At the time of writing, Ukraine is soaked in blood. Civilians in Ukraine lie dead by the hundreds, along with hundreds of Russian soldiers. While casualty numbers for the Ukrainian Army remain largely unreported, the figures are likely equally high at minimum. Even larger is the scope of the human tragedy: At least one million Ukrainian refugees have fled the country, and countless more are displaced internally.
While President Vladimir Putin and his government bear immediate responsibility for this invasion, it must be remembered, even as English-speaking media has become increasingly consumed by nationalistic and interventionist fervor, that all this bloodshed is the product of three decades of criminality and butchery on the part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the capitalist West.
What must first be addressed is the role of the United States and its allies in producing the current Russian political situation. While NATO and the West are responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relationships involved call for a degree of critical analysis not possible in this limited format. The U.S. and allies’ actions that connect to the current tragedy lie after the fall of the Soviet Union.
First, in 1991 the democratically elected Parliament of the Russian Republic granted President Boris Yeltsin extraordinary powers to reform the Russian economy. This was done following pressure from the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund to enact sweeping neoliberal economic reforms on the Russian economy, drastically cutting regulations.
The alternative to accepting was a shut-off of foreign currency and the cessation of foreign loans: effectively starving the Russian people. By 1993 the economic reforms had taken a huge toll. The removal of fixed prices increased inflation and plummeted the standard of living.
Yeltsin insisted the only remedy was further action in the form of mass privatization of the Russian economy. When Parliament rejected these reforms and suspended Yeltsin’s emergency powers, Yeltsin granted unlimited powers to himself unilaterally.
When Parliament attempted to suspend Yeltsin’s presidency for this unconstitutional action, Yeltsin launched a military coup. Soldiers butchered protesters attempting to defend parliament. Foreign television stations were bombed to prevent their broadcasting to the outside world.
On Oct. 4, 1993, Yeltsin’s tanks shelled the Russian Parliament with full Western support. The coup left an estimated 145 dead by official accounts, with realistic numbers being far higher. Members of Parliament were carted off to secret detention facilities in a manner reminiscent of Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup, backed by the U.S., in Chile. The U.S. supported the swift killing of newborn Russian democracy.
Following the coup, Yeltsin imposed his own constitution, which allowed him to privatize huge sections of the Russian economy unilaterally. Unemployment skyrocketed, Russian society was taken over by a small number of capitalists, thus forming an oligarchy, and Russian life expectancy collapsed. In a very real sense, Yeltsin’s reforms amounted to mass murder.
In 1996 with the support of the U.S. State Department, Boris Yeltsin conducted massive electoral manipulation to ensure his reelection.
In 2000, the Russian people, who were fed up with a decade of misery and foreign plunder, elected Putin, Yeltsin’s chosen successor, by a slim margin. Putin was, of course, supported by the West against his left wing competitors. When Putin invaded the breakaway republic of Chechnya in 2000, with a scale of brutality and murder still unseen in Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe ignored the incursion. Following September 11, this butchery on Putin’s part became an asset to the U.S. as Chechnya was a Muslim republic which sheltered certain Islamist groups with alleged connections to Al-Qaeda.
Putin’s strangulation of democracy in the years that followed was hardly surprising considering the foundations that had been laid by Western influence in the 1990s, with Yeltsin’s authoritarian constitution allowing Putin to act unhindered.
Even as recently as 2021, Western media has continued to ignore the left-wing opposition, which has always made up the bulk of opposition to Russian authoritarianism. Instead they focus on far right figures such as Alexei Navalny, whose primary reservation with Putin being that the leader was not nationalistic and right wing enough.
Besides Russia, NATO has insisted on increased military presence in former-Soviet republics in the years following the 2014 Crimea Crisis, measures which the Russian government has continually warned would lead to conflict.
Even in 2022, with conflict appearing increasingly imminent, NATO and the West pressured President Zelensky into refusing the Minsk accords, which would have provided for the independence of the breakaway republics and the withdrawal of foreign militaries in exchange for peace.
The result was that Putin’s authoritarian nationalistic government, which the U.S. is itself responsible for, was faced with two alternatives: invade or see a rapid military buildup of NATO forces on its doorstep in Ukraine. Putin, leading the nationalistic and militaristic regime that the West put in place to defend capitalistic economic reforms, chose to invade.
Now as the fruits of our foreign anti-democratic interventions and crimes have come to bear, we in the West must not only recognize the criminality and brutality of Putin: We must also recognize that the responsibility for these events, to say nothing of the blood of countless Ukrainians, is pooling in our hands.