Recently, the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire hosted a discussion entitled “Taking African Agency Seriously.” I know this is not where you expected me to start, but bear with me. In that conversation, Dr. Taiwo, a professor from Cornell University, mentioned that the way the global community approaches aid to the many countries in Africa actually disempowers communities and does not support their own decision-making. This got me thinking about other ways that we talk about what is going on in the world that ignores how decisions are made.
So, how does this all relate to the idea that Putin may be a puppet of the west? It all starts with how many people, including Putin himself, have talked about the invasion of Ukraine. The story goes that Russia was forced to invade Ukraine because of Western actions, specifically NATO’s expansion. Regardless of if you accept this perspective, let us take the claim at face value. If Russia had no choice, that tells us that NATO is in control of Russia, and therefore Putin. He apparently has no control over when and why his country goes to war. He cannot utilize his and his country’s agency in making decisions, because the United States and its allies are all powerful and can dictate his moves.
This line of thinking holds true for ending the war. Many of these same people blame the West for prolonging the war through their support of Ukraine. Untold thousands of lives could be saved if NATO and others would just step back. Again, this takes any power that Putin has and entirely shifts it to the West.
These discussions also minimize the agency of the most important actor in this war, Ukraine. NATO is not providing this support to Ukraine in spite of what the Ukrainian government wants, rather in support of the many requests they have made for help. Ukraine does not want to be dominated by Russia, as shown time and again since before the fall of the Soviet Union. They want to expel the Russian occupiers of their lands and have the ability to make decisions for their own future.
Therefore, if we are to look at this clearly, if Russia and its supporters want to claim that NATO caused this war to occur, we must also accept that Putin is simply a puppet of the West. I cannot imagine this is a claim that the Russian president would accept, meaning that the decision to go to war lies solely with him and his military. Everyone, especially leaders of large countries, has agency in this world. It may be constrained by the realities of the world, but in the end, everyone has a choice and it was Putin’s choice to initiate this devastating and illegal invasion.