Ukrainian service members look for and collect unexploded shells after fighting with a Russian raiding group in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on the morning of February 26, 2022. (Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

On the Right Side of Ukrainian History

Putin and his autocratic pals in the Kremlin are about to be humiliated.…

When I walked to my car on Saturday afternoon, I noticed that my neighbors were displaying a large Ukrainian flag on their front porch. Because the family is of South Asian descent, my assumption was that they probably had no direct stake in Russia's invasion of the second-biggest country in Europe, but I could be wrong.

Even the worst things about Ukraine don't make the Russian invasion an iota more legitimate.

One of the things I've learned watching the coverage of the war in Ukraine is that a country not particularly known for diversity beyond its Slavic roots is also home to a small community of Black Ukrainians. Who's to say there isn't a similarly small community of South Asian Ukrainians?

In any case, I took a moment to admire the yellow and blue flag and how it managed to make a statement about a stupid and preposterous war. It represented my sentiments exactly, and I briefly considered doing the same thing until I remembered that I've never even flown an American flag on my property. I don't want my first foray into nationalism to be another country's flag.

I'm no Cold Warrior. I'm enough of a leftie to have been exposed to hard-left arguments that Ukraine is a puppet regime of Western powers, particularly Washington, and that Vladimir Putin is "justifiably" paranoid about promises made and broken after the collapse of the Soviet Union to fear NATO expansion to his country's borders.

I've also heard the Trump/ Tucker Carlson wing of the GOP argue that "Ukraine doesn't matter" and that Mr. Putin's imperialist ambitions are being mischaracterized by Western liberal elites and a sclerotic NATO alliance that has no reason to exist beyond antagonizing Russia and its nice, white, Christian oligarchs.

One of my hard-left acquaintances quoted journalist Matt Taibbi's insistence that Russia wouldn't invade Ukraine up until the moment the tanks rolled across the border.

To his credit, Mr. Taibbi copped to getting Mr. Putin's intentions disastrously wrong, but many of my hard-left, semi-libertarian acquaintances have gone silent on social media in recent days.

It's just as well, since many of them can't seem to make up their minds whether President Joe Biden is a senile puppet who gets his marching orders from MSNBC or a diabolical mastermind intent on orchestrating Russia's dismemberment in the name of his family's financial interests in Ukraine.

I'm glad the Ukrainians are putting up a fight for their country and bloodying the noses of their invaders, but the lingering over the destruction of columns of Russian tanks and the valorizing of the country's political leadership when just a short time ago they were described as hopelessly corrupt is a bit much.

I've yet to see any anchor or reporter in the field reacting to "feel-good" stories about how European nations are opening doors to Ukrainian refugees--as they should--by contrasting their reception to the refugee crisis of just a few years ago. In many ways, the coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just as reflexive as the Afghanistan withdrawal coverage was in August.

There are legitimate issues to carp about and much history to put into perspective. Ukraine was terrorized by a human-made famine initiated by Stalin that claimed tens of millions of lives. The country also had a deplorable record of antisemitism during World War II. Mr. Putin claims the country is a bastion of intolerance and is in need of "denazification."

But even the worst things about Ukraine don't make the Russian invasion an iota more legitimate. Ukraine is a sovereign nation, regardless of how sentimental Mr. Putin may get about Kyiv being the seat of Russian identity. Imperial presumption shouldn't be excused just because a sizable number of Russians are also nostalgic for the old borders of the Soviet Union.

When Mr. Putin declared two Moscow-friendly regions of Ukraine independent, former President Donald Trump called the autocrat's pretext for moving a "peacekeeping" force into that country a "genius" move, underscoring the absolute amorality of the action.

For a few days, it initially looked as if the Republican Party was prepared to follow its leader-in-exile down the reactionary rabbit hole, but it pulled back.

With the exception of a few mad generals and one or two anchor dolts sputtering nonsense on Fox News, the hard right seems to be lining up with the Biden administration in condemning the invasion. If anything, the GOP is now accusing the Biden administration of being too soft on Russia. The Republicans have come a long way since Mr. Trump's obsequious kowtowing to Mr. Putin in Helsinki.

Over the weekend, hundreds of Pittsburghers gathered at Gateway Plaza in Downtown to show their solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined the crowd. It was a smart move on the part of the region's two highest elected officials, because history is always on the side of those who stand with those brave enough to resist tyranny.

I don't believe there are two equally bad actors in this conflict. Mr. Putin is primarily at fault because he initiated an unnecessary war that will cost his nation's economy, his fellow oligarchs and ordinary Russians just trying to get through the day with what little stability they've accrued since the end of the Cold War, dearly.

One political analyst astutely described the conundrum of Russian conscripts called up to cross the border into Ukraine as young men literally forced to "invade their Grandma's house" because the ties that bind Ukrainians and Russians are so close.

What was Mr. Putin thinking when he came up with this cockamamie scheme to invade and occupy such a vast territory full of people willing to fight just as fiercely as the Afghans did when the tanks rolled in to prop up another long forgotten Moscow-friendly flunky? What kind of arrogance makes him think he's immune to the hard lessons of history that have humbled imperial powers around the world?

Prior to what is destined to be known as a military boondoggle rivaling Napoleon's disastrous march through Russia in winter, Mr. Putin was given credit for being an intelligent man who understood history and plotted his moves with calculation worthy of a former KGB agent.

But there's no evidence of anything resembling a cunning, if diabolical, appraisal of the facts on the ground here. If anything, Mr. Putin has revealed himself to be as naive about human nature as his autocratic predecessors. He assumed being an unblinking bully would be enough to overcome the terrible passions his invasion has unleashed. On the contrary, Ukraine wants to humiliate him and his army.

Instead of snuffing out Ukraine's independent spirit with a blitzkrieg that would be over in three or four days, Mr. Putin has ignited the nationalism of a fierce people, united a once-moribund NATO against him and given a rejuvenated American president a worthy foil to stand against for the duration of his term. Mr. Putin will also look like a failure back home once sanctions knock the bottom out of his kleptocratic economy. How can he possibly survive the domestic unrest it will generate? If he's still in power when the next American president is sworn in, it will be a miracle.

Name a pre-emptive war that ever went according to plan, and I'll show you the figment of someone's imagination.

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