Understanding the Roots of the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

We’re all familiar with The Narrative. It’s The Narrative that tells us that “love is love,” which means we must accept any and all perversities in our society as normal. The Narrative proclaims that “Masks save lives,” so we all must muzzle ourselves 24/7 in spite of no evidence it actually helps. 

The Narrative is the means by which culture is shaped and massive changes in society are implemented. Never is this more true than when it comes to war. After all, most people are naturally opposed to war—who other than a sociopath wants to see death and suffering inflicted on a mass scale? And so governments must implement The Narrative in order to gain support for an unpopular cause. That’s what’s happening here in the United States regarding the conflict in Ukraine.

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What is The Narrative regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? It states that the war is the result of the unbridled expansionism of Vladimir Putin, who wants to recreate—and enlarge—the old Soviet Empire. He’s a modern-day Adolf Hitler with paranoid delusions of Western aggression, a man to whom negotiations would be fruitless. In The Narrative, the West is spotless in its dealings with Russia, and this invasion occurred within a vacuum, with no history behind it.

While this Narrative, like every Narrative, might contain a few truthful elements,  it is not the whole story. In fact,  it leaves out so much as to essentially give a false story. What is the actual history behind this conflict, and what has been the role of America and the West in fostering it? That’s the subject of an excellent new book by Benjamin Abelow, “How the West Brought War to Ukraine.” 

The title might seem to indicate that Abelow is a Putin apologist, but he is no such thing. He states unequivocally that Putin is responsible for this war. But he wants to go beyond the cartoon version of the Russian president created by the Western media:

It is not my aim to justify Moscow’s invasion or exonerate Russia’s leaders. I have no brief for Mr. Putin. Notwithstanding all I will say, I believe he had alternatives to war. But I do want to understand him—in the sense of seeking to rationally assess the causal sequence that led him to launch the war.

In his short book, Abelow examines how Western arrogance toward Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union—expanding NATO to Russia’s borders, unilaterally abandoning nuclear arms treaties, placing missile installations within those new NATO countries close enough to destroy Moscow within 15 minutes, ignoring repeated warnings from Russia about Ukraine’s entrance into NATO, and assisting in a coup that overthrew the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine in 2014—all laid the groundwork to today’s conflict.

Understanding this history is vitally important for the cause of peace. Like Abelow, Catholics should not mindlessly follow The Narrative when it comes to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, but instead should seek to understand what has led to it, for this is the way to peace. It amazes me that many conservative Catholics who easily see the lies and half-truths of the Biden Administration when it comes to abortion, transgenderism, or the economy refuse to see those same lies and half-truths when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine (lies and half-truths which have led to the United States sending almost $80 billion in aid to Ukraine—money we can’t afford to spend).

In a recent podcast, I urged Catholics to look to the model of Blessed Karl of Austria, the “Peace Emperor” during World War I. Even though it was his uncle who was assassinated, thus setting off the War to End All Wars, he never gave into a war-mongering Narrative and instead relentlessly sought peace. 

A nuclear World War III would likely be humanity’s greatest failure. Although too many Western politicians and pundits today sadly equate “negotiations” with Neville Chamberlain’s “appeasement,” we Catholics should instead see negotiations as the path of Blessed Karl, one that deescalates conflict and leads to peace. In union with Pope Francis’s recent call, we should pray and fast that Russia will immediately cease hostilities, that Ukraine will be willing to open negotiations for a just peace, and that America and the West will encourage peace rather than further bloodshed and conflict.

Blessed Karl of Austria, pray for us!

  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

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