Those who believe President Vladimir Putin is trying to reestablish Russia as a great power say that once he gains control over Ukraine, he will turn his focus to other former Soviet republics, including the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and eventually Bulgaria, Romania and even Poland. (Photo by Mihail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Nearly three weeks have passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine, but it still is not clear why he did so and what he hopes to achieve. Western analysts, commentators and government officials have put forward more than a dozen theories to explain Putin's actions, motives, and objectives.
Some analysts posit that Putin is motivated by a desire to rebuild the Russian Empire. Others say he is obsessed with bringing Ukraine back into Russia's sphere of influence. Some believe that Putin wants to control Ukraine's vast offshore energy resources. Still others speculate that Putin, an aging autocrat, is seeking to maintain his grip on power.
While some argue that Putin has a long-term proactive strategy aimed at establishing Russian primacy in Europe, others believe he is a short-term reactionary seeking to preserve what remains of Russia's diminishing position on the world stage.
Following is a compilation of eight differing but complementary theories that try to explain why Putin invaded Ukraine.
1. Empire Building
The most common explanation for Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that Putin, burning with resentment over the demise of the Soviet Empire, is determined to reestablish Russia (generally considered a regional power) as a great power that can exert influence on a global scale.
According to this theory, Putin aims to regain control over the 14 post-Soviet states — often referred to as Russia's "near abroad" — that became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This is part of greater plan to rebuild the Russian Empire, which territorially was even more expansive than the Soviet Empire.
The Russian Empire theory holds that Putin's invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, as well as his 2015 decision to intervene militarily in Syria, were all parts of a strategy to restore Russia's geopolitical position — and erode the U.S.-led rules-based international order.
Those who believe Putin is trying to reestablish Russia as a great power say that once he gains control over Ukraine, he will turn his focus to other former Soviet republics, including the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and eventually Bulgaria, Romania and even Poland.
Putin's ultimate objective, they say, is to drive the United States out of Europe, establish an exclusive great-power sphere of influence for Russia on the continent and dominate the European security order.
Russian literature supports this view. In 1997, for instance, Russian strategist Aleksandr Dugin, a friend of Putin, published a highly influential book — "Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia" — which argued that Russia's long-term goal should be the creation, not of a Russian Empire, but of a Eurasian Empire.
Dugin's book, which is required reading in Russian military academies, states that to make Russia great again, Georgia should be dismembered, Finland should be annexed and Ukraine should cease to exist: "Ukraine, as an independent state with certain territorial ambitions, represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia." Dugin, who has been described as "Putin's Rasputin," added:
"The Eurasian Empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, the strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us."
In April 2005, Putin echoed this sentiment when, in his annual state of the nation address, he described the collapse of the Soviet empire as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century." Since then, Putin has repeatedly criticized the U.S.-led world order, in which Russia has a subordinate position.
In February 2007, during a speech to the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Putin attacked the idea of a "unipolar" world order in which the United States, as the sole superpower, was able to spread its liberal democratic values to other parts of the world, including Russia.
In October 2014, in a speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, a high-profile Russian think tank close to the Kremlin, Putin criticized the post-World War II liberal international order, whose principles and norms — including adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and the promotion of liberal democracy, as well as preserving the sanctity of territorial sovereignty and existing boundaries — have regulated the conduct of international relations for nearly 80 years. Putin called for the creation of a new multipolar world order that is more friendly to the interests of an autocratic Russia.
The late Zbigniew Brzezinski (former National Security Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter), in his 1997 book "The Grand Chessboard," wrote that Ukraine is essential to Russian imperial ambitions:
"Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.... However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as its access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia."
The German historian Jan Behrends tweeted:
"Make no mistake: For #Putin it's not about EU or NATO, it is about his mission to restore Russian empire. No more, no less. #Ukraine is just a stage, NATO is just one irritant. But the ultimate goal is Russian hegemony in Europe."
Ukraine expert Peter Dickinson, writing for the Atlantic Council, noted:
"Putin's extreme animosity towards Ukraine is shaped by his imperialistic instincts. It is often suggested that Putin wishes to recreate the Soviet Union, but this is actually far from the case. In fact, he is a Russian imperialist who dreams of a revived Czarist Empire and blames the early Soviet authorities for handing over ancestral Russian lands to Ukraine and other Soviet republics."
Bulgarian scholar Ivan Krastev agreed:
"America and Europe aren't divided on what Mr. Putin wants. For all the speculation about motives, that much is clear: The Kremlin wants a symbolic break from the 1990s, burying the post-Cold War order. That would take the form of a new European security architecture that recognizes Russia's sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and rejects the universality of Western values. Rather than the restoration of the Soviet Union, the goal is the recovery of what Mr. Putin regards as historic Russia."
Transatlantic security analyst Andrew Michta added that Putin's invasion of Ukraine was:
"The culmination of almost two decades of policy aimed at reconstructing the Russian empire and bringing Russia back into European politics as one of the principal players empowered to shape the Continent's future."
Writing for the national security blog 1945, Michta elaborated:
"From Moscow's perspective the Ukrainian war is in effect the final battle of the Cold War — for Russia a time to reclaim its place on the European chessboard as a great empire, empowered to shape the Continent's destiny going forward. The West needs to understand and accept that only once Russia is unequivocally defeated in Ukraine will a genuine post-Cold War settlement finally be possible."
2. Buffer Zone
Many analysts attribute the Russian invasion of Ukraine to geopolitics, which attempts to explain the behavior of states through the lens of geography.
Most of the western part of Russia sits on the Russian Plain, a vast mountain-free area that extends over 4,000,000 square kilometers (1.5 million square miles). Also called the East European Plain, the vast flatland presents Russia with an acute security problem: an enemy army invading from central or eastern Europe would encounter few geographical obstacles to reach the Russian heartland. In other words, Russia, due to its geography, is especially difficult to defend.
The veteran geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan wrote that geography is the starting point for understanding everything else about Russia:
"Russia remains illiberal and autocratic because, unlike Britain and America, it is not an island nation, but a vast continent with few geographical features to protect it from invasion. Putin's aggression stems ultimately from this fundamental geographical insecurity."
Russia's leaders historically have sought to obtain strategic depth by pushing outward to create buffer zones — territorial barriers that increase the distance and time invaders would encounter to reach Moscow.
The Russian Empire included the Baltics, Finland and Poland, all of which served as buffers. The Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact — which included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania — as a vast buffer to protect against potential invaders.
Most of the former Warsaw Pact countries are now members of NATO. That leaves Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, strategically located between Russia and the West, as the only eastern European countries left to serve as Russian buffer states. Some analysts argue that Russia's perceived need for a buffer is the primary factor in Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.
Mark Galeotti, a leading British scholar of Russian power politics, noted that the possession of a buffer zone is intrinsic to Russia's understanding of great-power status:
"From Putin's point of view, he has built so much of his political identity around the notion of making Russia a great power and making it recognized as a great power. When he thinks of great power, he is essentially a 19th century geopolitician. It's not the power of economic connectivity, or technological innovation, let alone soft power. No. Great power, in good old-fashioned terms, has a sphere of influence, countries whose sovereignty is subordinate to your own."
Others believe that the concept of buffer states is obsolete. International security expert Benjamin Denison, for instance, argued that Russia cannot legitimately justify the need for a buffer zone:
"Once nuclear weapons were invented ... buffer states were no longer seen as necessary regardless of geography, as nuclear deterrence worked to ensure the territorial integrity of great powers with nuclear capabilities.... The utility of buffer states and the concerns of geography invariably changed following the nuclear revolution. Without the concern of quick invasions into the homeland of a rival great power, buffer states lose their utility regardless of the geography of the territory....
"Narrowly defining national interests to geography, and mandating that geography pushes states to replicate past actions throughout history, only fosters inaccurate thinking and forgives Russian land-grabs as natural."
3. Ukrainian Independence
Closely intertwined with theories about empire-building and geopolitics is Putin's obsession with extinguishing Ukrainian sovereignty. Putin contends that Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and that its independence in August 1991 was a historical mistake. Ukraine, he claims, does not have a right to exist.
Putin has repeatedly downplayed or negated Ukraine's right to statehood and sovereignty:
In 2008, Putin told William Burns, then the U.S. ambassador to Russia (now director of the CIA): "Don't you know that Ukraine is not even a real country? Part of it is really East European and part is really Russian."
In July 2021, Putin penned a 7,000-word essay — "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians" — in which he expressed contempt for Ukrainian statehood, questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine's borders and argued that modern-day Ukraine occupies "the lands of historical Russia." He concluded: "I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia."
In February 2022, just three days before he launched his invasion, Putin asserted that Ukraine was a fake state created by Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union:
"Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia — by separating, severing what is historically Russian land.... Soviet Ukraine is the result of the Bolsheviks' policy and can be rightfully called 'Vladimir Lenin's Ukraine.' He was its creator and architect."
Russia scholar Mark Katz, in an essay — "Blame It on Lenin: What Putin Gets Wrong About Ukraine" — argued that Putin should draw lessons from Lenin's realization that a more accommodating approach toward Ukrainian nationalism would better serve Russia's long-term interests:
"Putin cannot escape the problem that Lenin himself had to deal with of how to reconcile non-Russians to being ruled by Russia. The forceful imposition of Russian rule in part — much less all — of Ukraine will not bring about such a reconciliation. For even if Ukrainians cannot resist the forceful imposition of Russian rule over part or all of Ukraine now, Putin's success in imposing it is only likely to intensify feelings of Ukrainian nationalism and lead it to burst forth again whenever the opportunity arises."
Ukraine's political independence has been accompanied by a long-running feud with Russia over religious allegiance. In January 2019, in what was described as "the biggest rift in Christianity in centuries," the Orthodox church in Ukraine gained independence (autocephaly) from the Russian church. The Ukrainian church had been under the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate since 1686. Its autonomy dealt a blow to the Russian church, which lost around one-fifth of the 150 million Orthodox Christians under its authority.
The Ukrainian government claimed that Moscow-backed churches in Ukraine were being used by the Kremlin to spread propaganda and to support Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Putin wants the Ukrainian church to return to Moscow's orbit, and has warned of "a heavy dispute, if not bloodshed" over any attempts to transfer ownership of church property.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has declared that Kyiv, where the Orthodox religion began, is comparable in terms of its historic importance to Jerusalem:
"Ukraine is not on the periphery of our church. We call Kiev 'the mother of all Russian cities'. For us Kiev is what Jerusalem is for many. Russian Orthodoxy began there, so under no circumstances can we abandon this historical and spiritual relationship. The whole unity of our Local Church is based on these spiritual ties."
On March 6, Kirill — a former KGB agent who is known as "Putin's altar boy" due to his subservience to the Russian leader — publicly endorsed the invasion of Ukraine. In a sermon he repeated Putin's claims that the Ukrainian government was carrying out a "genocide" of Russians in Ukraine: "For eight years, the suppression, extermination of people has been underway in Donbass. Eight years of suffering and the entire world is silent."
German geopolitical analyst Ulrich Speck wrote:
"For Putin, destroying Ukraine's independence has become an obsession.... Putin has often said, and even written, that Ukraine is not a separate nation, and should not exist as a sovereign state. It is this fundamental denial that has led Putin to wage this totally senseless war that he cannot win. And that leads us to the problem of making peace: either Ukraine has the right to exist as a nation and a sovereign state, or it hasn't. Sovereignty is indivisible. Putin denies it, Ukraine defends it. How can you make a compromise about the existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state? Impossible. That's why both sides can only fight on until they win.
"Normally wars that take place between states are about conflicts they have between them. Yet this is a war about the existence of one state, which is denied by the aggressor. That's why the usual concepts of peacemaking — finding a compromise — do not apply. If Ukraine continues to exist as a sovereign state, Putin will have lost. He is not interested in territorial gain as such — it's rather a burden for him. He is only interested in controlling the entire country. Everything else for him is defeat."
Ukraine expert Taras Kuzio added:
"The real cause of today's crisis is Putin's quest to return Ukraine to the Russian orbit. For the past eight years, he has used a combination of direct military intervention, cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, economic pressure, and coercive diplomacy to try and force Ukraine into abandoning its Euro-Atlantic ambitions....
"Putin's ultimate objective is Ukraine's capitulation and the country's absorption into the Russian sphere of influence. His obsessive pursuit of this goal has already plunged the world into a new Cold War....
"Nothing less than Ukraine's return to the Kremlin orbit will satisfy Putin or assuage his fears over the further breakup of Russia's imperial inheritance. He will not stop until he is stopped. In order to achieve this, the West must become far more robust in responding to Russian imperial aggression, while also expediting Ukraine's own Euro-Atlantic integration."
This theory holds that Putin invaded Ukraine to prevent it from joining NATO. The Russian president has repeatedly demanded that the West "immediately" guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO or the European Union.
A vocal proponent of this viewpoint is the American international relations theorist John Mearsheimer, who, in a controversial essay, "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault," argued that the eastward expansion of NATO provoked Putin to act militarily against Ukraine:
"The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and integrate it into the West....
"Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion."
In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Mearsheimer blamed the United States and its European allies for the current conflict:
"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."
In fact, Putin has not always opposed NATO expansion. Several times he went so far as to say that the eastward expansion of NATO was none of Russia's concern.
In March 2000, for instance, Putin, in an interview with the late BBC television presenter David Frost, was asked whether he viewed NATO as a potential partner, rival or enemy. Putin responded:
"Russia is part of the European culture. And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilized world. So, it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy."
In November 2001, in an interview with National Public Radio, Putin was asked if he opposed the admission of the three Baltic states — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — into NATO. He replied:
"We of course are not in a position to tell people what to do. We cannot forbid people to make certain choices if they want to increase the security of their nations in a particular way."
In May 2002, Putin, when asked about the future of relations between NATO and Ukraine, said matter-of-factly that he did not care one way or the other:
"I am absolutely convinced that Ukraine will not shy away from the processes of expanding interaction with NATO and the Western allies as a whole. Ukraine has its own relations with NATO; there is the Ukraine-NATO Council. At the end of the day the decision is to be taken by NATO and Ukraine. It is a matter for those two partners."
Putin's position on NATO expansion radically changed after the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was triggered by Moscow's attempt to steal Ukraine's presidential election. A massive pro-democracy uprising ultimately led to the defeat of Putin's preferred candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who eventually did become president of Ukraine in 2010 but was ousted in the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution.
Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in a recent interview with Radio Free Europe, discussed how Putin's views about NATO have changed:
"Mr. Putin has changed over the years. My first meeting took place in 2002...and he was very positive regarding cooperation between Russia and the West. Then, gradually, he changed his mind. And from around 2005 to 2006, he got increasingly negative toward the West. And in 2008, he attacked Georgia.... In 2014, he took Crimea, and now we have seen a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. So, he has really changed over the years.
"I think the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in 2004 and 2005 contributed to his change of mind. We shouldn't forget that Vladimir Putin grew up in the KGB. So, his thinking is very much impacted by that past. I think he suffers from paranoia. And he thought that after color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, that the aim [of the West] was to initiate a regime change in the Kremlin — in Moscow — as well. And that's why he turned against the West.
"I put the blame entirely on Putin and Russia. Russia is not a victim. We have reached out to Russia several times during history.... First, we approved the NATO Russia Founding Act in 1997.... Next time, it was in 2002, we reached out once again, established something very special, namely the NATO-Russia Council. And in 2010, we decided at a NATO-Russia summit that we would develop a strategic partnership between Russia and NATO. So, time and again, we reached out to Russia.
"I think we should have done more to deter Putin. Back in 2008, he attacked Georgia, took de facto Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We could have reacted much more determinedly already in that time."
In recent years, Putin repeatedly has claimed that the post-Cold War enlargement of NATO poses a threat to Russia, which has been left with no other choice than to defend itself. He also has accused the West of trying to encircle Russia. In fact, of the 14 countries that have borders with Russia, only five are NATO members. The borders of those five countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Poland — are contiguous with only 5% of Russia's total borders.
Putin has claimed that NATO broke solemn promises it made in the 1990s that the alliance would not expand to the east. "You promised us in the 1990s that NATO would not move an inch to the east. You brazenly cheated us," he said in during a press conference in December 2021. Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, countered that such promises were never made.
Putin recently issued three wildly unrealistic demands: NATO must withdraw its forces to its 1997 borders; NATO must not offer membership to other countries, including Finland, Sweden, Moldova or Georgia; NATO must provide written guarantees that Ukraine will never join the alliance.
Writing for Foreign Affairs, Russian historian Dmitri Trenin, in an essay — "What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine" — argued that Putin wants stop NATO expansion, not to annex more territory:
"Putin's actions suggest that his true goal is not to conquer Ukraine and absorb it into Russia but to change the post-Cold War setup in Europe's east. That setup left Russia as a rule-taker without much say in European security, which was centered on NATO. If he manages to keep NATO out of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and U.S. intermediate-range missiles out of Europe, he thinks he could repair part of the damage Russia's security sustained after the Cold War ended. Not coincidentally, that could serve as a useful record to run on in 2024, when Putin would be up for re-election."
This theory holds that Ukraine, a flourishing democracy, poses an existential threat to Putin's autocratic model of governance. The continued existence of a Western-aligned, sovereign, free and democratic Ukraine could inspire the Russian people to demand the same.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and Robert Person, a professor at the United States Military Academy, wrote that Putin is terrified of democracy in Ukraine:
"Over the last thirty years, the salience of the issue [NATO expansion] has risen and fallen not primarily because of the waves of NATO expansion, but due instead to waves of democratic expansion in Eurasia. In a very clear pattern, Moscow's complaints about NATO spike after democratic breakthroughs....
"Because the primary threat to Putin and his autocratic regime is democracy, not NATO, that perceived threat would not magically disappear with a moratorium on NATO expansion. Putin would not stop seeking to undermine democracy and sovereignty in Ukraine, Georgia, or the region as a whole if NATO stopped expanding. As long as citizens in free countries exercise their democratic rights to elect their own leaders and set their own course in domestic and foreign politics, Putin will keep them in his crosshairs....
"The more serious cause of tensions has been a series of democratic breakthroughs and popular protests for freedom throughout the 2000s, what many refer to as the "Color Revolutions." Putin believes that Russian national interests have been threatened by what he portrays as U.S.-supported coups. After each of them — Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, the Arab Spring in 2011, Russia in 2011-12, and Ukraine in 2013-14 — Putin has pivoted to more hostile policies toward the United States, and then invoked the NATO threat as justification for doing so....
"Ukrainians who rose up in defense of their freedom were, in Putin's own assessment, Slavic brethren with close historical, religious, and cultural ties to Russia. If it could happen in Kyiv, why not in Moscow?"
Ukraine expert Taras Kuzio agrees:
"Putin remains haunted by the wave of pro-democracy uprisings that swept Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, setting the stage for the subsequent Soviet collapse. He sees Ukraine's fledgling democracy as a direct challenge to his own authoritarian regime and recognizes that Ukraine's historical closeness to Russia makes this threat particularly acute."
Ukraine holds the second-biggest known reserves — more than one trillion cubic meters — of natural gas in Europe after Russia. These reserves, under the Black Sea, are concentrated around the Crimean Peninsula. In addition, large deposits of shale gas have been discovered in eastern Ukraine, around Kharkiv and Donetsk.
In January 2013, Ukraine signed a 50-year, $10 billion deal with Royal Dutch Shell to explore and drill for natural gas in eastern Ukraine. Later that year, Kyiv signed a 50-year, $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with the American energy company Chevron. Shell and Chevron pulled out of those deals after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
Some analysts believe Putin annexed Crimea to prevent Ukraine from becoming a major oil and gas provider to Europe and thereby challenge Russia's energy supremacy. Russia, they argue, was also worried that as Europe's second-largest petrostate, Ukraine would have been granted fast-track membership to the EU and NATO.
According to this theory, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is aimed at forcing Kyiv to officially acknowledge Crimea as Russian, and recognize the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states, so that Moscow can legally secure control over the natural resources in these areas.
On February 24, the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops restored water flow to a strategically important canal linking the Dnieper River to Russian-controlled Crimea. Ukraine blocked the Soviet-era North Crimean Canal, which supplies 85% of Crimea's water needs, after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014. The water shortages resulted in a massive reduction in agricultural production on the peninsula and forced Russia to spend billions of rubles each year to supply water from the mainland to sustain the Crimean population.
The water crisis was a major source of tension between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted that the water supply would not be restored until Russia returns the Crimean Peninsula. Security analyst Polina Vynogradova noted that any resumption of water supply would have amounted to a de facto recognition of Russian authority in Crimea and would have undermined Ukraine's claim to the peninsula. It would also have weakened Ukrainian leverage over negotiations on Donbas.
Even if Russian troops eventually withdraw from Ukraine, Russia likely will maintain permanent control over the entire 400-kilometer North Crimean Canal to ensure there are no more disruptions to Crimea's water supply.
8. Regime Survival
This theory holds that the 69-year-old Putin, who has been in power since 2000, seeks perpetual military conflict as a way of remaining popular with the Russian public. Some analysts believe that after public uprisings in Belarus and Kazakhstan, Putin decided to invade Ukraine due to a fear of losing his grip on power.
In an interview with Politico, Bill Browder, the American businessman who heads up the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, said that Putin feels the need to look strong at all times:
"I don't think that this war is about NATO; I don't think this war is about Ukrainian people or the EU or even about Ukraine; this war is about starting a war in order to stay in power. Putin is a dictator, and he's a dictator whose intention is to stay in power until the end of his natural life. He said to himself that the writing's on the wall for him unless he does something dramatic. Putin is just thinking short-term ... 'how do I stay in power from this week to the next? And then next week to the next?'"
Anders Åslund, a leading specialist on economic policy in Russia and Ukraine, agreed:
"How to understand Putin's war in Ukraine. It is not about NATO, EU, USSR or even Ukraine. Putin needs a war to justify his rule & his swiftly increasing domestic repression.... It is really all about Putin, not about neo-imperialism, Russian nationalism or even the KGB."
Russia expert Anna Borshchevskaya wrote that the invasion of Ukraine could be the beginning of the end for Putin:
"Though he is not democratically elected, he worries about public opinion and protests at home, seeing them as threats to retaining his grip on power.... While Putin may have hoped that invading Ukraine would quickly expand Russian territory and help restore the grandeur of the former Russian empire, it could do the opposite."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.