Why Russia invades Ukraine

Russia has stated many reasons to why it invades Ukraine. The following is a collection to give the reader a clear picture of what is actually stated and some discussion of the facts.

Summary

Russia makes a lot of different claims to justify the invasion, many of which are absurd and simply wrong. The main one is the denazification, but they name more. According to Russia, a dictatorship-like country with strong censorship laws that is committing war crimes against civilians, it

  1. liberates a country from it’s democratically elected nazi and drug addicted regime
  2. ends a genocide in the Donbas
  3. prevents an attack on regions in the Donbas
  4. destroyed bio and chemical weapon labs
  5. destroyed nuclear weapon labs
  6. dissolves a state that should not exist in the first place
  7. prevents NATO from threatening Russia
  8. prevents any war from happening in or from Ukrainian territory
  9. end the US dominated world order

Putting forward so many false claims speaks by itself a clear language: there is no valid reason for an invasion but it’s rather likely that as many reasons as possible were put forward hoping that at least one sticks. More on this general strategy in Russia’s systematic disinformation.

And indeed, the quoted reasons why Russia is invading differ largely: while the West rather quotes NATOs threat to Russia, Russian news report the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine as the goal. It doesn’t make any of them more valid.

The actual reason

Update: Russia now, officially, starts to claim parts of Ukraine by distributing Russian passports. Русификация (russification). The ex-Soviet states know it.

Russia wants to control Ukraine and sees it as part of its own country, as “one people”, in a somewhat irrational way. No one else explains this probably better than Putin himself and an accidentally pre-released victory article. Furthermore, Russia doesn’t like stable and sovereign democracies as neighbours and opposes that NATO may give Ukraine this guarantee.

Ukraine is a vivid democracy and a sovereign state and wants to stay this way. After having been pressured, destabilized and partially occupied (2014) by Russia, Ukraine seeks for security guarantees in the West and does not want to be part of Russia.

And that’s the real problem: Russia wants Ukraine, Ukraine doesn’t want to be with Russia. The only way to enforce that is through a full scale invasion where Russia needs to take Kyiv. It’s not just some nazis, some maniacs, some politicians in Ukraine that prevent Ukrainians from joining Russia (as much as Russia tells itself that this is the case).
It’s the whole of Ukraine that does not want to be under Russia.

Claimed Reasons

Since this are two actually rather bad reasons and would not work well, Russia came up with a lot of invented reasons. Through systematic propaganda and misinformation, Russia managed to make some of them resonate.

1. Denazification

Source: basically every Russian news article about the war contains these words (see also Repeated lies), example in TASS

One of the main reasons claimed by Russia over and over again is the “denazification” of Ukraine. This sounds at first glance similar to the Genocide in the Donbas or the claim that Ukraines leaders are drug-addicted neo-nazis, but it is not clear what Russia actually means by this as it is just repeated over and over.

A recent article (translated article, original) in Ria Novosti together with reports of systematic violence against civilians (such as in Bucha) clarified what it means: killing, censorship, suppression, violence and torture together with indoctrination of the population. To quote: “All of them [any Ukrainian who fights against the invasion] are equally involved in extreme cruelty against the civilian population, equally guilty of the genocide of the Russian people, do not comply with the laws and customs of war”. We know now that this is exactly what Russia is doing, but not what Ukraine does.

Sometimes right-wing militant groups, such as the Azov bataillon, are used do demonstrate a “nazi-problem” in Ukraine. But in short, “Nazi” groups or the ideology in Ukraine has no real power in politics or support in the population; anti-semitism is extremely low compared to neighbouring countries and the President – the first outside of Israel – and Prime minister are both Jewish.

Since the “nazi” accusation and the “denazification” is used rather a lot, there is a section with more discussion about it.

2. NATO’s eastward expansion is threatening Russia

Sources: many, this has been the main narrative in the (western) media.

This argument may be one of it and is often cited in the (western media) as the reason Russia invades; it also has a certain perceived legitimacy if a country feels threatened. However, Russian media uses this argument quite rarely as the actual reason and prefers to cite the conflict in the Donbass and similar arguments! It rather functions as an argument that “the West may understands”. To expand on it, the whole argument is explained in more detail.

Conclusion: Ukraine joining NATO won’t threaten Russia in any way, there is no reason to believe that NATO would ever invade Russia. However, Ukraines security concerns have just been proven correct by Russia itself: Ukraine wanted to join NATO to guarantee its independence and sovereignty by protecting it from an invasion from Russia. This is what Russia ultimately opposes: Ukraine as a sovereign, democratic state.

2. Ukraine is not even a state

Sources: NY Times, FactCheck, an essay by Putin

Putin, amongst others, have claimed that “Ukraine is not a state” and actually belongs to the same state as Russia. The reason used is that, about one thousand year ago, there was a country that both were part of. One claim is also that Kyiv was actually the first capital of Russia as they both belonged to the “Kievan Rus”. In 1300, Kievan Rus ceased to exist (well visualized in this video), the argument is historically nonsense. However, it conveys the main reason why Russia actually invades Ukraine: to make it part of its own.

A similar claim goes that Russia doesn’t want Ukraine to be an “anti-Russia”. Ukraine is a sovereign, democratic state with many ties to Russia and Russian as it’s de-facto second language (if not even first). If that is seen as an anti-Russia – and it may very well is given the dictator-like nature of Russia – it’s all just confirming the very reason that Russia opposes Ukraine to ever be in NATO: Russia does not want Ukraine to be a sovereign democracy.

3. Ukraines leaders are drug-addicted neo-nazis holding Ukrainians hostage

Source: The Guardian, Putin in a speech (and more)

Putin claims that Ukraines leaders, i.e. his president, are drug addicted neo-nazis which hold the Ukrainian hostage. He calls on the army to remove its own leader. Therefore, removing them and installing another political leader, will “denazify” the country.

  • Holding Ukrainians hostage: Zelensky was elected by democratic and fair elections. He is an actor with no political experience and won against the previous established president. This things only happen in democracies 🙂
    Zelensky is not hiding and can be seen out in the street, his actions are supported by an overwhelming majority of the population. Both are strong indications that he is approved by the people and not holding them hostage
    Possible explanation: Putin follows the narrative of “liberation” of Ukraine and completely disregards the idea that Ukrainians actually wanted Zelensky and support him.
  • Drug-addicted: It is suggested in a discussion that this comes from internal election campaigns where the two candidates tried to smear their images. A drug test taken turned out negative. There is no other hint to believe this would be true. Irrespective, it may doesn’t qualify as a reason to attack a country.
    Possible explanation: Drug addiction is a problem in Russia and a hardline approach has been taken to force treatment or jail. Removing a drug-addict by invasion from the presidential office seems to go “somewhat” inline with Russia’s internal problem solving
  • Neo-nazi: Zelensky himself is primarily a Russian speaker (and struggled to even speak Ukrainian) and is jewish. He is therefore the exact opposite of what Ukrainian neo-nazis propagate.
    Possible explanation: Russia’s narrative includes many “nazi” arguments (“Genocide in Donbas”, “denazification”) as this was the big war they fought. Nazis are bad – and that is known is Russia – so it makes for a good narrative.
    Irony: Putin uses (yet denies it )a brutal mercenary unit called “Wagner” to kill Zelensky. Wagner is said to have ties to neo-nazis; the name itself comes from Richard Wagner, the composer that German Nazis under Hitler would adore and is another strong indication of it’s neo-nazi ties.
    This means that a group with neo-nazi ties is trying to kill a jew in order to denazify the country.

4. Genocide in the Donbas

Sources: TASS (Russian news), UN (and many more)

Russia claims that there was a genocide ongoing in the Donbas region for the last eight years. This claim surfaced in the months proceeding the war with not a single proof provided. Ukraine wanted clarification over the case: Russia did not even show up by boycotting the trial. All the evidence that has been collected by independent observers also clearly show that there was no genocide. Full report of UN

Amnesty international also released a report stating that isolated cases of extrajudicial killing has occurred on both sites, “but not on the scale reported by Russian media and authorities.” It goes on an names an incident where four individuals have been killed by pro-Kyiv forces and names a few more cases of pro-Russian forces that killed a similar number. Any execution style killing is inexcusable, yet this happened for so few incidences that it cannot be called a “genocide”; furthermore it happened similarly on both sides.

Conclusion: With no evidence, just very recent mentions, independent observers stating the opposite (namely the decline of death) and Russia not even participating in the trial, it seems highly unlikely that there ever was a genocide.

6. Escalation of the Donbas conflict by Ukraine

Sources: NPR

A major reason – especially targeted towards the Russian population – is the claim of Ukraine escalating the conflict in the Donbas by attacking them. Following that, the governing entities of the region have called Russia for help. Putin claimed that “[the] main objective is to stop the escalation of the war [in Donbas] that’s been going on for eight years, and to stop the war“.(RT news)

One of the false flag operations was a video that was supposed to show an attack of Ukrainian saboteurs on a chemical plant, a “lazy” fake.

These allegations and storyline is however completely fictional: the attack was rather a false flag operation, the video talking about the attack pre-recorded two days prior (source).

Accusations of a planned attack

Additionally, about two weeks into the war, Russia claims to have found “classified” documents that prove Ukraine had planned an attack on the 28th of February and therefore they preemptively attacked. However, this argument was never raised before, so it sounds like “we invaded without reason but luckily found a reason while invading”.
Fact check: the documents provided are neither classified nor do they contain orders for an attack. They contain typical orders for the movement to a training camp in the west of Ukraine. In the documents, Donbas is mentioned – which is where the army was having a fight with pro-Russian fighters – but they do not contain any mention of an attack, target or anything alike.
Logic check: even without knowledge in warfare and politics, but just simple logic, this claim seems incredibly dumb. Who would seriously plan to attack a region backed by Russia – that is since 8 years in war – exactly in this few weeks where it is surrounded by half of Russia’s army? It seems obvious that if Kyiv ever wanted to attack, they would have done that at any other moment. (remember: Russian troops were just by coincidence stationed around Ukraine because of “military drills with Belarus” and not to prevent any attack).

Difference to the alleged genocide: this is a separate accusation, as it talks about increased attacks in the last few days, whereas the genocide argument covers the last eight years.

7. Ukraine poses a nuclear threat to Russia

Sources: RT News (Russian news), Lavrov

Russia suggests on multiple occasions that Ukraine wants to obtain nuclear weapons and put them on the border. Actually, Russia never exactly claims that Ukraine has them but suggests the “possibility” and selling it as a real threat. More in detail on the way the make the claims.

In short, they say that Ukraine doesn’t has the capability to either produce nuclear weapons nor to build missiles to deliver them and they are also not working on it. It continues arguing of a real threat claiming that theoretically, it could be that at some point they may… In brief: there is – and there won’t be – any threat.

Treaty of security assurance and denuclearization

In fact, Ukraine has been denuclearized since the signment of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in 1994. The treaty contains that Ukraine will adhere to the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NTP) effectively forbidding them to build Nuclear weapons in exchange for security assistance, respect of the countries sovereignty and prohibiting the use of military force against Ukraine. It was signed by three states, the USA, Great Britain and Russia.

Since the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and the temporary occupation of Crimea, Russia has definitely broken that agreement. However, the very same country – while completely disregarding the treaty for a second time – accuses now Ukraine to maybe break this treaty in the future. To be clear: there is no indication at all that Ukraine has any intention to obtain nuclear weapons, there is no research or construction in this direction going on.

8. Prevent war from happening in or from Ukrainian territory

Sources: Russian Embassy UK,

Russia claims that the invasion of Ukraine is there to prevent any war from happening in Ukraine or starting from Ukraine.

Yes, by having war in Ukraine, Russia prevents a war from happening in Ukraine.

There is nothing more to say.

9. End the US dominated world order

Sources: RT news

Russia claims that it’s goal of the invasion is to end the US and western dominance of the world.

To reiterate: Ukraine wanted to join NATO while NATO didn’t quite want Ukraine. Otherwise, Ukraine would have become a NATO member a long time ago as also explained in more detail in Russia feels threatened by NATO. Ukraine is not part of NATO. Attacking Ukraine does not change anything for NATO and surely doesn’t end any “possible domination”. Worst case, it stays the same. One could maybe argue that it would not expand, that is however a fundamentally different claim.
The logic is completely flawed.

But let’s have a wider look: the opposite is actually the case. Russia is only driving Ukraine farther away from itself and pushing other countries, namely Sweden and Finland, into the NATO alliance. It’s uniting the Western countries, increasing military spendings and giving NATO the raison d’être that it was missing in the last decades. It tells that security is not for granted and Russia is an aggressive state that may attack other countries out of nowhere.

The article also contains a great quote: “When a diplomatic chief … says a certain conflict can only be resolved through military action… Well, it must be something personal. He either misspoke or spoke without thinking, making a statement that nobody asked him to make. But it’s an outrageous remark [to say that victory can only be achieved on the battlefield]” – Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister. He is right about it and should start to look at the root of the war to see who started to use military action instead of diplomacy.