The Russian State has been clear about its motivations in the recent Ukrainian conflict. Notably, its objection to NATO expansion. However, much Western media, Western discussion, and even Western politicians disregard Russia's stated motivations as "Russian propaganda".

This phenomenon is not unique to Russia, I've noticed that European countries will e.g. have marches condemning Israel when Israel is attacked, selectively adhering to specific events yet ignoring other events. Similarly we've seen this happen with e.g. the United States' attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO's attack on Libya, and many other conflicts from recent memory to before I was born. I would say that presenting both sides of a conflict is the exception, not the norm. Rather, many conflicts are narrated as "bad guys" vs "good guys" by the media, and more importantly treated as such by governments whether they interfere or not.

I can understand that some issues may look different from different points of view. Back to the Russian-Ukrainian example, surely the West would see NATO as not "expanding", but rather as "welcoming new members". But why is the Russian point of view disregarded so easily by Western politicians? Is not the first step of conflict resolution to understand the other side's concerns? I see these concerns outright dismissed by Western politicians (and media):

To be clear, I am not excusing Russian actions in the current conflict. This question concerns the general phenomenon of politicians' disregard of "the enemy"'s point of view, using the specific example of disregard in Western government discourse of the Russian point of view (especially voiced Russian concerns before and after the invasion). This prevents practical application of regard for such concerns, which e.g. could have possibly prevented the Ukrainian invasion by addressing Russian concerns at the NATO-Russia meeting in January.

  • 4
    Re the 1st sentence do you refer to political rather than military objectives? What exactly are the stated (political and military) objectives of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine?
    – BCLC
    May 17, 2022 at 7:24
  • 6
    The question in the title is different from the question in the text. May 17, 2022 at 9:53
  • 32
    Out of interest, why do you believe that Russia is being clear about its motivations? It's very possible that they believe one thing and say another. It's even very likely they'd do this, if their real motivation was something considered improper such as "we want their stuff and don't think they can resist us taking it by force". May 17, 2022 at 13:25
  • 38
    The claim that "the Russian State has been clear about its motivations in the recent Ukrainian conflict" is surely highly controversial. E.g they've also stated that a motivation is to denazify Ukraine (clearly ridiculous) or that they are protecting oppressed Russians in Donbas. Prior to Feb they were outright deniyng there was any planned invasion at all, and dismissing such rumours as "Western hysteria". With Russia changing their story every 5 minutes, sometimes including wild elements, it's hard to really describe that as being "clear about motivations".
    – JBentley
    May 17, 2022 at 16:49
  • 4
    This is inherently an opinion-based question. And, in my judgement, it's also not a genuine attempt to inquire or understand a topic, but an attempt to promote a specific political point of view. As such, it presents 2 reasons for closing.
    – wrod
    May 17, 2022 at 23:42

14 Answers 14


President Putin is jumping between different explanations/justifications for the invasion, and Western analysts believe that the true goal -- which is one of the stated goals -- is to undo the dissolution of the Soviet Union and to reintegrate Ukraine into Russia as the Soviet successor (Reuters).

There is also analysis that the current Russian government (not the Russian people) is fundamentally threatened by a Russian-speaking, Slavic nation which embraces Western-style democracy and tells their in-laws across the border how their elections are going. But the West cannot defuse this threat without denying the universal scope of the values it proclaims to embrace. (RAND)

So NATO could not have 'resolved Russian concerns' in 2022 or 2021 or earlier without a repeat of the Molotov-Ribbentrop-Pact or perhaps a replay of Yalta. Russia believes that it needs a sphere of buffer states to be secure, the West doesn't want to abandon states into that buffer. If it wasn't about NATO, it would have been about EU membership or association; if it wasn't about Ukraine, it would have been about Georgia, or Moldova, or the Baltics.

  • 2
    Generally agree, but the Molotov Ribbentrop thingy seems a bit over the top. Assuming there was any substantial intent in Russia to give peace a chance I am sure something waaaaay short of Molotov Ribbentrop could have been arranged. Formally closing the door on NATO accession, for example. Except that Putin was asking for that and all sorts of other goodies and was clearly poised to invade. May 17, 2022 at 3:37
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, formally closing the door to NATO Article 5 protection while offering EU Article 42(7) protection would either fool nobody, or hollow out the Treaty of the European Union. Remember what happened the last time Ukraine inched closer to the EU.
    – o.m.
    May 17, 2022 at 3:52
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    There is no real-world evidence for the claim that Russia needs a buffer zone from NATO. NATO, despite existing for 73 years (4 years longer than the USSR) has never attacked either the USSR or Russia. Not only has NATO, as an alliance, never attacked Russia, but no NATO-member state has ever attacked Russia. The claim for a need of a buffer zone could be viewed as justified by a nation which has been recently attacked. But Russia, which has a very long history of not being attacked by NATO, has no basis for such a claim.
    – wrod
    May 17, 2022 at 23:50
  • Good answer, but the last paragraph seems to completely ignore Ukraine's point of view, which IMO is more relevant than NATO's or EU's.
    – clabacchio
    May 18, 2022 at 8:57
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    @clabacchio, the OP asked specifically about the West respecting/appeasing Russian concerns. You might note how Russia interprets Ukrainian and Western actions as directed by Washington, and the whole thing as part of a great power confrontation.
    – o.m.
    May 18, 2022 at 15:33

As a Westerner, I believe the Western point of view has given as much (if not more) credence to Russia's point of view as Russia has to the West's, so in that sense I don't believe it correct to say that Russia has been treated unfairly.

The problem that Putin's Russia faces is that they have acted so aggressively (and so poorly) it doesn't really matter what they say now that runs counter to Western interests. If fearing expansion is a good enough reason for Putin to choose to go to war, would the same not be true for non-aligned countries fearing Russian expansion to take steps now to deter Putin (or a different future Russian leader) from looking as hungrily at their borders as he did at Ukraine's?

Another issue some in the West have taken with Russia's attitude towards other countries is Putin/Russia attempting to assert a right to dictate who people are allowed to associate with. This was a reason given by Finland's President Sauli Niinistö. Such a position can only exist from a position of strength, so by taking that position Putin/Russia are implicitly saying "We are stronger than you and get to dictate things to you." That's generally not a good way to make friends.

I think it's important to understand just how ridiculous, logically, Russia's position is to the West. NATO has an open door policy.

NATO respects the right of every country to choose its own security arrangements. Each sovereign country has the right to choose for itself whether it joins any treaty or alliance.

This is based on Article 10 of NATO's Charter. The biggest reason to join NATO is a security guarantee: If someone attacks your country, they attack all of NATO. That is a big guarantee. Why would Russia object to this, if not because they plan on attacking other countries, or otherwise robbing other countries of their freedoms to favor Putin/Russia? Just because Russians don't mind living at the whim of Putin's regime doesn't mean the citizens of other countries want to.

NATO-Russia Meeting

Could the invasion have been prevented by addressing Russian concerns at the NATO-Russia meeting in January?

Sure, if you actually take at face value that the Western nations and Russia were both acting in good faith at the time.

The Russian State has been clear about its motivations in the recent Ukrainian conflict.

This is extremely far away from the truth. You boil it down simply in the question, but in the question I don't see any mention of the following things:

  1. De-Nazification
  2. An On-Going Genocide

Ultimately, the Russian position that countries not be allowed to join NATO is a problem I think they are going to have to figure out how to deal with on their own, or go to war with all of NATO. If Russia wants more friends they could try acting more friendly themselves.

Post Update

So far this answer has only focused on the question as it related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict from a Western perspective. The question is more general now, and deserves a general answer. Every single individual working in government, or the media, or consuming media or voting for government officials is an individual and has an individual perspective. Plus, they just so happen to be human which means a) they are not aware of everything that happens, b) sometimes make mistakes, c) have their own self-interests. There's a lot more downsides to being human for sure, but those are the ones people most tend to focus on†.

I would say that presenting both sides of a conflict is the exception, not the norm.

I disagree. In today's world if there's a perspective you want to find and you haven't found it yet then you're just not looking hard enough. There may only be a few media outlets that run internationally, or certain mainstream sources aggregated into the news aggregators, but there's strong opposition to most governments. Each individual international "story" may be cast in it's own lens according to each indivdual market, with each individual market, of course, existing within the realm of the "good guys." If they think a certain spin on a subject works well in that market, they'll use it.

The politicans try to sum all of that up, because it's up to them to "do something about it," so they have to try to figure out what to "do." Even if what they "do" isn't really "doing" anything at all, they still need to "do" it. But whatever it is they do, enough of their constituents better like it or someone might come along later with a flashier way of doing things and they'll lose their job.

Why are a nation's stated objectives often ignored in international politics?

  • Because why should I listen to you? Is it going to help me keep my job or not? Corollary: I don't personally have the time to worry about your issues, unless you're willing to take the time to worry about mine.

  • The world is large and perspectives are many. The media is just a reflection on that.

  • Institutional memories may be long lived, but individual memories are short and fleeting. This is especially true for things that don't really affect individuals directly.

† - That and getting old

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – CDJB
    May 17, 2022 at 13:32

tl;dr; because it is ridiculous

NATO membership doesn't have provisions to attack another country, it is a defense alliance. Obviously Russia wants control over neighboring countries and being part of NATO makes them less dependent and threatened.

That is because using military power against such countries would be hardly possible.

Russian interest is that of economic control and expansion of territory as apparent by the 2014 events. Not being threatened themselves. But then why should any nation want that? And why should NATO support another country's forceful control over unwilling countries?

  • 1
    NATO is a defense alliance with a rather nasty ‘gotcha’ though. Specifically, if a NATO member attacks another country, then that other country’s allies can’t lend any more than material aid without risking dragging all of NATO into the conflict (because attacking the aggressors back would trigger Article 5, even if it was only personnel or materiel being attacked and not territory (because of the second part of Article 6)). This makes the military power balance between neighboring countries where one is a NATO member and the other is not inherently unbalanced. May 18, 2022 at 1:58
  • 2
    @AustinHemmelgarn , why should a country aggressor be supported by other NATO countries? This is not the point of the alliance. And I don't want to support aggressors. In any case, the point is to create a situation where attacking anybody is a big cost and risk so nobody does that. And it seems like NATO members mostly have that. Military imbalance is present everywhere. Big countries next to smaller ones. High tech next to low tech countries. May 18, 2022 at 8:06

Framing challenge:

The Russian State has been clear about its motivations in the recent Ukrainian conflict. Notably, its objection to NATO expansion.

It is disingenuous to not mention the most prominent and widely used Russian justification for this war, to stop Nazism and genocide of Russian speakers.

Launching the invasion on 24 February he told the Russian people his goal was to "demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine". His declared aim was to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine's government. Another objective was soon added: ensuring Ukraine's neutral status .


The Russian State has also not been clear what this conflict it is, launching a three-pronged countrywide invasion on February 24th that was codified a "special military operation". This was after stating many times that an invasion would not occur and it was Western propaganda that they were planning an invasion.

However, much Western media, Western discussion, and even Western politicians disregard Russia's stated motivations as "Russian propaganda".

I also challenge this, this one demand has not been dismissed as Russian propaganda. The Russian speaker genocide and the leadership of Ukraine being Nazis has been dismissed as propaganda, but I assume you understand why that has.

Here are a couple Western media sources (and Aljazeera) talking about this one issue:





Could the invasion have been prevented by addressing Russian concerns at the NATO-Russia meeting in January?

We don't know. The Russian State routinely misrepresents their positions, which leads to speculations about what their actual motivations are.

We do know that NATO flatly refused to change its open door member policy. The reason for this in addition to other answers is that a defensive treaty agreeing to major concessions just on the threat of war would not be a particularly effective organization. This is also a historically bad idea when dealing with demands from aggressive states. The West did not, however, dismiss this concern as propaganda. NATO rejected that concession for several reasons.

We do know that the United States, Ukraine, and NATO were reported to be open to negotiating on security concerns, but this did not lead to peace.


The Western approach and position: the Russian leadership understands them pretty well. They are just NOT OK with what happens, just like you won't be OK with water seeping down from your roof. It's not that the water is bad in itself, you just have a sentiment about your home.

NATO welcoming new members is in fact a danger for Russia in its current state of affairs. Russia needs a periodic war in order to keep its current power structure alive. Neighbors joining NATO one after another make the periodic war harder and harder. Russia left alone (with no subsequent war possible) may even start to become democratic and this is what the current Russian leadership is trying to avoid at all cost.

And this is what the West, in turn, "fails" to recognize as a legitimate Russian interest.

No NATO action could keep Russia calm, short of rejecting the "Russian buffer states" membership. And, in theory at least, NATO is incapable of making such a promise.

  • 6
    Russia has used many excuses for their invasion which makes it hard to get at the real reason
    – Joe W
    May 17, 2022 at 15:47
  • 5
    Russia is a well-known phenomenon in the international arena. Whatever they say, it boils down to "Allow us to invade our neighbors as we see fit, this is important for our security". Indeed it is, but it is way to expensive to support Russian stability their way.
    – fraxinus
    May 17, 2022 at 21:46

It's not a property of nations; it's a property of how the stated intentions of public figures are interpreted.

What a politician tells you that their new voter ID policy is there to limit fraud despite figures showing that fraud is very rare, many people will ignore the stated motivation and conclude that the desired outcome is to suppress the vote of low income voters likely to vote against the party introducing the bill. When that actor whose star is fading fronts a new charitable effort, many people will conclude it is more about publicity than helping the less fortunate. When the fossil fuel industry claims a new tax will raise energy prices for less well off, many people will conclude that its not really coming from concern about the welfare of the poor. And so on, and so forth, from every part of the political spectrum.

Cynicism about the intentions of people in power is the norm, not the exception.


This particular example is easily explained. It's great power politics. The US wanted (under Clinton) and wants to expand NATO because they perceive themselves as a great power, the defender of the free world, providing succor and protection to anyone (e.g. Finland/Sweden) who want it. Stated like this, of course the US is not going to listen to Russian objections. The US (/NATO) will come up with a lot of reasons for expanding over Russian objections, such as "you don't get to interfere with the sovereign choices of other countries" or "quit trying to reconstitute the Soviet empire", but ultimately the reason is simply we want to do it and you lack the power to stop us.

You can imagine what it'd be like if the US gave the impression they're compromising to accommodate Russian objections about NATO expansion. Republicans would call Biden too "soft" on Russia. Countries like Poland would object, saying it's appeasement and has already been proven not to work in the leadup to WW2. Commentators would say the West is being manipulated by Putin. Can you imagine these same people saying, e.g., "Boris Johnson is being too soft on the EU, should have negotiated more favorable Brexit terms" or "Theresa May is being manipulated by Trump"? These headlines don't happen because, in the perception of the countries involved (the UK in these examples), the EU/US are more powerful than they are, so they must compromise and cannot make demands of the EU/US. In the same way the perception among the West is that they are more powerful than Russia, so they are free to ignore Russian objections. As I wrote in the previous paragraph, you lack the power to stop us.

tl; dr: countries ignore other countries' stated objectives if they perceive themselves as more powerful than the other country, and therefore should be the ones making demands while the other country should be the ones compromising.



Without going into the specifics of the example, but rather towards the more general question: The media is part of the attention economics, and so is politics, in parts. If you want to grab the attention of your readers or voters or population, you need a narrative. There are lots of books about narratives, storytelling, etc. and I can at most sum up the most important points here, which is that a consistent, well-flowing story works very well to transport a meaning and make it memorable. We know this from children's fairy tales. "Don't trust strangers" is shorter and more to the point, but a tale of wolves and grandmothers with violence and fear will put that message better into a kids head.

In a simple, memorable story there is very limited space for complexity and diverse viewpoints. In fact, almost every story is told from one perspective.

Once a well-crafted story has a following, it is difficult for a different story to grab attention, unless it has the "breaking news" character of some new information that changes the storyline. That is why most media that serves more or less the same demographic will naturally converge upon similar stories. They serve what people expect. Same for politicians, who depend on popular support, they can go only so much against what everyone already believes is true. All of these players both shape public opinion and depend on it. So the very first stories told are the most powerful, and you will see the highest amount of divergence in the early hours, then things start to consolidate towards a consensus reality.


Before I say anything else, it is important to realise that international politics is, in general, a game of presenting one's own worldview and stated objective in the most favourable light. Acknowledging any other side's views is, as a politician in international relations, a tacit admission that there is a certain truth within them and there is a reasonable assumption that a common ground can be found including those views. Conversely, if presented in the appropriate diplomatic ways and contexts, it is easy for any party of international politics to ignore what the other side has said after stating their own view of the issue.

As an example, consider a press briefing after a discussion between two heads of state or government where one side states 'I reminded my colleague about the importance of guaranteeing the rights and representations of [national minority]' and the other side says in their opening statement 'I reminded my colleague that our recent general election was free and fair according to our laws and that the considerations of all parts of the country were addressed.' The facts about the rights of the national minority or the free and fair election might be anywhere; both sides have stated what they believe and they can move on to other issues where they might actually have a chance to find common ground.

This brings me back to the question as you asked it and I am going to answer it not in the order 'Western media, Western discussion, and even Western politicians' but in the order that is best for the explanations.

For western politicians, the case is clear. They are political actors in international politics. Everything they say or do is intended to give their spin on the issue. If they disagree with what the other side says, they can either outright dismiss the arguments (which is akin to saying they consider them wrong) or ignore them (which is akin to saying they might be correct but I don't want to talk about them). Of course, their goals will mostly be their own national interest – in some cases also the interest of multinational organisations such as EU, NATO, Council of Europe, OAS, etc. – and therefore what they say and which arguments of the other side they accept or consider will always align with their interest. (It is worth noting that sometimes the national interest of different politicians differs. For example in Germany, the party AfD has a very different view of national interest than all other parties represented in parliament but especially than the current centre-left government.)

Western media and media all over the world in general has two goals although the relative weight given to the different goals varies depending on media outlet, ownership thereof, national laws governing the media and editorial position of the media outlet. These two goals are: (1) identify and report the truth about events; and (2) further the narrative that whoever is in charge wishes to push.

Ideally, we would wish for all media to put most weight on goal number (1) but that has never been the only goal and it is not feasible as an only goal. Reporting facts has always and will always be accompanied by commenting on facts – and I very much include this answer and the whole of Politics Stack Exchange in that observation. Nevertheless, there are many media outlets which attempt to put (1) to the front as much as possible, many in which (1) and (2) are balanced in a way not always obvious to the public and many in which the primary objective is actually (2) (I see this site in the first bracket).

When it comes to reporting on states' objective as per the question, these two goals will lead to two different reporting styles.

  • Where the underlying facts can be verified and determined to be true or false, media outlets will report as such depending on their relative commitment to goal number (1). However, where the facts as per goal (1) directly oppose the editorial position as per (2), well, it gets complicated.

  • Where the stated objective is not so much fact-based as opposed to opinion-based or a motivation to achieve a certain future outcome, reporting style (1) cannot really kick in except for the few foundations that can clearly be determined to be factual or not so. Instead, a large part of the reporting will be of the second style, i.e. more influenced by commentary and editorialisation – at least after the goal has been repeated.

Media outlets' editorial positions – i.e. consideration (2) – is where the answer to your question is essentially buried. For the most part, states' stated objectives are not so much fact-based but rather a desire for a future outcome. In part, this is because of how easily some facts can be proven true or opposing statements proven false.

There is a general observation that the editorial positions of many media outlets seem to reflect what politicians consider national interest to varying degrees. In some cases, this is not surprising because the predominant media outlets are owned or controlled by either flat out the government itself, individual politicians or wealthy individuals whose interests align with the government in power and these decide to exercise editorial control. The more this is a top-down process and the more hands-on the government exercises control, the less free the press is said to be. In western countries, some media outlets receive a large percentage of their funding from the government (e.g. British BBC, German ARD/ZDF/DW, Finnish YLE, Japanese NHK); however, it is important to realise that the approach is far more hands-off and that funding typically cannot be increased or decreased in the short term following favourable or unfavourable reporting. Therefore, one cannot simply equate funding by the government with less free press.

That said, however, even in free press countries the interests of media outlets and politicians might overlap to a frightening degree. This can be explained by looking at the countries as a whole: it is the same population that elects politicians into power and buys/consumes media for their circulation. Therefore, a significant overlap between what the public thinks, what politicians say and what the media writes is to be expected even in a fully free society, even where we are only considering the editorial positions. This paragraph does simplify, as both politicians and media outlets can (and do) push agendas on the public, influecing the public's opinion and reinforcing the pushers' goals. For an impressive historical example, look at how the Nazi Party and right-wing to far-right publications influenced public opinion in late 1920's and early 1930's Germany.

This brings us to the third part you asked about, public discussion. Obviously, public discussion cannot be separated from the interests of politicians and the media – indeed, those two groups form a significant part of public discussion. Therefore alone, it is already far more likely for public discussion to align with politics and media if the latter agree than it is for public discussion to disagree. Note that exceptions do exist: occasionally voices in public discussion that are not part of national parliament or government, and are not well-represented in the majority of media editorial positions, but which do represent a majority of public opinion, are able to sway politics and media in their direction.


All of this combined will show that, indeed, using a 'both sides' approach is the exception because it counteracts one's own side. The other side's views and objectives are typically only picked up and amplified by opposition politicians if they think the government is in the wrong or news media if the government is acting counter to the outlet's editorial position. For varying reasons, politicians, media outlets and public discussion has a tendency to gravitate towards a common view, especially when the conflict is perceived as 'us versus them' in the broadest possible interpretations of us and them. This, of course, will lead to the other side's view being neglected, ignored, disproven where factually possible or disregarded.

(Going through each of your example conflicts and highlighting why in that specific case such a general consensus (seems to) exist requires looking at them individually, doesn't really fit the scope of the question as asked and would increase the size of this already huge answer exponentially.)

  • This is an excellent answer which addresses the question, not the example. Thank you.
    – dotancohen
    May 22, 2022 at 6:54

This question concerns the general phenomenon of politicians' disregard of "the enemy"'s point of view, using the specific example of disregard in Western government discourse of the Russian point of view (especially voiced Russian concerns before and after the invasion).

There are many reasons for this: political, psychological and practical.

Politically one needs to rally support to one's own side - it is pretty much like public debating, when one is assigned to defend a specific point of view and has to find arguments in its support, even if one does not really agree with it. (This is a good intellectual exercise, btw.)

Psychological no one likes to be seen as wrong or unjust - Dale Cranegie popularized this idea a long time ago, giving examples of some patently even people, like Al Capone, actually thinking of themselves as innocent and treated unjustly. Linking to the debate example from the previous paragraph: in a debate one would often defend one's claims even after it has become clear that they are wrong on unfounded, simply to avoid losing one's face. The "balanced/impartial" attitude also often has to do more with trying to find faults with the politicians one dislikes, rather than actually being impartial - e.g., some Republicans may support Russia just because they hate any politics conducted by the Democrats in power. Similarly, the Democrats' opposition to the Iraq war was often grounded more in dislike of George Bush than in genuine concern for Iraqis. One could similarly cite traditional European pacifism, which is a convenient tool for criticizing US militarism.

Another aspect is one's worldview. Henry Kissinger (e.g., in White house years) points out that European perception of conflicts is grounded in the European history, where several powers competed for the control of the continent, finally producing the concepts of "balance of power" and taking into account conflicting interests of different sides. The US and China, on the other hands, knew few comparable rivals throughout their early history, and never suffered decisive losses - this led to the world perception that presupposes existence of a unique truth and of imposing it on others perceived as a good thing.

Practical considerations have to do that not every claim made publicly needs to be taken for its face value. E.g., John Bolton in The room where it happened and Robert Gates in Duty both cite examples of their interaction with Russia, where the Russian officials would make it clear that they would publicly object to a certain US move, while trading in private their acquiescence to this move for a US concession elsewhere.

Moreover, in negotiations one would often prefer to not to make concessions too early and/or make them little by little, rather than acknowledging outright that the opponent's claims are just and must be accommodated, and thus losing any leverage.

  • 1
    The paragraph discussing the US and China's worldview really sheds a new light for me. I will read Kissinger's book, thank you!
    – dotancohen
    May 18, 2022 at 9:48
  • @dotancohen I could add Dennis Ross' The missing peace to support my last point of how in negotiations one may be reluctant to publicly acknowledge the opponent's position, while privately accepting that they have a point. May 18, 2022 at 9:56
  • 1
    I have an exwife, ergo I am familiar with the tactic :) Anything that I say is wrong :)
    – dotancohen
    May 18, 2022 at 11:04
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    @RogerVadim This answer gets closest to the question than any other answer here by focusing on the question rather than taking a side in the Russian + Ukraine War. Of the alternatives, it really should be the accepted answer. May 19, 2022 at 11:46

Even though it happend in 1938 then Neville Chamberlain created a set of fixed rules where "nations stated objectives" and "what they actually do" gets separated.



This phenomenon is not unique to Russia, I've noticed that European countries will e.g. have marches condemning Israel when Israel is attacked, selectively adhering to specific events yet ignoring other events. Similarly we've seen this happen with e.g. the United States' attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO's attack on Libya, and many other conflicts from recent memory to before I was born.

The question is even more provocative after the addition of several examples, but this selection of cases is actually interesting: they all stem from a country behaving violently towards its own or another civilian population.

  • Three out of five involve a non-democratic country which is/was lead by a brutal dictator who (understandably) doesn't want their own citizens to have any say in the future of the country: Russia, Iraq, Lybia (one could add Syria to this list).
  • The case of Afghanistan and Israel are a bit more complex, but they share the pattern of violence against a civilian population: Afghanistan was considered partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Israel is considered the oppressor of Palestine.

I would say that presenting both sides of a conflict is the exception, not the norm. Rather, many conflicts are narrated as "bad guys" vs "good guys" by the media, and more importantly treated as such by governments whether they interfere or not.

It's worth noting that for Iraq and Lybia (and also Syria), the country didn't have any official objective, except maintaining the current dictator in place. It's not hard to see why the public opinion (especially but not only in Western countries) would not consider this "objective" as legitimate in any way.

Afghanistan was governed by the Talibans: as far as I know they didn't have a clear objective or justification for harboring Al Qaeda, but it is usually assumed that they were supporting Al Qaeda's war on Western values and on the US in particular. Here again, it's hard to imagine how this kind of violent objective could be interpreted as legitimate by anybody.

It's a questionable choice by OP to include Israel in this list of countries, but it is correct that there is problem of illegitimate violence in this case as well. The surges of violence of the Israel/Palestine conflict cause many civilian casualties on both sides, but always disproportionately more on the Palestinian side. Israel keeps colonizing territories illegally, refuses to engage in any kind of peace process and is by far militarily superior. Israel's stated objective is to conquer and occupy the whole territory based on religious legitimacy, with no apparent consideration for Palestinian people.

Thus the main common point between these 5 cases is violence against civilian population for illegitimate reasons: all of these countries engaged in some form of aggression against their own or some other population. It's not really that the reasons why they do/did this (i.e. their "stated objectives") are ignored, rather their reasons are morally rejected as invalid. Their behaviour is considered unacceptable and a threat to peace.

  • Downvoters are welcome to explain what they consider wrong in my answer?
    – Erwan
    May 18, 2022 at 12:26

A nation's stated objectives are often ignored in international politics because nations are groups of people and express many of the same traits. As an example Putin is a liar liar pants on fire so people are hesitant to take Russia's stated claims at face value. Another example is the USA who has a stated goal of promoting democracy and free market capitalism but has actually expended plenty of human lives and money to fight contrary to these stated objectives.


The leadership of nation states need to understand objectives of other nation states. But first of all they need to understand their own objectives and hold them above the rest.

The population of nation states need not understand objectives of other nation states. Understanding other countries may make them feel these are being reasonable and have sympathy upon them, whereas the objectives of their own national state should be held higher, even if in this specific situation it's not as reasonable.

General public also don't have to fully understand objectives of their own state - some of these may be morally shaky or require sacrifices, and other ones may needed to be ceded at times, so it's better that people don't mind it that much.

The press, which is often state-owned or party-aligned, generally goes along with that flow. They don't really have to lie all the time - just serve the information selectively.

  • 3
    The distinction between what the leaders of a country need to know vs. what the population needs to know does not hold for countries in which the leadership rises out of the general population, by vote of the general population. It might hold for dictatorships and monarchies, though.
    – dotancohen
    May 16, 2022 at 22:30
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    Voters vote for parties and personalities. To do so, they only need to know internal political lore.
    – alamar
    May 17, 2022 at 6:18
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    "the objectives of their own national state should be held higher": why? Is it not the right of any citizen to object to their own government's policies as loudly as they like? May 17, 2022 at 8:24
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    @alamar it amazes me every time how the general Russian does not understand how much diverse is the world, including political systems and habits of people around the world. Because of this limited understanding of viewpoints, they regard everyone else as simply a very stupid Russian.
    – fraxinus
    May 17, 2022 at 10:16
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    @Schmuddi From top of my head, it's true for France, Germany, UK and the USA. Not sure about the rest.
    – alamar
    May 17, 2022 at 17:10

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