A year has gone by since Russia invaded Ukraine and silence still surrounds the origins of the conflict. Few in the government or media have addressed fully the root causes of the invasion. The causal story begins and ends with Putin. This might prove useful if the goal is prolonged war, but it falls short of the truth.

The point has been made before and bears repeating. Foreign policy experts warned for years that NATO expansion eastward would be provocative and could lead to war with Russia. The warnings go back to Boris Yeltsin in 1995 and George Kennan in 1998. The warnings turned starker in 2008 when President George W. Bush proposed making Ukraine a member of NATO. Many in the West, including key U.S. officials, viewed his proposal as especially provocative. Here is current CIA Director William Burns in 2008: “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin)….I have yet to find anyone [in Russia] who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” Here is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “Trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching ... an especially monumental provocation.” Here is well-known Russia expert Fiona Hill: “We warned [Bush] that Mr. Putin would view steps to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO as a provocative move that would likely provoke preemptive Russian military action. But ultimately, our warnings weren’t heeded.” One could go on almost endlessly with such remarks. Here is the Rand Corporation in 2019: “Providing more U.S. military equipment and advice could lead Russia to increase its direct involvement in the [Ukraine] conflict ... Russia might respond by mounting a new offensive and seizing more Ukrainian territory.”

Hank Davis is a resident of Brooklin. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and has taught the subject for the University of Maine. Sources for this op-ed are available at hdavis@midmaine.com.

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