Ukraine: Mearsheimer’s Dissenting View

John Mearsheimer, the respected international relations professor at the University of Chicago, says the United States bears much of the blame for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Addressing the Washington-based Committee for the Republic (March 2) Mearsheimer said U.S. involvement in the 2014 Maidan revolution in Ukraine was instrumental in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to seize Crimea only days later.

Russia, he argues, will ultimately win the current conflict. “We (the west) poked the bear in the eye and the bear will tear Ukraine apart.” Even if the Russians fail to subdue the territory, Mearsheimer says, “the Russians will crush Ukraine and reduce its cities to rubble.”

Mearsheimer says successive US administrations ignored repeated warnings from Moscow that Ukraine’s integration into the west posed an existential threat to Russia and would not be allowed. The Russians acquiesced, he said, to two rounds of Nato expansion but drew the line with Ukraine. For Russia, he says, the threat worsened in 2021 when president Zelensky spoke of taking back Crimea and Nato increased arms supplies to Ukraine. 

 “We led Ukraine down the primrose path,” he says, essentially making it a de facto Nato member. The first miscalculation came in 2008 when Nato members promised Ukraine and Georgia eventual membership.

A week into the invasion, says Mearsheimer, “the situation is a disaster and very dangerous,” particularly since Russia’s nuclear force has been placed on alert. For Russia, he continues, Ukraine becoming part of the west  is more of a threat than the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. 

The Chicago professor and a second presenter, Ray McGovern, a Russian speaker who served 27 years in the CIA, accused American diplomats of organizing the 2014 revolution that toppled a pro-Russian government in Kyiv, replacing it with one that that was pro-western.  “It was the most blatant coup in history,” said McGovern, referencing recordings of then then assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador discussing who should be appointed to positions of power. “ Nuland is currently under-secretary of state in the Biden administration. 

Jack Matlock, US ambassador in Moscow from 1987 to 1991, agreed the current situation is fraught with danger. He said media and policy elites are wrong to demonize Vladimir Putin. While strongly criticizing the Russian invasion, Mearsheimer dismissed the popular view that Putin is mentally unstable or seeking to recreate a Russian empire. Rather, he continued, Putin is determined to prevent Ukraine becoming part of the west. Yes, he conceded, Ukrainians are fighting for freedom but when a dominant power next door is existentially threatened, “might makes right.”  Tragically, he said, Ukrainians are the losers.

Concerning sanctions, Mearsheimer said there is evidence that nationalism grows in response to sanctions. It is highly unlikely, he said, that sanctions will lead to revolt and Putin being removed.

A day later analysts at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, took a different view. Anders Aslund, an advocate of sanctions and author of a book on Russia’s crony capitalism, predicted the Russian government could fall within a week. Western sanctions, he said, are the strongest ever levied, and they will work, bringing the Russian financial system to its knees and crippling the Russian economy. #

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