Who bears responsibility for the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine; for the death of thousands of Ukrainians, both civilians and soldiers; and for the impressment of Ukrainian civilians into the military? Who bears responsibility for the destruction of Ukrainian homes and businesses, and for the refugee crisis that is now adding to the one from the Middle East? Who bears responsibility for the deaths of thousands of young men serving in the Russian military, most of whom surely believe, like their Ukrainian counterparts, that they are fighting to protect their nation and their families? Who bears responsibility for the ongoing harm being inflicted on the economies and citizens of Europe and the United States? Who will bear responsibility if disruptions in farming lead to famine in Africa, a continent that depends heavily on the importation of grain from Ukraine and Russia? And finally, who will bear responsibility if the war in Ukraine escalates to a nuclear exchange, and then becomes a full-scale nuclear war?
In a proximal sense, the answer to all these questions is simple: Mr. Putin is responsible. He started the war and, with his military planners, is directing its conduct. He did not have to go to war. Those are facts. But facts must be interpreted with reference to other facts, including those that have long since passed from the headlines, or were never there in the first place. When that is done, it becomes clear that policy makers in the United States and Europe bear significant responsibility for the war.