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A Windsor resident and friend asked me recently if I could cast my thoughts to “Why are the Russians attacking Ukraine?”

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“Can you figure out what is motivating these people to murder civilians and destroy cities in Ukraine?”

Having spent a few weeks in Russia – albeit 10 years ago – and having studied and practiced international law among other places, the Hague Academy of International Law in The Netherlands, I felt incumbent to consider Russia’s behaviour.

However, as Russia appears to have little regard for norms of international law, perhaps I shall just examine intent to commit offences.

First, Russians dwell in a land torn between Asian-Mongol history and a longing to be taken seriously as Europeans. It is a cultural dilemma, not unlike that shared by several other countries.

Second, an overriding and more compelling appeal for Russians is that of an emotionally-rooted nationalism premised upon an encompassing mythology of “Motherland” or “Mother Russia.” It is into this myth I believe Putin has rhetorically tapped.

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Third, the 1917 Russian Revolution ostensibly altered relationships between ordinary Russians and their leaders. That leadership, especially under Stalin, degenerated into a brutal dictatorship essentially retaining traditional leadership style but changing elites. Putin is the current autocratic incarnation.

The Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941 has also emerged as a supporting premise.

Every May 9, Russians celebrate their final victory over Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Hence, for Russians to describe somebody as a “Nazi” is to toss a most odious accusation at that person — or in this case, Ukraine. To combat alleged Naziism in Ukraine might garner plausible credence among a subset of older Russians.

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Ironically, as many people realize, Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine is almost a carbon copy of the Nazi invasion of Russia. The hallmark being complete disregard for human life.

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Perhaps also to consider is Putin possibly showing early signs of dementia bordering on obsessive paranoia. He fears and loathes the very existence of NATO. Apparently, for Putin the western European defense alliance is a constant and imminent threat to Russia.

Now he has challenged NATO and that latter alliance regrettably seems to resemble a toothless tiger. He has also already threatened Finland and Sweden for daring to think of joining NATO.

One must also consider Putin does not trust the European Economic Community (EEC), although Russia had been invited to join he might have thought otherwise. Russia runs its own parallel economic union of compliant and submissive states represented best by Belarus.

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Russians also seem to be fixated on military activity and subversion. It is part of Russia’s overseas soft military omnipresence supplying mercenary soldiers to several African dictatorships through a corporate front known as Wagner Group.

At the moment, Russia seems intent upon stealing Ukraine’s Donbas, the country’s old coal and steel-producing region. But I believe Putin means to steal much more, including the entire regions of Luhansk and Donetsk which essentially run from outside Mariupol in the south to the northern border.

It is a Russian-speaking region Putin seems to believe is more akin to Russia than Ukraine. Destroying Mariupol one of the most pro-Russian cities in Ukraine really makes no sense to me, but that seems to be the Russian way of making war.

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Putin has repeatedly made public accusations that Ukraine has engaged in genocide in eastern Ukraine. Of course, evidence is instead mounting Russian armies may be demonstrably responsible for genocide against Ukrainians.

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why? Perhaps with the expectation once Ukrainians are eliminated from the corridor linking territories to the previously stolen Crimea, the territory can be infused or colonized with Russians, ensuring a pro-Russian population in conquered territory.

Annexing the entire area known as Kherson operated by Russian proxies would provide a facade of legitimacy. Russia’s puppet leader in Luhansk has already spoken of having a phoney referendum as was done in Crimea.

Eventually, I believe Russia will need to face reality and a massive multi-billion dollar reparations bill for it’s destruction in Ukraine.

Strangely, international law matters because ultimately when Putin is deposed, Russia will need to find a means to pay the piper and re-join civilization.

Lloyd Brown-John is a University of Windsor professor emeritus of political science. He can be reached at [email protected]


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