Ukraine has taken centre stage in world affairs due to an invasion by Russia. The ensuing devastation, displacement, propaganda, sanctions, military operations, and nuclear threat speculations evokes strong scare about World War 3 globally. Coveted by the West and intimidated by Russia, Ukraine is a playground for two bullies. The Russian invasion was precipitated by a quest to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) by the leadership of Ukraine. This desire would be negating informal assurances given to Russia during negotiations for the reunification of  Germany in 1989 implying that NATO would not expand eastwards. Political circumstances in Ukraine also make it ineligible to join NATO as its separatist crisis negates two of NATO’s five prerequisites.

Before this invasion, Ukraine has been bedevilled by crisis in its eastern region, Donbass, where pro-Russian separatists are seeking political independence. Donbass in eastern Ukraine is home to Luhansk and Donetsk. Two regions recognised as independent by Russia due to their pro-russian sentiments validated through a debatable referendum. Under the pretext of a “special military operation” announced to dispatch troops to protect the Russian minority in Ukraine, Russia invaded Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, a lawyer and ex-KGB officer has been President and Prime Minister of Russia interchangeably in the last two decades. Within that time, USA inspired expansion of NATO into Russia’s sphere of Influence has been in full force despite Putin’s protest. These expansions are designed to whittle down Russia’s clout and the Kremlin has responded by invading and annexing its neighbours, starting with Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, Putin has pursued annexation as a bulwark against Western influence in Russia’s hemisphere.

In 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea (part of Ukraine after the fall of USSR), it came against the backdrop of a US planned regime change in Ukraine. The Maidan “revolution” was a series of protests against the refusal of then Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovych to sign an agreement for political and economic association with the European Union. The protest lasted for months before a number of violent events involving protesters, riot police and snipers culminated in an ouster and fleeing of the President in February 2014. The USA slyly supported the protests and critiqued the government for its crackdown on protesters, an inkling to the fact that the catalyst for ousting the President was far from organic. It was plotted by the USA as a ploy to take advantage of genuine civil discontent through a false flag operation carried out by well trained CIA snipers described as “unknown shooters” ordered to provoke the Ukrainian police during protest marches. In the midst of the chaos the US propped up a rabid anti-Russian politician and a cabinet selected by the US administration to replace the fallen government. It was essentially the imposition of a pro-western, Russo phobic government in Russian backyard to startle the Kremlin.

Feeling outsmarted and thirsty for his own “stake”, In March 2014, Putin decided to invade Crimea and exploit ties with the Russian minority by supporting  separatists agitation in eastern Ukraine as a response. Russian troops invaded and took control of Ukraine’s Crimean region during which a referendum was conducted with two options: Join Russia as a federal subject or restore the 1992 Crimean constitution that gives Crimea special status in Ukraine. A stunning 97% voted to join Russia. One can see a correlation between the results of the referendum and Russian soldiers being in control of public buildings and military installations amidst the vote.

Putin’s disapproval of Ukraine’s NATO quest stems from a national security threat point of view, and this is valid. But his response is crude and condemnable, by invading Ukraine to protest its leaning towards NATO, he has endangered the lives of millions of people to register displeasure. Ostensibly, NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries. Established in the aftermath of World War II, the organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April, 1949. In reality, NATO is in essence a military alliance to protect the interests of America and its allies. Putin’s apprehension is fuelled by NATO expansion eastwards since 1995. Ukraine is being enticed by USA to join NATO, neither to make the country more secure nor protect it from Russia but to establish it as a launchpad for proxy aggression and needling against Russia.

Nevertheless, Ukraine’s leadership pursues its NATO quest knowing fully well that its proximity to Russia would make the desire a turbulent issue. The leadership of Ukraine ought to be pushing for neutrality but it seems oblivious of this valid lifeline. A sovereign country should have absolute freedom to determine its foreign policy, true. But this statement is quixotic and sharply contrasts the stark realism and power projection of International politics. Ukraine pursuing the neutral ground is not giving up its sovereignty or freedom of association as a country but preventing itself from being the grass that suffers from the squabble of two elephants. Ukrainian President, Mr Zelensky, goofed and failed to use his wit as an ex comedian to remain neutral by avoiding clinging to one side to not incur the wrath of another. The battle for Ukraine as a client state for Russia or USA is a proxy war that was never going to be fought in Moscow or Washington but in Ukrainian cities like Kiev, Odessa and Kharkov as the world witnesses presently. Thorough consideration of the cost and benefits of joining NATO would have saved Ukraine this devastation.

Russia’s discomfort with Ukraine joining NATO bears a heavy semblance with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Where USA brought the world to a brink of nuclear war because the Soviets matched America’s missiles deployment in Italy and Turkey by placing missiles in Cuba, less than 100 miles from the US border. In justifying why the Soviet Union (an American adversary) should not have weapons close to the US,  international relations concepts like “Spheres of Influence” were bandied around self-servingly. Why is the standard different today for Russia?

The United States has succeeded in selectively moralizing the invasion and craftily portraying it as a matter of good Vs evil. It is not that the human cost of this invasion should be rationalized nor that the thousands of people suffering, starving and dying should be downplayed. It is that the same people taking a very moral high ground to denounce all of these, set the precedence for interest based military action in the international system and would do the same or even worse should the circumstance directly concern them. In denouncing Russia’s condemnable invasion, the US successfully entwined its interests with selective morality and galvanized the world into hating Putin for what it has done before and would exactly do in the future should its security be threatened. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis earlier mentioned? Well, before the crisis a failed attack known as the Bay of Pigs invasion was launched by the CIA to remove Cuban President, Fidel Castro from power. It was followed by “an embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba”, declared by US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy for  “Cuba’s alignment with the communist powers”. The ban has been ongoing for 60 years and has affected the Cuban economy to the extent of $130billion over the last six decades. Juxtaposing these happenings with a statement by US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken saying “ one country does not have the right to dictate the policies of another or to tell that country with whom it may associate; one country does not have the right to exert a sphere of influence. That notion should be relegated to the dustbin of history” makes you wonder who is fooling who?

In pursuit of nuance amidst this binary, we must condemn Russia’s action and, at the same time, express our refusal to be useful idiots for the western interest. The West is not on the side of humanity but rather on the side of its interests. The astuteness of the West’s propaganda and the omnipresence of its soft power have established a worldwide narrative of good against evil for this fight. Ignoring the fact that the ostensibly good side has a long history of iniquitous destruction and bloodshed in pursuit of its goals, this is evil Vs evil because it is a dog-eat-dog politics, where we are all pawns no matter the devastations. The fact that Ukrainians’ empathy is amplified for less lofty goals exemplifies the West’s cynicism.

Western countries have responded with a barrage of sanctions to punish Russia, restrict its capability to fund the war and straiten its political and economic elite. The latter part is unprecedented as the world now comes to terms with citizens being held to account for actions of their government. Global brands are cutting ties with Russia to stand in solidarity with Ukraine, this “concern” for humanity cum weaponization of technology is eating sovereignty for breakfast and revealing the downsides of globalization. This mass corporate departure is also fuelled by the fear of not being in tandem with Uncle Sam’s global order; one that believes in collective punishment of ordinary Russians as fair game to spite Putin.

Global solidarity for Ukraine increases on a daily basis and reveals a double standard that is audible to the deaf and visible to the blind. Never mind that Palestine, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria have been experiencing the devastation in Ukraine for decades now. The people behind these bombings in the Middle East and North Africa are the same people taking the moral high ground in condemning Russia. Pointing out this double-standard is not whataboutism, it is refusing to agree with a global order that holds some parts of the world as being less human than others.

Implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are manifesting across the globe. Gas prices in Europe have surged as Russia is the third-largest producer of oil and second-largest producer of gas globally, the sanctions imposed have disrupted oil supplies, reduced output and triggered higher prices. Global food prices also reached an all-time high as food price inflation is affected by sectors outside food production; specifically the energy, fertiliser and feed sectors. These sectors rely on Russia’s export for global supply. Negotiations for a ceasefire are presently ongoing. Previously, Ukraine’s President, Zelensky, sought a “no-fly zone” but Putin has warned that it would be “treated as an act of war”. Ukraine has ruled out joining NATO and at the same time rejected Russia’s neutrality proposal, as the country seeks a security agreement enforceable by law, and signed by international partners, who would “not stand aside in the event of an attack on Ukraine, as they do today.” Amid a rising toll of displaced people, casualties on both sides and global hysteria, something has got to give.