As the invasion of Ukraine began in late February 2022, President Vladimir Putin offered several justifications for why Russia had no other option.
First: Russia needed to fight the rise of fascism and neo-Nazism by demilitarizing Ukraine. According to Putin, Ukrainian leaders, including the country’s democratically elected Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, were a bunch of neo-Nazis and drug addicts holding Ukraine hostage.
Second: Russian intervention would prevent the alleged genocide of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
Third: Russian intervention would ensure that Ukraine does not join NATO, a military alliance that Russia views as an existential threat.
While those statements may seem strange and outlandish, Putin has been laying the rhetorical groundwork for an invasion of Ukraine along these lines for years.
Russian rhetoric – the language Russian officials use – toward Ukraine has changed over the past two decades from establishing a strategic partnership with Ukraine to delegitimizing Ukraine’s government. This was done by making unsubstantiated accusations of atrocities, false accusations of the rebirth of fascism, and blaming the West and neo-Nazis for escalating violence in Ukraine.
With hindsight, Russia’s statements should have triggered warning bells.