This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday Feb 21st, several hours before President Putin made it TV address and confirmed that Russia was recognising the two secessionist Ukrainian provinces of Donetesk and Luhansk as independent states.
The most ridiculous and obsolete phrase you will hear in any Irish debate or discussion of the Ukrainian crisis is “… but Putin has a point.” It is rarely uttered in isolation, but rather as the curt follow-up to an insipid denunciation of Putin’s blatant aggression. Suggesting that while Putin is doing the wrong thing, he may have understandable motives.
This is utter nonsense.
The notion that Putin’s threat to his smaller western neighbour has anything to do with NATO or the prospect of Ukrainian NATO membership is absurd. There has been no major expansion of NATO membership in recent years, indeed only two counties have joined NATO since late 2009 and both of those are well over 1400Km south west of Ukraine’s western border: Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.
The biggest expansion in NATO’s membership happened back in 1999 and 2004 when ten countries, including three Baltic states that were once part of the Soviet Union and several former Warsaw Pact states, joined. Are we to believe that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was so distressed by this 2004 move that it has taken him 18 years to regain his composure and respond?