This is an excellent analysis of the Ukraine war and its historical roots. From Christopher Caldwell at imprimis.hillsdale.edu:
According to what we hear from the White House and from the television networks, the issues at stake in the Ukraine War are simple. They concern the evil of Vladimir Putin, who woke up one morning and chose, whether out of sadism or insanity, to wreak unspeakable violence on his neighbors. Putin’s actions are described as an “unprovoked invasion” of a noble democracy by a corrupt autocracy. How we ought to respond is assumed to be a no-brainer. The United States has pledged vast quantities of its deadliest weaponry, along with aid that is likely to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars, and has brought large parts of the world economy—particularly in Europe—to a standstill.
Now, whenever people in power tell you something is a no-brainer, there’s a good chance that it’s a brainer. And the Ukraine War is more complicated than we’ve been led to assume.
There are reasons why the U.S. might want to project power into the Black Sea region. But we must not ignore that the politics of the region are extraordinarily complex, that the Ukraine conflict is full of paradoxes and optical illusions, and that the theater we are entering has been, over the past 150 years, the single most violent corner of the planet. And unless we learn to respect the complexity of the situation, we risk turning it into something more dangerous, both for Europeans and for ourselves.
Historic Roots of the Conflict
Putin invaded Ukraine after the U.S. rejected his demand for a guarantee that Ukraine not join NATO. We don’t have to excuse Putin, but we should note that, until quite recently, having Ukraine in NATO was a prospect that struck even many American foreign policy thinkers as a bad idea. These included George Kennan, who was one of the architects of the NATO alliance when the Cold War began in the late 1940s. Kennan was still alert and active, at about 90 years of age, when NATO won the Cold War at the turn of the 1990s. And in 1997, during the Clinton administration, he warned that American plans to push NATO borders “smack up to those of Russia” was the “greatest mistake of the entire post–Cold War era.”