No One Has Addressed WHY Russia Invaded Ukraine (So I’ll Do It): There are bigger reasons at play than an insane madman flexing power

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Photo by Valery Tenevoy on Unsplash

In August 2008, the geopolitical intelligence company I worked for went on red alert.

Red alerts were an internal code for “All hands on deck. Something in the world just exploded.” That day, I got to work creating maps of Russian and Georgian troop movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, separatist areas inside the country of Georgia. For the next several days, I would work late into the night reviewing analyst data and updating movements. The invasion eventually became known as the Russo-Georgian War, with the end result being that Russian troops would withdrawal from Georgia, but that Abkhazia and South Ossetia would remain Russian-occupied territories.

Georgia was a small country most people had never heard of, and jokes about Russians invading the U.S. state of Georgia abounded. At the heart of why the Russians invaded a relatively unknown country became an enigma to the populace, but within our company everyone reached the same conclusion — Russia did not want Georgia to become a NATO state.

But there was more to the puzzle. Why invade? What benefits would the Russians have in obtaining this small country?

Our Russian analysts aptly pointed out that Georgia was a former Soviet state with access to the Black Sea and major pipelines, and by joining NATO, Russia couldn’t have the influence they once did. But what they predicted became more evident during the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine; Russian President Vladimir Putin was attempting to recreate some semblance of the former Soviet Union. The goal was to create small incursions to eventually flip the former states or take them over completely.

But the reason why? Russia cannot survive without these former states. Which leads us to today — the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Geopolitics 101: Russia

Geopolitics is a sexy word tossed around by news commentators and people who want to appear smart, but many have no idea what the word actually means. It’s the study of how geography, natural land and water formations, and human history often dictate politics and international relations. Most people get caught up with the here and now of a crisis, instead of looking to the past and unchanging geography to predict future behavior. Why geopolitics matters, however, is at the heart of why Russia is attempting to invade Ukraine.

Consider the following: Russian demographics are in free fall. As

 correctly pointed out and forecasted in her 2018 article, 1 in 10 Russians are over 65 and their workforce is in shambles. They cannot replace workers due to declining birthrates. Then, add in the fact that Russia has skyrocketing levels of alcohol and substance abuse, a failing healthcare sector, declining life expectancy, and astronomical rates of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and you have Russia edging toward a failed state. Most of Russia is also a frozen tundra with non-arable land.

The current misconception is that Putin is crazy and wants to expand his empire simply because. But Putin is not dumb. Egotistical and an autocrat? Sure. However, remember that Putin spent his life inside the KGB and understands how geography and demography are dictating Russia’s future. If they don’t act now, they’re done for. That’s why he began consolidating power and running psychological operation campaigns on his own populace when he first took office in the early 2000s. Russia now has strongholds in Georgia and Ukraine, an alliance with Azerbaijan, and friendly relations in Armenia and Belarus.

Just last night, I spoke with my neighbor’s wife, who is Russian. She pointed out that even within her own family, half of them view Putin as a dictator, while propaganda has brainwashed the other half of her family into believing Russia is literally freeing the Ukrainians. Naturally, if you don’t have the backing of your country, then there’s no way you can expand your borders to even survive, which is what Putin is attempting even if it’s only half the population.

The reason Russia needs to expand its borders has everything to do with natural resources, port cities, mountainous borders to keep other countries from incursion, and populations that aren’t in decline. A bit of both/and, though, is the reason it’s happening at this point in history. The first bit is — as I explained — geography and demographics. The second portion is because Putin has become emboldened by the West’s response to international affairs, beginning with South Ossetia and Crimea, but culminating with recent U.S. and coalition troop withdrawals. We’ve left countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen (even the Russians played around in Syria). The icing on the cake was the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan last year that became an international embarrassment and is now a human rights crisis. Why be afraid of a dog that’s all bark and no bite?

That’s also the problem. Putin is now a man backed into corner who has nothing to lose and can create catastrophic problems for the West and around the globe.

Russia’s playing cards

There have been several memes floating around the internet about the West’s lack of response to the crisis happening in Ukraine. Like this one:

Meme from StareCat

Given Putin’s threat of readying his nuclear defense (more of posturing in my opinion, but I’ll admit he’s erratic), people have assumed we’ve not taken action because of the threat of mutually assured destruction. I’m old enough, however, to remember the Cold War and hiding under my plywood desk during nuclear drills at my elementary school. Throughout the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev made similar sentiments, which led to posturing without action. Instead, we secretly fought the Russians in the Afghan-Soviet War by training the mujahideen, and also ran our own media propaganda (think Rocky IV and Red Dawn). With the globalization that’s occurred, the current threat is the removal of resources and sanctions. If Russia really wanted to hurt Europe, they wouldn’t threaten with nukes.

They’d just shut off their gas.

Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas and the vast majority of what they export goes west. Estimates range that between 80% of Europe’s energy resources are dependent on Russia to the Russians supplying 40% of all natural gas to Europe. There’s a large reason the European Union has danced around this invasion, and that’s because they don’t know what to do if their heating source disappears (Germany announced they now want to be 100% renewable energy by 2035 instead of 2050). Second, while the U.S. could supply Europe given our shale revolution, our own energy prices would skyrocket, and the backlash by the American populace would be swift given the recent rate of inflation. Throw in our recent sanctions against Venezuela, and the Russians have the upper hand again because we turned to Russia for crude oil exports.

Then there’s wheat.

Russia is one of the top three exporters of wheat, especially to the Middle East. For reference, the last time wheat distribution in Russia got disrupted, prices tripled, and we had the Arab Spring. While gluten is the new proverbial al Qaeda in a lot of nutritional circles, we still use wheat in everything. One only need to look at the ingredients in anything you buy at the grocery store and you’ll discover wheat in it all. Now imagine paying quadruple for already increasing food products.

So while nuclear strikes are the boogeyman, the reality is Russia can play the geopolitical game first, and hurt Americans and Europeans where they feel it the most: our comfort levels.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating or providing one iota of justification for the unprovoked aggression against Ukraine and the innocent men and women dying there (and like everyone I’m rooting and praying for the people of Ukraine). Instead, I’m trying to paint a picture as to the why, the how, the history, and foreign complications. With so much information — and misinformation — in our day and age, it’s hard to parse through the commentary. More often than not, you’ll just hear about the war and Putin being a madman off his rocker instead of subtle nuances.

However, I’m more inclined to remember Sun Tzu’s timeless words — “To know your enemy, you must become [think like] your enemy.