I see almost everyone protesting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It includes the USA too.

But the USA has a history of invasions or wars which also resulted in civilians deaths and violated human rights.

And there's no guarantee what a country would do in future.

So I see a lot of people calling it hypocritical that Russia is doing somewhat what the USA has always done in past and won't hesitate to do it again in future.

Of course, past actions by the USA don't justify the Russian invasion.

So I want to know, is this current invasion significantly different from what the USA has done in past?

I mean what are some main reasons that Russia is being protested and sanctioned this much while the USA wasn't.

If yes, how do the USA or NATO justify protesting the Russian invasion given that they also have a history of human rights violation and civilians deaths?

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    Vikas, let's work out the ramifications of the reverse. Russia invades Ukraine and no one cares... how does that work out for everyone?
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 2, 2022 at 10:31
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    You ask several different questions: 1) Why are people protesting? 2) How is this invasion different? 3) How do the US/NATO justify their protest? I think all three have very different answers. Briefly #1 is a question at individual level, and at individual level, someone can oppose both the Russian invasion and the other US wars in the past. For #2, personally, the major difference is that Russia lied about their intention to invade, and they chose some dubious reasons to actually attack (cont)
    – Allure
    Mar 2, 2022 at 10:42
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    History is never exactly the same. The roles of villain and hero are typically cast a bit different every time. I can personally justify my protests because I was also not for invading Iraq at that time. Hussein was maybe not a nicer man than Putin but he did not have any weapons of mass destruction and the number of civilians killed in Iraq were simply too high a price to pay. So let's settle on both was wrong but for different reasons and this one here can end more terrible. Mar 2, 2022 at 10:45
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    The invasion of Iraq attracted massive popular protests throughout Europe, so you can't say "Nobody complained about the invasion of Iraq". If it is about popular protest, this question seems based on a false premise.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:08
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    @StuartF that's missing the point: there are plenty of people (and governments) who protest this invasion but supported (or participated in) the invasion of Iraq. That's hypocritical. In both cases a sovereign state was invaded on false pretences that they posed a threat, to protect the invaders' strategic interests. (Assuming Russia's goal is regime change, that also matches Iraq.)
    – mdarwin
    Mar 3, 2022 at 18:23

4 Answers 4

  • Russia is questioning the statehood of Ukraine. Western invasions claimed to aim for the rebuilding of statehood in the Western model. This often failed, but Iraq, Bosnia, or Somalia have not become member states or territories of the United States, and nobody seriously believes that the US wants that. Russia has already annexed part of Ukraine.
  • The West sees Russian explanations for the invasion as especially implausible. For instance, they are calling the Jewish President of Ukraine a Nazi. While Jewish Nazis are not completely impossible, this requires more evidence than they have been able to provide.
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    One other thing to note is that the United States has been good at getting other countries to sign on to its military operations. This gives them, at the very least, a veneer of legitimacy, which may in part explain the fact that they faced fewer consequences even when the wars were ill-advised. Russia is going at it alone besides Belarus; instead of coalition partners, it just has countries that will not vote to condemn it. China is not about to take a firm stand against US sanctions on Russia, for instance.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 2, 2022 at 8:31
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    This often failed, but Iraq, Bosnia, or Somalia have not become member states or territories of the United States, and nobody seriously believes that the US wants that. There's the Philippines at the turn of the previous century.
    – Allure
    Mar 2, 2022 at 9:29
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    @Allure, yes, but that was a very long time ago. Morals change over the centuries.
    – o.m.
    Mar 2, 2022 at 11:18
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    Your answer is wrong in both points. Russia doesn't question the statehood of Ukraine at most Putin questioned borders not the statehood. Second, no one (in the Russian government) is calling Zelenskiy a Nazi.
    – ixSci
    Mar 2, 2022 at 13:02
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    @ixSci - Well, Putin is vague enough, or canny enough, not to say that. But when he calls the government a band of Nazis, or says that Ukraine was created by Stalin, those are the ideas he wants to convey.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 2, 2022 at 14:57

So I want to know, is this current invasion significantly different from what the USA has done in past?

There are some similarities. Of course there are also differences.

I'd say one close comparison is the 2004 invasion of Iraq. In that war the US (and others) invaded Iraq and overthrew the Iraqi government on the grounds that it had a WMD program.

Another one is the NATO intervention in the Kosovo war. That intervention in Kosovo was also based on an allegation of genocide which later turned out to be false. According to Wikipedia:

The NATO intervention has been seen as a political diversionary tactic, coming as it did on the heels of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, pointing to the fact that coverage of the bombing directly replaced coverage of the scandal in US news cycles. Herbert Foerstel points out that before the bombing, rather than there being an unusually bloody conflict, the KLA was not engaged in a widespread war against Yugoslav forces and the death toll among all concerned (including ethnic Albanians) skyrocketed following NATO intervention. In a post-war report released by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the organization also noted "the pattern of the expulsions and the vast increase in lootings, killings, rape, kidnappings and pillage once the NATO air war began on March 24".

US President Clinton, his administration and NATO governments were accused of inflating the number of Kosovo Albanians killed by state forces. The conservative media watchdog group Accuracy in Media charged the alliance with distorting the situation in Kosovo and lying about the number of civilian deaths in order to justify U.S. involvement in the conflict.

After the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said that the US was using its economic and military superiority to aggressively expand its influence and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Chinese leaders called the NATO campaign a dangerous precedent of naked aggression, a new form of colonialism, and an aggressive war groundless in morality or law. It was seen as part of a plot by the US to destroy Yugoslavia, expand eastward and control all of Europe.

However, estimates showed that prior to the bombing campaign on 24 March 1999, approximately 1,800 civilians had been killed in the Kosovo war, mostly Albanians but also Serbs and that there had been no evidence of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Russia has invaded Ukraine (among other things) under the pretence of stopping a genocide which most other countries do not recognize is happening. See for example this question where I also wrote an answer: What exactly does Putin mean by 'genocide' in Ukraine?.

If yes, how do the USA or NATO justify protesting Russian invasion given that they also have a history of human rights violation and civilians deaths?

Last week's episode of Real Time with Bill Maher had an interview with Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego. Though he doesn't speak on behalf of the US, I think it's relevant for understanding the position taken by most in the West. In the interview he basically answers your question. The Democratic Congressman said (10 minutes into the episode):

Look here's the thing, I get what you're saying, we have had our bad moments, we have not been a perfect country. But that does not excuse us from what is right, right now. And that is backing a democracy that wants to defend itself.

In other words, just because the US (and some allies) made bad decisions then doesn't mean that they aren't right on this issue. To argue that it does is sometimes called out as a logical fallacy known as whataboutism.

I mean what are some main reasons that Russia is being protested and sanctioned this much while the USA wasn't.

This is probably the more interesting part of your question. So you ask about protesting and sanctions. Those are two different things. The 2004 invasion of Iraq was protested also, see the 'opposition to invasion' heading on that war's Wikipedia page.

Sanctions are a different matter entirely. The reason the US and its allies can implement sanctions is because of their political and economic capital. The West has the power to implement meaningful sanctions; that's why they get attention. The Iraq war also saw sanctions, but they were aimed at Saddam Hussain's Iraq.

Some in the US are also sanctioned by other countries, but it's a lot less meaningful. For example, China and Russia have both imposed sanctions on some US politicians in the past.

So why didn't the US get sanctioned for invading Iraq? It's because its allies either went along with it or opposed the move diplomatically rather than punitively. US adversaries didn't have the political capital to impose meaningful sanctions.

What do I mean by political capital? It's that the sanctions should hurt their target more than it hurts yourself. This requires some existing relationship where you have control. For example, the West has control over the SWIFT banking system. Politicians in the West aren't that reliant on US adversaries in any way. The West's reliance on US adversaries is either niche (e.g. Russian gas) or part of a much broader relationship (e.g. trade with China). Sanctions on those relationships would hurt both countries, making them less useful for punishing the other.

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    A good write-up of what could be essentially said with just one phrase: Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi
    – ixSci
    Mar 2, 2022 at 13:12
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    This is probably a question for another StackExchange, but I do wonder if the discussion at hand is about the pointing out of hypocrisy (like this question is) for the sake of bringing attention, without attempting to downplay the importance of the original issue, if it should actually be called whataboutism. Mar 2, 2022 at 14:31

Very Simple,

The invasion of another foreign sovereign country, when there is no "imminent" security threat, is considered taboo by the international community, especially since world war 2. No democratic country has done this in the past 80 years.

Russia's problem is, that no one in the free world understands how Ukraine is an imminent threat to Russia's security, or to the security of any human being on earth.

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    Wasn't the 2004 invasion of Iraq similarly based on false pretences?
    – JJJ
    Mar 2, 2022 at 9:17
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    @jjj, First, it was believed at that time that Sadam Hussein does have in his position weapons of mass destruction. Second, based on Sadam's history of conduct, there was all reasons to believe that he will use it. Sadam's mass kilings of his own citizens must also be noted (I think it would be moraly justified to invade Syria in order to remove Asad).
    – Jacob3
    Mar 2, 2022 at 9:24
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    no one ... understands how Ukraine is an imminent threat ... to the security of any human being on earth. Have you talked to anyone in Donbas in the past 8 years about whether Ukrainian shelling was a threat to their lives?
    – Allure
    Mar 2, 2022 at 9:25
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    @Jacob3 I don't think the US knew with any certainty that Iraq was close to having WMDs. See for example General Myers' memo to Donald Rumsfeld dated September 9 2002 (indeed that's months before the actual invasion). In any case, it was just a reply to the "No democratic country has done this in the past 80 years." claim.
    – JJJ
    Mar 2, 2022 at 9:29
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    Even if Sadam Hussein had had WMDs and threathened to use them on kurds an other minorities, it's ludicrous to think that a) this provided any kind of inminent security threat to the USA, and b) that the USA cared at all for kurds. Sadam had already massacrated the kurds after the first Gulf War, with the USA doing nothing about it, and had committed all type of crimes in the war against Iran, with the USA actively support him. Does Saudi Arabia present an "inminent" security threat after its genocidal campaign on Yemen?
    – Rekesoft
    Mar 2, 2022 at 10:59

I would separate protests and sanctions. Protests are mostly triggered by the population and can only happen in relatively democratic liberal countries regardless of the reason because very autocratic countries tend to not allow huge protests. Sanctions on the other hand are imposed by governments.

Now if we compare the current war in Ukraine to the US led invasion of Iraq in 2004 there were protests against both in various countries. For example there were major demonstrations in Germany against the US when they started the invasion similar to the protests against Putin today. This happened in spite of the fact that Germany considers itself as a much closer ally to the US than to Russia. There were similar protests in other EU countries as well.

Sanctions only work if they are imposed from an economically more powerful country (or group of countries) against a weaker one. So if the US and EU agree to sanction Russia that is a very effective measure. If say Kenia tries to sanction the US (regardless of the reason) this would not work, the relative damage to Kenia would be much bigger than the damage to the US. Imposing sanctions against the US is very difficult simply because of the size of their economy, regardless of whether governments think it would be justified or not, so it doesn't happen.

  • Yes there were demonstration in some western countries against US government, the curent protests targeting russian citisens as well.
    – convert
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:40

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