John Mearsheimer: “There is no evidence for Russian imperialism” — Why He’s Fundamentally Wrong

Jakub Ferencik
4 min readFeb 27

In a recent interview with CCP media, John Mearsheimer claimed that there’s “no evidence” of Russian imperialism (let alone, colonialism) in Ukraine. He instead claims that there is plenty of evidence for “NATO expansionism.”

Mearsheimer explains that Putin was “fearful” that the West would create Ukraine a type of satellite state, as the Warsaw Pact states were in the late-20th century in central-eastern Europe.

He’s fundamentally wrong. Here’s why.

Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

This is not the first time Mearsheimer has made widespread headlines in his discussions of Ukraine and Russia.

In a lecture titled “Why is Ukraine the West’s Fault?” with nearly 30 million views (as of February 27, 2022), the political scientist and realist, John Mearsheimer, argued that Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 came because of a 2008 NATO announcement for Georgia and Ukraine to join the defensive alliance.

This line of reasoning echoes the Russian trope that their invasion and killing of tens of thousands of Ukrainians is because NATO expansion somehow threatens Russian sovereignty. This is wrong in every imaginable way.

NATO expansion came as a result of personal self-interest from the West (sure, that’s undeniable) — but that can’t justify the invasion of a foreign country. Furthermore, NATO expansion is not forceful and comes out of the initiative of the countries in question.

Mearsheimer seems to misunderstand this.

In Mearsheimer’s own words from his lecture, where we get a more complete picture of his philosophy:

I think all the trouble in this case really started in April, 2008, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, where afterward NATO issued a statement that said Ukraine and Georgia would become part of NATO. The Russians made it unequivocally clear at the time that they viewed this as an existential threat, and they drew a line in the sand.

For Mearsheimer, what Ukraine wants is ultimately undesirable because “might makes right,” as the Thucydidean proverb goes.

Anyone familiar with Thucydides’ retelling of the Peloponnesian War will know that it…

Jakub Ferencik

Author of “Up in the Air” & “Beyond Reason” available on AMAZON | MA McGill Uni | Research assistant for EUROPEUM Prague | 700+ blog posts with 1+ mil. views