“Beat your own so that strangers are afraid of you.” This is a common Russian expression, which literally means, “beat your friends, so your enemies will be scared of you.”

In Russian culture the phrase is often used to condemn someone’s behavior. It’s an ironic expression, often used in respect of people who attack others from their own team in order to intimidate everybody else.

Indeed, the phrase clearly characterizes Russian psychological behavior and today’s Russian invasion of Ukraine – a big Russian brother teaches a “lesson” to his little Ukrainian brother, while pointing an aggressive finger to his “naughty” neighbors – former Soviet Republics.

But what are the underlining causes and reasons of today’s brutal Russian–Ukrainian war? Historically, Russians and Ukrainians are both Slavs, sharing similar languages, cultural traditions, religion, psychological behavior and many other elements of Slavic culture. The historic bond of both nations goes back to the mid–9th century or formation of the Kiev Rus and later acquisition of other Slavic territories under authority of Moscow in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Ukraine was firmly under Moscow’s thumb prior to 1991. Any anti-Moscow policies and ideological diversions had been severely punished by the central Soviet regime.

Slavic states withstood and ultimately defeated a brutal Mongol invasion and occupation from the 12th to 15th centuries. They participated in Eastward expansion into Siberia and Russian Far East, bravely fought together in the Crimean War of 1853–1856, and the revolutionary movement of the early 20th century. They courageously defended their land in both World Wars, and were under one national state – the Soviet Union – until the end of 1991. In fact, Ukraine received its sovereignty as a de-jure and de-facto country for the first time in its history only after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

Indeed, there are many cultural, political, historic and linguistic ties between Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians. I know this first-hand. Born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, I traveled extensively in these republics as an archaeologist or educator prior to my departure as a political refugee from Kiev to the West in 1977.

I know Ukraine and its people well. The country is truly multi-cultural and bilingual. Eastern, north central and southern parts of the country, including Crimean Peninsula, predominantly speak the Russian language, while western and rural territories of the country predominantly speak the Ukrainian language. However, all residence of the country can freely communicate with each other in both languages. My native language is Russian, and I speak Ukrainian fluently. Nevertheless, politically, academically and ideologically, Ukraine was firmly under Moscow’s thumb prior to 1991. Any anti-Moscow policies and ideological diversions had been severely punished by the central Soviet regime.

The second reason for the current Russian–Ukrainian war has to do with Ukraine’s incompliance with the Minsk Protocol of 2014.

Considering the historic and cultural bond between these two nations, why has war erupted with such uncompromising force? In my view, one of the major reasons is the continued expansion of the NATO military alliance eastward, approaching Russian national borders and, therefore, threatening its national security.

In the last 15–20 years, the Russian government has cautioned against this expansion, reminding the West that “the security of one nation should not be done at the expense of the security of another nation.” For example, Cuba is a sovereign country, but we will not tolerate a Russian nuclear submarine to be stationed in Cuba; among other instances – Iran and North Korea nuclear ambitions.

The second reason for the current Russian–Ukrainian war has to do with Ukraine’s incompliance with the Minsk Protocol of 2014. The Minsk Protocol was drawn-up by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which consisted of legitimate representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The group was established in June 2014 as a way to facilitate dialogue and resolution of the strife across eastern and southern Ukraine.

The text of the protocol consists of 12 points:

— Ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.

— Ensure the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

— Decentralize power, including through the adoption of the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (Districts).”

— Ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian–Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

— Immediate release of all hostages and illegally detained persons.

— Prevent the prosecution and punishment of people in connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (Districts).

— Continue the inclusive national dialogue.

— Take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbas.

— Ensure early local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.”

— Withdraw illegal armed groups and military equipment as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.

— Adopt a program of economic recovery and reconstruction for the Donbas region.

— Provide personal security for participants in the consultations.

Ukraine’s request to become a member of the European Union and subsequently to join NATO is unwise, unrealistic and dangerous for all sides involved. This request should never be encouraged by the West. In addition to this request, President Zelensky’s recent suggestion to exit 1994 Budapest Memorandum only added fuel to the fire during this turbulent time for Ukraine and the world at large. As President Putin responded to this unwise suggestion on February 22, “Yes, we heard you.” And several days later, Russia launched a massive full–scale invasion of Ukraine.

It is conceivable that Russia will continue its aggressive invasion and eventual partition of Ukraine; and who knows what is next.

To remind readers of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the United States, Russia, and Great Britain committed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country. Those assurances played a key role in persuading the Ukrainian government in Kiev to give up what amounted to the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, consisting of some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads.

When the U.S.S.R. broke up in late 1991, there were nuclear weapons scattered in the post–Soviet states. The George H. W. Bush administration worried that the collapse of the Soviet Union might turn violent, raising the prospect of conflict among nuclear–armed states. Ensuring no increase in the number of states with nuclear weapons meant that only Russia would retain nuclear arms. Further, President Clinton’s administration pursued the same goal.

Eliminating the strategic nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and strategic bombers in Ukraine was a critical deal for the United States, NATO and Russian Federation. The ICBMs and bombers carried warheads of monstrous size – all designed, built, and deployed to attack United States and Western Europe. The warheads atop the SS-19 and SS-24 ICBMs in Ukraine had explosive yields of 400–550 kilotons each – that is, nearly 30 times the size of the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima. The 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads – more than four times the number of nuclear warheads that China currently possesses – could have destroyed every U.S. city with a population of more than 50,000 three times over.

Clearly, Russian–Ukrainian war, resulting in massive destruction of the Ukrainian cities, casualties on both sides and dangerous tensions between the West and Russia, was preventable if two stipulations described above were followed through by Ukraine and NATO – i.e., stop expansion of NATO eastward and Ukraine’s compliance with the 2014 Minsk Protocol.

In my presentation “Russian–Ukrainian Relations: Looking Back and Looking Forward” at the Juneau World Affairs Council in 2014, I discussed demographic, territorial and social issues between these two nations that is still current today. Click on the link to watch this presentation.

Unfortunately, today the “Bear” is out of his cage, and he will grab what he can and wants. Sanctions against Russia are interpreted by Russians as an economic declaration of war and, most likely, will not result in Putin’s retreat or ultimate defeat.

In my observation and communication with Russian citizens, most of them support Putin’s aggressive politics, his imperial ambitions and “special military operation in Ukraine.” It is conceivable that Russia will continue its aggressive invasion and eventual partition of Ukraine; and who knows what is next.

Solution – someone has to give in order to prevent a global conflict. And please, don’t tease the “Bear” or play with “matches.”

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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Russia beats its own to intimidate strangers

Alexander Dolitsky
The writer was raised in the former Soviet Union before settling in the U.S. in 1978. He moved to Juneau in 1986 where he has taught Russian studies at the University of Alaska, Southeast. He is now director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center and has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography.


  • Luke Weld says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis, Mr. Dolitsky. This is clearly a complex situation with a long history, and with so much propaganda it’s sometimes hard for us in the States to get a clear picture of what’s really going on in Ukraine right now. Your perspective is much appreciated.

    • Alexander Dolitsky says:

      Thank you, Luke! My best student at Alyeska Central School!!

      • Ides of March says:

        No doubt, Alexander, Luke will be referring to this article of yours from now on as the 1st Epistle of Alexander to the West! I suspect that he will have his candles fired up and blazing as he prays for the minions of hell!

  • The Ides of March says:

    Alexander, your last paragraph lacks substance for the West. It all comes down to this: placate Putin. As we know, Putin is a glutton: no sooner has he feasted, he wants more. He is demented.

    With respect to the matter, Senator Lindsey Graham–an unabashed scaramouch–obviously alluding to Act III, Scene II, of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” asked if there is anybody in Russia who would “take out” Putin, adding that “you would be doing your country—and the world—a great service.”

    In “Julius Caesar” Brutus raises the rhetorical question “why Brutus rose against Caesar,” answering, “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”

    Anatoly Antonov, Putin’s ambassador to the U.S., described Graham’s statement as “unacceptable and outrageous.” Of course! This coming from a “high-minded” court fool—but who is he to “jest?” As Antonov has shown, he will quickly come to Putin’s defense regardless of how heinous and immoral Putin’s actions prove to the conscience of Christians! The lives of Ukrainian women and children and the lives of the Ukrainian elderly are of no account to Putin and his well-heeled and well-paid apologist! Both Putin and Antonov are minions of hell. Both, along with the other oligarchs, are out to bleed the common Russian while they, the filthy rich, live the high life hypocritically “patronizing” the West! Who was it who said that the Russian oligarchs are only “Russians in name only!”

    • Alexander Dolitsky says:

      I find it interesting how so many people in the U.S., who know absolutely nothing about Ukraine, are so enflamed with anger at Russia about it and wanting to defend Ukraine at the potential cost of a nuclear war! I was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine. I certainly sympathize, greatly, with the people of Ukraine right now (and the unfortunate young Russian conscripts serving as cannon fodder, too), but I think it is terrible how the media play the drums of war rather than trying to explain both sides of the conflict. And, of course, it’s also terrible about the Biden administration simply saying, “F… y…” to Putin’s plea for assurance that NATO will not expand into Ukraine (which has always seemed entirely reasonable to me) rather than trying to resolve the situation before it became too late. Of course, our media today are so propagandist that they will never point a finger at a Democrat administration for lighting the match to this conflict, but it is still surprising to see how easily public opinion can be created and fanned to the point of wanting war simply by painting one side as evil and the other as innocent. It is so easy for propagandist media to play on the righteous sense of human behavior to drive people to irrational and uninformed furor. But how many times has that happened in human history? Probably about the same as the number of wars in human history.

      • The Ides of March says:

        Now we have the 2nd Epistle of Alexander to the West! Read it and weep!

      • Dave Stickler says:

        Yup I agree with you there. NATO just keeps pushing east. What a mess tgat should have been avoided
        God help us.

  • Neil DeWitt says:

    Well, this surely sheds light on the happenings in Ukraine by Russia! Putin must feel that NATO is stepping on his toes and feels like he must real in Ukraine back to the fold. Only Ukraine want to be a Democratic state now it’s had a taste of freedom from Russian rule!

  • Robert A Schenker says:

    Mr. Dolitsky has informed us well here.
    I believe that Reagan promised that NATO would not expand and certainly would not include Poland. Is this true? If so, one can see how NATO’s expansion would give the Russian Bear. Paws, er pause.

    • Alexander Dolitsky says:

      Also Baker and Clinton promised Russians that NATO would not expand eastward.

  • Dave says:

    You explained things quite well and a good history of Russia /Ukraine. I agree with your assessment of the NATO encroachment and violation of the Minsk agreement is the underlying cause of the hostility.
    As far as NATO goes look no further than the disaster wars in Iraq,Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and late Yugoslavia. They sit as example that Putin gets to use to explain his national security interest. This is a huge mess that could have been avoided if nato would have listened and not pushed the European war theatre to the doors of Russia. Maybe this could been different had consideration to tjose agreements had been followed and eastward expansion of NATO been seen as they were from the eyes of Russians.

  • Di says:

    Very good common sense article.

  • The Winds of War says:

    The Putin-Dolitsky Doctrine: Kick the crap out of ’em, and stay at the top of your game! Dolitsky, you definitely can cudgel Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn justifying Putin’s war crimes with your apologetics and earn your your place in Putinesque literature! “Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda!” It seems to be some “Russian trinity” that you can speak to with absolute authority as one of Putin’s apologists. Take out that dull pencil of yours and issue another contorted excuse for Putin’s war crimes against the Ukrainians and then lower your head in shame!

    • Robert Anthony Schenker says:

      Winds of War, you wouldn’t be a Democrat, would you?
      I mean to say that the regime installed in Ukraine by your man Obama, aided by Viki Nuland and the CIA isn’t an asset in the Russia Collusion scam or in Trumps Impeachment at all right? And what of Wuhan type Bio- Labs in the Ukraine? Hmm, I wonder. Meanwhile your idiot China Joe’s kid ripped off a handsome profit with Daddie cover and blessing. No, never look critically at the big picture. Bury your head in the quagmire dished up by your propaganda outlets and let’s all go to War!

    • Greg Van Thiel says:

      You may benefit by spending some time here to understand where Dolitsky is coming from:

    • Alexander Dolitsky says:

      You need to take a course in reading comprehension.

      • Alexander Dolitsky says:

        To The Winds of War: You need to take a course in reading comprehension!

      • A. N. Gottschalk says:

        Dolitsky, as you demonstrate, you are well practiced in the refined arts of apologetics and propaganda. Russian serfs have long been emancipated, yet we know that their deadened mentality lingers in so many of the sophisticated and the accomplished Russian “academicians” such as yourself. Were you clearly to denounce Putin for his war crimes in Ukraine you might be able to avoid being thrown into a ditch in hell and argue that you aren’t who you really are–Putin’s thrall! I suspect subservience runs deep in your soul! From the Ides of March and the Winds of War, A. N. Gottschalk

  • Greg Van Thiel says:

    In my humble opinion, the same folks who have been deceiving us for the past 2 years are now calling poor little Ukraine the good guys and Putin the bad guy. The unfortunate Ukrainian people are caught in the middle. There is more to this than we are being told. For instance, the Soviets were assured the West’s military presence would not expand east of Germany, here is a well documented and referenced source of declassified documents showing the security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders (the actual documents!). I encourage you to take a serious look.

    And here is an excellent map showing the NATO members and when they were added. Half the current membership is clearly east of
    Germany despite the assurances that would never happen.

    Putin has had enough and took measures that would prevent yet another country bordering Russia to have a NATO military presence. We have The Monroe Doctrine and have invoked it numerous times, notably Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. This is the first time Russia has invaded another sovereign nation since 1991; it has no military presence in another country. On the other hand, the USA has been involved in (precipitated?) at least 50 forced changes of government and has military bases in 80 countries. It comes as no surprise that Putin has taken action; he has been more than hinting at this since 2014, after we set up a coup to install the current government in Ukraine.

  • Greg Van Thiel says:

    I find it absolutely amazing that the link to the map in my comment above survived the fact checkers but the link to the solid evidence did not. here it is again:

  • Lou Coatney says:

    Folks in Juneau, and Alex, will remember me strongly defending our national defense and nuclear deterrent in the public forum during the anti-defense/deterrence hysteria in the 1980s.
    However, in this Ukraine War WE are in the wrong – not the Russians – and if we don’t BACK OFF there will indeed be a nuclear holocaust.
    I was a junior in high school in Rock Island Illinois in October 1962, when we came to the brink of the abyss in a similar situation during the Cuba Missile Crisis, and this Ukraine War is infinitely more dangerous, with our infinitely more powerful and instantaneous – and Dead Hand automatic – weapons now.
    We have betrayed our past security promises to the Russians not to push NATO east at them, and then we broke our Budapest peace agreement with them with our 2014 Kiev coup, and they have since counter-moved taking the Crimea and helping the East Ukraine separatists just like we counter-moved taking Grenada after its pro-Soviet coup within our own nuclear security perimeter in 1983.
    Lisa Murkowski and Don Young know me. (After Romney’s and Cruz’s support of Dan Sullivan, don’t bother.) Ted Stevens and I stood by each other in those 1980 debates.
    Contact Lisa and Don, to get them to vocally support Biden&Blinken instead letting the Russians have their well-justified security treaty.
    Biden&Blinken *wanted* this war for 7 motives, and I have sent my Letter to the Editor and my white paper about this to the major Alaska newspapers. We’ll see if they will publish the letter and make my white paper available.