Ukraine crisis 101

What? Where? Who? WTF?

Paul Mason
5 min readFeb 22, 2022


What just happened?

Russia declared it will recognise two breakaway regions of Ukraine, called the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR/LNR), as independent countries. It then immediately occupied them with combat troops.

Why is that a problem?

These two areas are part of Ukraine, a different country. Ukraine was the second major component part of the Soviet Union when it fell apart in 1991. Ukraine’s territorial integrity was guaranteed by Russia in 1994 in the Budapest Memorandum, in return for giving up all its nuclear weapons. So this crucial piece of international law, on which the entire world relied since 1994, was unilaterally cancelled by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

What does it mean for me?

Do you live in a country? Yes? Does it have internationally recognised borders? OK — from now on, anybody with a bigger army can decide to redraw those borders. If you live in the wrong place, you will become a citizen of the attacking country and be forced to obey its laws, speak its language. Do you see why that’s a problem?

But aren’t Ukrainians really Russian?

No. In 2014 they staged a revolution against a pro-Russian puppet government for their right to be free of Russian domination. They are as separate from Russia as Ireland is from Britain, or Canada from the USA. They have their own language. In elections they repeatedly supported candidates who want to maintain Ukraine as a distinct country.

But don’t the Ukrainians oppress Russian speakers in Ukraine?

No. Really no. It’s a lie manufactured by Putin and the mafiosi who run the LNR/DNR. The Ukrainian army is full off Russian speakers and ethnic Russians.

OK, but by moving troops in, surely he stabilises the situation?

No again. Putin made a speech saying Ukraine should never be allowed to join NATO because it intends to get nuclear weapons and nuke Russia (a complete fantasy). He actually said this live on TV in a rambling deranged speech. That means he wants to destroy Ukraine as a country.

Isn’t NATO the aggressor?

No. Nato has done some stupid and unjust things in the past. It developed the illusion it could police the world and intervened in Afghanistan and Libya. But it actually forbade Ukraine from joining in the foreseeable future, because it’s a country with unstable borders and a corrupt oligarchy and a flawed democracy. So the myth of NATO “encircling” Russia is just a piece of disinformation put around by Putin and his followers.

Should NATO rule out Ukraine’s membership?

It could say “not for a long time” — which is the current position. But that’s not enough for Putin: he wants it to be never, which means Ukraine can never decide its own position in the world. In addition he wants all the countries in East Europe to reverse their active participation in NATO to where they were in 1994. You may think that’s a good idea — but he doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks,. He’s demanding this a gunpoint — no negotiations, he said last night, unless it’s about my demands.

What will this mean for Ukrainians?

There are 41 million of them — they are increasingly cool, educated, pro-European people whose views range from left to right to centre, who just want to get a job and make a living. In 2014 they made a revolution for the right to be European. This move means their entire state — and their desire for trade and cultural orientation to the EU — is called into question. Putin does not believe they have a right to self-determination, and he will occupy the Donbas (the breakaway regimes) first; and then begin to heavy Ukraine to make further concessions.

Will war break out?

The Ukrainian army refused to mobilise even when 127,000 Russian troops camped out on their border. The LNR/DNR are run by crazed militia guys in combat jackets — they may stage provocations to start a war. Ukraine wants to avoid war. Though there’s been a low-level war for eight years, killing 14,000, a full scale war can only start if Russian or LNR/DNR troops cross the Ukrainian border in force.

Aren’t the Ukrainians fascists?

No. this is another lie. If you hear someone say it, they are spreading a slander invented by Putin’s trolls and bots. The maximum support for far-right parties in Ukraine has been 3% — and 6%. America and Britain probably have more actual fascists than Ukraine. What’s true — and a problem — is that Ukraine absorbed a far right militia group into its own armed forces in order to keep it under control.

What can I do?

This is a scary event. It’s probably the biggest geopolitical event in your lifetime. One country has threatened to invade and swallow up another — and these events are just the start. You can show solidarity with Ukraine by using the hashtag #StandWithUkraine; you can respectfully disagree with people on social media telling lies that benefit Putin; you can can support the sanctions Western governments impose on Russia; you can get educated about Russian information and hybrid warfare.

Can’t we just ignore it and get on with fighting the capitalists, police, Tories etc?

This entire event has been prepared with years of hybrid warfare. It means the use of disinformation, bribery, corruption, assassinations, money laundering etc to bring elements of the Western elite onside with Putin. Putin’s project is the same as Trump and Fox News’ project.

Is there a threat of global war?

Yes. We need to call for de-escalation and restraint on all sides. But we also have to criticise and punish the aggressor: Russia — just as our grandparents did to Nazi Germany. The NATO countries cannot and will not fight for Ukraine. The Ukrainians are on their own here — but they have a big army and will fight if attacked.

Won’t sanctions hurt the Russian people?

Yes. A grand total of 6 Russian people protested Putin’s attack on Ukraine. Why? Because it’s a dictatorship. All six were arrested. But there are millions of Russians, especially among the young, who hate Putin.

We learned with South Africa — sanctions can bring a dictatorship to its knees. Sanctions can and should be targeted at the rich Russians who support Putin but the ultimate aim should be to trigger a mass, popular democratic uprising that gets rid of Putin.

Could we have stopped this?

Yes. Plenty of people warned about it. But politicians like Boris Johnson just kept on taking money from Russian oligarchs and letting them use London as a money laundering centre for their stolen money.

What happens next?

Putin has recognised and occupied the two breakaway areas. But they are only parts of two bigger historic regions (Donetsk, Lugansk). The Russian parliament, under Putin’s control, wants to seize the whole of the two disputed regions. That would mean invading Ukraine.

If Russia invades Ukraine, we have the biggest war in Europe since 1945. Russia wants to humiliate Britain, France and the USA, showing the rest of the world that might is right and that ethnic nationalism is stronger than democracy and the rule of law.

That’s the world you now live in. If you don’t like it, educate yourself about the alternatives.



Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.