Clearly, Western aggression and double-dealing were on Putin's mind -- just as it had been on the mind of every Russian leader since Gorbachev. As the grievances mounted, yet another threat arose -- the eastward expansion of an "Atlanticized" European Union. EU expansion was not an explicit threat to Russia, until the very day that the Treaty of Lisbon was signed, 13 December 2007. Why? Because, under the new treaty, all countries joining the EU must "align their defense and security policies with those of NATO" (Sakwa, p. 30).
Yet, another provocation occurred at the Bucharest NATO summit in April 2008, when the military alliance recognized the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine to become its next members. According to Professor Sakwa, it took protests by Russia, as well as "the combined efforts by the French and Germans to dissuade President George W. Bush from starting the process of Ukrainian and Georgian accession then and there." (pp. 54-55)
Then, there was the provocation that began in May 2008, when Poland pressured the EU to develop the Eastern Partnership (EaP) program, which targeted six former Soviet states (including Ukraine) on the EU's borders. Although the EaP "was not considered a step toward EU membership for its participating states, " [it] sought to create a comfort zone along the EU's borders by tying these countries in to a Western orientation." (Sakwa, p. 39)
According to Professor Sakwa, "The EaP was the brainchild of foreign minister Radoslaw (Radek) Sikorski," -- called "another East European fruitcake" by "one perceptive commentator" (Sakwa, p. 40) -- but he then drafted in his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt to give the idea greater heft in intra-EU negotiations." (p. 39)
The EaP became the EU's method of forcing states to choose between the West and Russia. According to Professor Sakwa, "Its partisans insisted on the sovereign right of those states to join the alliance system of their liking. The concept of 'choice' thus became deeply ideological and was used as a weapon against those who suggested that countries have histories and location, and that choices have to take into account the effect that they will have on others." (p. 40)
(The concept of choice was meant to negate Russia's national security claims to a sphere of influence in Ukraine. But, as noted scholar John Mearshreimer recently observed, "the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders" (Sakwa, p. 236, quoting from "Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West's fault," Foreign Affairs, September-October 2014, p. 78))
Thus, "the EaP represented a qualitatively different level of interaction that effectively precluded closer integration in Eurasian projects, and indeed had a profound security dynamic that effectively rendered the EU as much of a threat in Russian perceptions as NATO." (p. 41)
Many pundits in the West, including Tom Friedman and Trudy Rubin, have decried Russia's decision to upset the world's peaceful "end of history" liberal economic world order by resorting to such revolting twentieth-century geopolitical tactics as invading another country. Their views deserve contempt, not only because NATO's expansion has been geopolitical from the start -- as was the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- but also because the EaP "had a profound geopolitical logic from the first" (Sakwa, p. 40). It is worth adding that, by precluding "closer integration in Eurasian projects," the EaP violated the very principles of the liberal economic world order that advocates like Friedman and Rubin supposedly hold dear.
On top of all of these provocations came the provocation that finally incited a Russian military response -- Georgia's military invasion of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, in August 2008. Russia responded to Georgia's attack by sending troops into South Ossetia, bombing Gori, occupying part of Georgia and recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was a well-deserved humbling of Georgia's reckless ruler, Mikheil Saakashvili, and a well-deserved smack across the collective faces of the U.S., the EU, and NATO.
Clearly, asserts Professor Sakwa, Russia's counterattack in Georgia "was a response to the threat of NATO enlargement" (p. 40). Unfortunately, the Georgia crisis failed to make clear to everyone that Russia "is prepared to use force when its national interests are at stake" (Mikhail Margelov, quoted by Sakwa, p.5). Now, the world faces a possible World War III over Ukraine, because triumphalists in the West ignored Russia's growing outrage over relentless and provocative eastward expansion by the EU and NATO.
In 1991, the U.S. commenced its investment in a democracy promotion program in Ukraine, which, according to obnoxious neocon Victoria Nuland, cost American taxpayers $5 billion by 2013. In 1992, as we have seen, Paul Wolfowitz drafted a Defense Planning Guidance that aimed at perpetual U.S. hegemony over the world.
In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski -- who later became a foreign policy advisor to the Obama administration -- published a book titled, The Grand Chessboard , which was "translated into Russian and is part of everyday political discussion" (Sakwa, p.215). According to Mr. Brzezinski, "Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire."
"However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia" (See Chris Ernesto, "Brzezinski Mapped Out the Battle for Ukraine in 1997," March 15, 2014, anti-war.com, click here )
Between 2004 and 2013, the EU spent 496 million euros, in order to subsidize Ukrainian "front groups" (Sakwa, p. 90). In September 2013, Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, declared that Ukraine represented "the biggest prize," because it not only would cause Putin to lose the "near abroad," but also might lead to the overthrow of Putin himself (Ibid, 74-75). In a word, the EU and the US had been waging a war against Russia by other than military means.
As Professor Sakwa put it, "The Ukrainian border at its closest is a mere 480 kilometers from Moscow and thus the whole issue assumed an existential character. Ukraine matters to Russia as an issue of survival, quite apart from a thousand years of shared history and civilization, whereas for Brussels or Washington it is just another country in the onward march of 'the West'" (p. 75)
As should be clear, from the evidence presented above, Professor Sakwa devotes much attention to the "structural contradictions in the international system" that led to the "Ukraine crisis." But, he also closely examines the role that the "Ukrainian crisis" played in the "Ukraine crisis." The "Ukrainian crisis" is Professor Sakwa's term for "the profound tensions in the Ukrainian nation and state-building processes since Ukraine achieved independence in 1991, which now threaten the unity of the state itself" (p. ix).