According to an article in Bulwark entitled "Blaming America for Russian Aggression, Then and Now":
The claim that American actions, especially pushing to enlarge NATO, precipitated Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been asserted not only by Kremlin officials but also by foreign policy realists, anti-establishment pundits, and “anti-imperialists” in the West. It persists despite eloquent rebuttals by Cathy Young, Chris Miller, Peter Dickinson, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and many others.
As a novice, newly self-discovered foreign policy realist now being lumped together with "Kremlin officials," I guess it's time for me to face the truth about what caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how the USA was innocent of blame. How do these articles rebut my recent hypotheses that the USA and western allies supported the overthrow of the democratically-elected President of Ukraine in a bloody coup in 2014 which was "a" provocation if not "the" provocation of the Russian invasion days later?
Niranjan Shankar's "Blaming America" article makes no mention of the Maidan Uprising. Shankar glosses the time period saying: "Putin forced the country to renege on a proposal to join the EU in 2013 and subsequently invaded in 2014." Obviously, Ukraine is still not a member of the EU. The suggestion that the 2013 trade agreement (which was signed in 2014, after Maidan) was "a proposal to join the EU" is an exaggeration. "Putin forced the country" is Shankar's interpretation of the fact that Putin invited Ukraine to join a Eurasian Customs Union and offered a bailout of $15 billion. "Reneged" is a questionable choice of word to describe Yanucovych's decision to end the negotiations and accept the Russian offer when the EU showed little interest in providing a bailout.
"Putin's Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse"
Cathy Young's "Putin's Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse" at least mentions the Maidan Uprising. She writes:
Indeed, the 2013-14 “Euromaidan” protests that led to a new revolution in Ukraine—and to the beginning of Russia’s protracted war against its neighbor—were sparked when Putin strong-armed and cajoled Yanukovych, who succeeded Yushchenko in 2010, into abruptly abandoning an about-to-be signed EU trade agreement and ditching several bills meant to fulfill the EU’s conditions for the pact.
Young seems to acknowledge a cause-and-effect relationship between Maidan and the Russian invasion but she says nothing more about the uprising. Her claim that "Putin strong-armed and cajoled Yanukovych" suggests that she was in the room when the strong-arming and cajoling were happening--which seems unlikely. Yes, Yanukovych "succeeded Yushchenko in 2010" in what she fails to mention was a democratic election, supervised and accredited by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Consequently, if the great majority of Ukrainians (West and East) objected to Yanukovych and his trade deals, rather than a a bloody coup in 2014, they could have voted him out of office in 2015.
"Vladimir Putin Fears Ukrainian Democracy not NATO"
If Cathy Young sounds like she was in the room, in "Vladimir Putin Fears Ukrainian Democracy not NATO," Peter Dickinson sounds like he was at Putin's bedside recording his every murmur, dream and nightmare. Like Young, Dickinson suggests cause and effect between Maidan and the Russian invasion. He argues that Putin responded to the "Ukrainian pro-democracy uprising by ordering the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine." Like Young, Dickinson has nothing more to say about the subject of Maidan. It is striking that in an article on "Ukrainian Democracy," Dickinson seems undisturbed that the democratically-elected President was overthrown in a bloody coup, and blithely describes the coup as a "pro-democracy uprising."
"What Putin Really Wants"
In "What Putin Really Wants" Christopher Miller has nothing to say about and makes no allusion to the Maidan Uprising that I can detect. However, Miller makes the kind of claim that always catches my attention: "The vast majority of Ukrainians reject them [the Minsk Accords]." The Minsk Protocol was an agreement between Russia and the Ukraine in 2014 overseen by the OSCE and mediated by France and Germany to end the fighting between East and West Ukraine by granting increased autonomy to the eastern regions. Miller's source for the claim that the vast majority of Ukrainians reject the agreements is an article in Euromaidan Press: "Three-fourths of Ukrainians oppose Minsk accords in current form, poll shows."
Contrary to MIller's claim that "the vast majority of Ukrainians reject them," the article states, right off the top, that the poll "showed that the majority of Ukrainians (54%) believe that the Minsk accords should be revised." [Bold highlighting is in the original article.] The debate outlined in the source article concerns variations in the format and which countries should be involved. Western analysts may be eager to conclude that Ukrainians reject the Minsk Accords, but that is not what the poll shows.
I dove into the poll which is the source for both articles (thank God for Google Translate and BTW, am I the only person in the world who checks the polls quoted in the press? Help me out here, people!) The poll being cited is a general survey of the "Socio-political attitudes of the [Ukrainian] population" based on telephone interviews with 2500 respondents in December 2021, excluding residents of the Donbas and Crimea. Although Miller sounds categorical that the vast majority reject the accords, according to the poll, only 11% of respondents (275 people) said they were very familiar with the content of the Minsk Agreements. If anything, the poll reflects general support for the idea of the Minsk Accords, ending the east-west conflict, despite differences of opinion on and knowledge of the details.
The mistake is to believe that any thought or feeling is shared by the vast majority of Ukrainians. According to the poll, if an election were to be held the next day, 23.5% of decided voters would vote for Volodymyr Zelensky--well ahead of his rivals but far from the 100% support we in the West are encouraged to imagine he enjoys. In the poll, 33% of respondents identified Zelensky as the candidate they would "not vote for under any circumstances."
"What Putin Fears Most"
Of the four "eloquent rebuttals" Shankar lists, only Michael McFaul's "What Putin Fears Most" has much to say about the Maidan Uprising. After the predictable list of what Putin thinks, feels, dreams, wants and fears, McFaul and his co-author Robert Person write:
Putin believes that Russian national interests have been threatened by what he portrays as U.S.-supported coups. After each of them—Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, the Arab Spring in 2011, Russia in 2011–12, and Ukraine in 2013–14—Putin has pivoted to more hostile policies toward the United States, and then invoked the NATO threat as justification for doing so.
Are the authors telling us that these are all Putin-imagined coups and have no connection with reality? The only example I have researched, "Ukraine in 2013-14," appears to be an overt US-supported coup. If the USA supported the overthrow of the pro-Russian President of Ukraine twice, wouldn't that be a justification for Putin to view NATO as a threat?
The authors describe the Maidan Uprising and its context as follows:
The next democratic mobilization to threaten Putin happened a second time in Ukraine in 2013–14. After the Orange Revolution in 2004, Putin did not invade Ukraine, but wielded other instruments of influence to help his protégé, Viktor Yanukovych, narrowly win the Ukrainian presidency six years later. Yanukovych, however, turned out not to be a loyal Kremlin servant, but tried to cultivate ties with both Russia and the West. Putin finally compelled Yanukovych to make a choice, and the Ukrainian president chose Russia in the fall of 2013 when he reneged on signing an EU association agreement in favor of membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union.
Sometimes, the choice of words is everything. A bloody coup is a "democratic mobilization"; the billionaire president is a "protégé" and "servant"; "wielded other instruments of influence" like campaign financing (?); to be elected with a margin of the popular vote which would put most US presidential elections to shame is to "narrowly win." Yes, Yanucovych backed out of the negotiations and was pushed by Russia to do so; but, as reported by Reuters at the time (19 December 2013), "the unwillingness of the EU and International Monetary Fund to be flexible in their demands of Ukraine also had an effect, making them less attractive partners."
When Person and McFaul come to describe the Maidan, they claim:
To the surprise of everyone in Moscow, Kyiv, Brussels, and Washington, Yanukovych’s decision to scuttle this agreement with the EU triggered mass demonstrations in Ukraine again, bringing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the streets in what would become known as the Euromaidan or “Revolution of Dignity” to protest Yanukovych’s turn away from the democratic West. The street protests lasted several weeks, punctuated by the killing of dozens of peaceful protestors by Yanukovych’s government, the eventual collapse of that government and Yanukovych’s flight to Russia in February 2014, and a new pro-Western government taking power in Kyiv. Putin had “lost” Ukraine for the second time in a decade.
"To the surprise of everyone": this phrasing stretches credulity. The size and rapidity of the demonstrations prove advanced planning and, as we have seen, sources inside Ukraine pointed to TechCamps in the US embassy as the training ground if not the hub. "The killing of dozens of peaceful protestors by Yanukovych's government": as we have confirmed from multiple sources the protesters were armed, fired on and killed police officers. Most shockingly, if the detailed report based on video, interviews with Maidan protesters, and bullet impact studies, by political scientist, Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa, is to be believed, the uprising was orchestrated by an alliance of right-wing ultra nationalists who fired upon their fellow protestors.
Who's Afraid of Democracy?
It is a truism in literary studies that when writers want to avoid politics they focus on individual psychology. As I read these detailed comments on Vladimir Putin's psyche, I wonder if these political analysts are trying to avoid politics. Putin may very well be afraid of democracy, but so are those who preferred a bloody coup in 2014 to a Presidential election in Ukraine in 2015.