Recently, I argued that Russia was provoked into beginning the ‘special military operation’ (SMO) by a series of events stretching from initial NATO claims of its goal to expand to Ukraine, NATO-Ukrainian cooperation, the Western-cultivated and ex post facto fully supported Maidan revolt (despite the neofascist Ukrainian element’s false flag snipers terrorist attack) to which Putin responded by annexing Crimea, Western support for Kiev’s attack on Donbass (including civilians), deeper Western and NATO involvement in Ukraine, Kiev’s failure to implement its obligations under the Minsk Donbass peace accords, and much else [see Gordon M. Hahn, Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West and the ‘New Cold War’ (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Books, 2018); https://gordonhahn.com/2022/02/24/coercive-diplomacy-phase-2-war-and-iron-curtain-descended/; https://gordonhahn.com/2016/01/21/report-the-russian-american-reset-nato-expansion-and-the-making-of-the-ukrainian-crisis/; https://gordonhahn.com/2016/03/09/the-real-snipers-massacre-ukraine-february-2014-updatedrevised-working-paper/; and https://www.academia.edu/37784742/Shooting_of_Maidan_Protesters_from_Maidan_Controlled_Locations_Video_Appendix_C_2018_?email_work_card=title%5D. As far as I am concerned, the ‘West/NATO expansion provoked the Ukrainian crisis and war’ is an incontrovertible fact.
More recently, I also argued, Putin decided to call off coercive diplomacy begun in spring 2021 and escalated in autumn through January 2021 by massing tropps at the Ukrainian border, when the West rejected Moscow’s appeals to end NATO expansion and sign a draft treaty on security agreements for Kiev and a European security architecture (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/01/31/putins-coercive-diplomacy/). The West’s rejection was accompanied by a major escalation in the Ukrainian military attacks along the Donbass line of contact and a threat by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to abandon the Budapest Memorandum, implying an attempt to acquire nuclear weapons (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/02/24/coercive-diplomacy-phase-2-war-and-iron-curtain-descended/). Zelensky said at the annual meeting of the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2022: “I, as president, will do it for the first time. But Ukraine and I are doing it for the last time. I am launching consultations within the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has been asked to convene them. If they do not happen again or if their results do not guarantee the security of our country, Ukraine will have the right to think that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and that all the comprehensive decisions of 1994 are being questioned” (“Speech by Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the 58th Munich Security Conference”, by Volodymyr Zelensky, Voltaire Network, 19 February 2022). The Munich conference is attended by all the leaders of the NATO alliance and other parties interested in European security issues, and yet not one Western leader questioned the appropriateness of what would be a violation not just of the Budapest Memorandum but of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That these immediate provocations were a direct cause of Putin’s decision to begin the SMO is not possible to prove, but the thesis is highly plausible if not likely a fact. Putin responded to Zelenskiy’s nuclear demache, saying that the only thing Ukraine needs is a uranium enrichment system, but this technical issue “is not an insoluble problem” for Ukraine, especially given the support Kiev enjoys from some nuclear powers (www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/putin-says-minsk-agreement-on-ukraine-exists-no-more/2510573). Incidentally, this is not only pertinent to Putin’s February decision but also provides some context for the struggle surrounding the Zaporozhe Nuclear Power Plant.
Now new evidence suggests that perhaps, perhaps, the West and Kiev intentionally or not engaged in additional provocations that prompted Putin’s SMO on 24 February 2022. For example, former President Petro Poroshenko has suggested that Kiev never intended to follow through on the Minsk accords and sought only to buy time for Ukraine to strengthen its military through training and weapons supplied by the West for an offensive to take back Donbass and Crimea. In a June interview to Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian language service and the German Deutsche Welle, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the Minsk accords were intended to “delay the war” and “create powerful armed forces”: “Our goal was to, first, stop the threat, or at least to delay the war – to secure eight years to restore economic growth and create powerful armed forces” (www.bignewsnetwork.com/news/272589263/minsk-deal-was-used-to-buy-time-ukraines-poroshenko). Then in an August 2022 interview advisor to Zelenskiy and his Office of the President of Ukraine, Aleksei Arestovich revealed that in December 2021 the Ukrainian armed forces deployed additional troops to the Donbass contact line under the cover of a training exercise “despite the damage (the deployment) did to the economy” (https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/8504). Perhaps this is what led Zelenskiy to tell the Ukrainian tntelligence services a month before Putin’s SMO began the following: “”We have learned to deter and counter external aggression quite effectively. I am convinced that the time has come to move to offensive actions to defend our national interests” (www.president.gov.ua/en/news/zovnishnya-rozvidka-vidigraye-vazhlivu-rol-u-protidiyi-zagro-72517). Then throw into the mix the aforementioned exponential increase in firing across the contact line undertaken by Ukrainian forces first and Zelenskiy’s threat to pursue nuclear capability.
I am saying ‘provoked Putin intentionally or not’ because we do not know what Moscow knew about these new deployments. Moscow did claim that Ukraine was preparing an attack on Donbass, especially after the SMO began, even claiming that it discovered documents proving Kiev was planning an attack. But it remains unclear whether these Russian claims pertain to the newly revealed secret depoloyment. Certainly, Moscow would had Donbass and Ukraine crawling with intelligence operatives and well-covered with electronic and satellite data collection and would likely have observed the ‘secret’ deployment. Then the issue might be whether Kiev and/or the West wanted Moscow to uncover the deployment, so as to provoke Putin into attacking. Or perhaps they did not want this, but Russian intelligence nevertheless did discover it, which along with other immediate challenges noted above prompted Putin’s decision to begin the SMO.
If the provocation theory is correct than it would also be correct that the West wanted Putin to invade, and if that is so then it would be logical that the West would want the war to continue. We now know that the West directly intervened with Zelenskiy to prevent Russia and Ukraine from finalizing a tentative agreement that would have ended the war in April. A recent article in the establishment flafship foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs written by two rusologists with deep ties to the ruling Democrat Party-state revealed this: “According to multiple former senior U.S. officials we spoke with, in April 2022, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement: Russia would withdraw to its position on February 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries” (https://archive.ph/kxfbG and https://raheemkassam.substack.com/p/russia-and-ukraine-came-to-peace?fbclid=IwAR0n03z7v-tJOjIOFC4_eXZCjvzyJbwzcgjycFbFigo9a9LV_FOA439_o74). This is one piece of evidence that the West wants the war to continue. NATO expansion and weakening Russia trump international security and Ukrainians’ well-being. The West’s massive supply of weapons, intelligence, military expertise, training, strategic planning, and financial support and Washington’s and Brussels’s lack of any effort in the diplomatic sphere to encourage negotiations further demonstrate that the West wants the war to continue.
At the same time, there is reason to believe that Zelenskiy himself may have been manipulated by the West, there is a new video circulating that shows French President Emmanuel Macron in discussion over the phone with Zelenskiy as the Russian invasion began on February 24th. Zelenskiy can be heard pleading with Macron to organize US President Joe Bden and European leaders to make a phone call to Putin and urge him to stop the military action, claiming that if this is done, then Putin “will stop” (https://t.me/stranaua/62507). On the other hand, Zelenskiy’s suspicions regarding Biden’s and other US officials’ claims of an imminent invasion and reports that Russia engaged in a massive bribery and recruiting campaign among Ukrainians before the war, which would have almost certainly led to some reporting the effort to the authorities and tipping off the possibility of a Russian invasion suggest that the Ukrainian leadership should have been well aware of the likelihood of an attack. Yet Zelenskiy showed no desire to negotiate with Putin on the key issues Moscow sought to have addressed: NATO expansion, direct talks between Kiev and the Donbass, the incomplete Minsk peace process, and so on.
In sum, there is some reason to believe that the escalation of the Donbass war ordered by Putin in February has a more interesting pre-history and causal chain than might be assumed even those who understand that Putin did not wake up one morning and decide to seize Ukraine in some master plan to ‘reestablish the Soviet Union’ and other such delusions. At any rate, the new war’s start needs more investigation and its origins are likely only to be revealed many years from now.
About the Author
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.