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As Russia invades Ukraine on multiple fronts, everybody seems to be an expert on European security and energy markets all of a sudden. A lot of people sound very sure that they have the right opinion about a very complex situation.
It is literally our job to have an opinion, but we do our best not to simply add to the noise. There is much more that we don’t know about the events unfolding in Ukraine than what we do know. We have more questions than answers.
There are, however, some things we do know. In a fast-moving international crisis, there is still some measure of clarity.
We know that Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone to great, if ridiculous, lengths trying to manufacture false pretenses for his reckless invasion. As the military incursion began Thursday morning, Putin outlandishly claimed that Russia’s goal was the “demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”
We know that a country does not protect a neighbor’s citizens by invading their cities and claiming ownership. Nations don’t keep the peace by shattering it. Putin using the Russian military to try to achieve “demilitarization” in Ukraine is quite the doublespeak, even for a former KGB operative turned autocrat.
We know that Putin’s version of Ukrainian history is one of dangerous revisionism, if not outright denial of basic facts, when he claims that “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia” and questions its sovereignty.
We know that Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust — is not leading a Nazi regime in Ukraine. Putin has tried to convince the world, or at least his own people, that he is trying to “denazify” Ukraine. This might be his most transparent false pretense for the invasion.
“In terms of all of the sort of constituent parts of Nazism, none of that is in play in Ukraine. Territorial ambitions. State-sponsored terrorism. Rampant antisemitism. Bigotry. A dictatorship. None of those are in play. So this is just total fiction,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, a history professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, as reported by the Associated Press.
We know that Putin’s interaction with his own spy chief gave the game away in terms of how and why Russia is invading. Just days ago, when Russia said it was merely supporting the independence of two regions in eastern Ukraine.
“I support the proposal about the entry of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics into the Russian Federation,” Sergey Naryshkin said when Putin pressed him at one point.
“We’re not talking about that,” Putin responded. “We’re not discussing that. We’re talking about recognizing their independence or not.”
It was as if Putin was upset with Naryshkin for reading too far ahead in the script.
We also know, despite Putin’s arguments, that shared language, history and culture is not an excuse for violating the sovereignty of another country. Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, spoke to this in remarks to the U.N. Security Council.
“Kenya and almost every African country was birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris and Lisbon, with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart.” Kimani said. “At independence, had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later.”
Above all, we know that peace must be the goal of all actions from the U.S. and international community moving forward. Again, we have more questions than answers about how to achieve that when dealing with an empire-minded autocrat armed with nuclear weapons, vast oil and gas reserves and his own distorted version of the truth.
Americans will not all come to the same conclusions about what’s happening in Ukraine and what to do about it, nor should they. That freedom of thought is one of the things that separates us from Russia, after all. But it should be easy for everyone to recognize Putin’s culpability in creating this situation, and the hollowness of his justifications. That much we do know.