it take, I wonder, for NATO and Russia to embrace the obvious?

Jim Garrison is the Founder/President, Ubiquity University.

This article was published on February 27, 2022, here.

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