Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: SERGEI SAVOSTYANOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images
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What If I Told You Russia, Not America, Invaded Ukraine?

My wildest Putin conspiracy theory: He’s been behind the war all along.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: SERGEI SAVOSTYANOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters that one American goal in arming Ukraine was to weaken Russia. The anti-anti-Russia coalition of commentators on the right, and elements of the far left, cried out in vindication.

The key thing to understand about anti-anti-Russia thinkers is that their worldview treats the war in Ukraine as if it is being waged by the United States. Absent this premise, their arguments are unintelligible. But if you read them with the assumption that Washington has masterminded the conflict, everything clicks into place.

Anti-anti-Russians had already arrived at the conclusion that Ukraine’s war was an American plot to undermine Russia. “Is the purpose of the arms shipments to strengthen Ukraine’s hand in reaching a negotiated settlement to the conflict — a process from which the Biden administration and allied governments have so far held themselves aloof?” posited the leftist Branko Marcetic last week. “Or is it, as some U.S. and British officials have suggested, to turn Ukraine into an Afghanistan-like quagmire for Russia, weakening it and perhaps even triggering regime change, while sending a message to China in the process?”

And so, when Austin announced this objective, the anti-anti-Russians cried out in vindication. Here was the skeleton key to understanding the entire conflict. “The White House intends to keep the war in Ukraine alive, with the stated goal of weakening Moscow by continuing to pour new and more advanced weaponry into the war-ravaged country,” argues the Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson.

The purest expression of this worldview comes from influential Fox News guest analyst Glenn Greenwald:

This is an inversion of reality Orwell could only admire. Ukraine’s destruction is the objective of Russia’s invasion, not the “price” of American aid to Ukraine. Indeed, American aid to Ukraine is designed to prevent its destruction.

Ukrainians are begging for American aid because they don’t want to be destroyed. The absence of assistance from the west would mean Russian troops raping, looting, and bombing their way across the country.

Perhaps the anti-anti-Russians imagine some alternative in which the United States refused to help Ukraine fend off the invasion, and Ukraine peacefully submitted in the face of overwhelming force. But this fantasy ignores Ukraine’s obvious determination to fight for its independence regardless of what the west did on its behalf. The Ukrainian populace mobilized en masse, enlisting in their home defense in greater numbers than could be absorbed and fashioning homemade arms to defend their neighborhoods block by block.

The anti-anti-Russians have arrived at this bizarre alternative reality after years of delusional thinking. They have spent the better part of two decades refusing to believe that Ukrainians want to live in a sovereign democracy rather than a Russian vassal state ruled by a Putin-aligned kleptocrat. They have accordingly treated every expression of Ukrainian nationalism as a tool of American aggression. The Maidan protests, the election of Zelenskyy, the resistance to the invasion have all been reimagined in their minds as a plot originated in Washington.

Obviously, the United States wants to weaken Russia — because Russia is threatening Ukraine. The war will go on until Russia is too weak to continue waging war in Ukraine. This is perfectly obvious as long as you understand Russia, not the United States, started the war.

The trouble is, some people cannot understand this.

What If I Told You Russia, Not America, Invaded Ukraine?