In our last two columns, we looked at the two strategic reasons behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The first was the historical vulnerability of Russia on its western front, which faces the European plain. This border between Russia and Europe was mostly flat land, thus an ideal point of invasion into the Russian mainland.
The post-Cold War context, Ukraine was part of a belt of “buffer states” which shared a border with Russia. These states broke away when the Soviet Union fell. They eventually fell under western influence, either by joining NATO or the EE. If Ukraine were to join the EU, Russia would be locked out of Europe forever.
The second reason was Russia’s desire to have access to the Black Sea. This desire can be traced all the way back to Tsar Peter the Great’s desire to have “windows to look out upon Europe”. Peter’s vision was accomplished when Catherine the Great annexed Crimea and established the Port of Sevastopol. Ukraine and and Crimea were to fall under Western influence, Russia would lose control of this crucial port.
We’ve relied upon historical accounts in deciphering the motives behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, one element is missing- the motivation and ideals of Russia’s leader, President Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s obsession with Ukraine began with the fall of the Soviet Union. At the time, Putin was a 37-year old KGB agent stationed in the East German city of Dresden. Putin had a first-row view in Dresden of the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Shaun Walker, in his article “How the Soviet Union’s Fall Pushed Putin to Try and Recapture Russia’s Global Importance”, Putin watched as angry crowds stormed the Stasi compound. Putin was able to bluff his way out by claiming that there were heavily armed men inside who would shoot anyone who tried to enter.
Putin never forgot this trauma as he rose up the ranks of Russia’s immense bureaucracy. A few days before he assumed the Presidency, Putin wrote in a Russian newspaper, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Russia faces the real danger that it could be relegated to the second, or even the third tier of global powers”. He wanted- and still wants- to restore Russia’s status as a “first tier” nation.
According to Michaekk Eltchaninoff, Putin was also influenced by the writings of Ivan Ilyin, an obscure Russian author. Ilyin believes that “The West” aims to seize territories such as “the Baltic countries, the Caucasus, central Asia and, especially, Ukraine”. Once these territories are under their influence, “The West” will divide and conquer the Russian mainland.
In other words, Putin believes that his invasion of Ukraine is essential to the restoration of Russia’s status as a power player in international politics. Failure to keep Ukraine in Russia’s control would lead, in Putin’s view, to the carving up of the motherland by “The West”.
This begs the question: what will happen if Kyiv falls under Russia’s control? There is no doubt in this author’s mind that Putin will continue his westward expansion and seek to restore the Cold-War might of Russia, which stretched as far as East Germany. Putin’s journey begins and ends in Russia, and the way will be paved with violence and bloodshed. Which is why the Invasion of Ukraine must be stopped.