Philip C. Johnson, Ph.D.

February 27, 2022

I have only been to Moscow once. I am not an expert on Russia or Vladimir Putin. I have been to Ukraine twice. Once in 2014 to cover the Maidan Revolution that ousted the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. And again in 2020 to visit and write about Chernobyl. I am also not an expert on Ukraine. 

But I try to pay attention. And I’m pretty good at connecting some dots and drawing some conclusions. Here are my thoughts on the current Russian invasion of Ukraine:

What’s Happening?

On February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine. U.S. intelligence told us that this was going to happen. But we don’t trust our fourth branch of government.  Or the other three branches.  The 190,000 troops that Russia had amassed on Ukraine’s border should have been a clue. But many pundits thought that the threat of war was overblown, a distraction and that it was unlikely that Russia would really invade. 

If we really wanted to know what Russia was up to, we could have just listened to Vladimir Putin himself. He gave an hour-long speech that explained his thinking. He believes that Ukraine is an illegitimate country cobbled together by former weak Soviet Leaders out of territory that should be under Russia’s sphere of influence. He told the world that he needed to invade Ukraine to stop the genocide perpetrated by the “neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government. To be fair, genocide did take place in Ukraine, but Putin is about 80 years too late to stop it.

Why is it Happening?

Some would say that the constant expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe has cornered Russia and that Putin had no choice but to defend Russia’s national interests. After all, if Mexico had a pro-Russian president and Moscow decided to put nuclear weapons on our southern border, the U.S. would probably have a problem with that.  I think there is some truth to the “NATO has pushed too far and poked the Russian bear” theory. 

But I think that real reason for this invasion has a lot to do with Western weakness. The United States no longer projects strength in the world. Our enemies watched with great interest as the U.S. exited Afghanistan. It was a disaster. This invasion would not be happening NOW if the Afghanistan debacle hadn’t happen. 

Our enemies are also paying attention to our political divisiveness. They see our moral weakness. They are aware of our cultural divide. Mostly, they know that few in the West can articulate classic Western values. And fewer think those values are worth preserving and fighting for. We’re destroying our culture from the inside out. 

Nations like Russia and China do not spend their time editing their pronouns on social media. They understand the geopolitical world according to reality: culture, people, land, power and money. They do not spend their time in a fantasy world of men becoming women, or celebrating parents for chemically castrating their children. They definitely do not sit around hating themselves.  

In a true show of the absurdity of our elite leaders, former Secretary of State, John Kerry, (and current climate change and private jet enthusiast) actually expressed in a recent interview that he hoped that Putin didn’t let his invasion of Ukraine distract him from his climate change goals. The West has lost all touch with reality and what really matters. 

What will happen next? 

Already too many lives have been lost. But the Ukrainians appear to be putting up a better fight than most expected. Just as weakness invites violence, the strength of leadership that Ukrainians are showing is engendering support from the world. Funny how that works. 

The West is imposing sanctions and offering military aid. Lots of both. Even Germany. I don’t see us putting boots on the ground. After all, Ukraine is not a NATO ally and we’re not legally obligated to do anything. I mean, we DID promised Ukraine that if they gave up their nuclear weapons back in the 1990s, we’d protect them. But who takes promises like that seriously…

On Monday, February 28th, Ukraine and Russia are supposed to sit down and talk about the possibility of peace. I don’t have a lot of hopes for those talks. Does anyone? And while many are enjoying what appears to be the frustrating of Russian battle plans, does anyone really think that Putin will just say, “Oh, yeah, sorry about all this, I’ve changed my mind and we’re heading home now. Carry on.” That’s not going to happen. Russia has already escalated tensions by putting his nuclear arsenal on high alert due to the “aggressive” response of NATO and their sanctions. Are we looking at World War 3? Not yet. Hopefully, not yet.

President Putin, and for that matter, President Xi of China are smart. There are going to do things that they always wanted to do and they sense the best time to do those things is now. I will not be surprised when China takes Taiwan – probably sooner rather than later. But I’ll write about that when it happens. It won’t be good for the world. The balance of global power is changing, and I don’t think most of us are prepared for a world where we are not the dominant force. Many think that we shouldn’t be. 

Years ago I was sitting in Munich, Germany, and fell into a conversation with a German man. He was predictably complaining about American overreach in the world. People are never shy to share their criticisms about the United States of America with me. I let him talk on and on and then I asked him this question: “So, who would you rather have as a superpower? Russia or China?” He went silent and then looked at me and said, “OK, yeah, you guys can take care of the world.” Exactly. For all our flaws, we are still better than anything else. I hope this global crisis will remind us that our core values of liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of worship and freedom of affiliation ought to be the dominant culture of this globe. Unapologetically. 

Silver lining? At least we’re not talking about COVID. 


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