Why might Russia be interested in invading Ukraine?
At the end of 2021, when Russia began to accumulate troops on its border with Ukraine, the idea that President Putin really intended to invade that country It looked like a huge lantern. Today, the possibility is not so far-fetched as the feverish diplomatic activity to rule it out demonstrates.
What interest can the Kremlin have in triggering the conflict? Ukraine is not Crimea: it is a country slightly larger than Spain and with a similar population, 44 million inhabitants. On the other hand, no one believes that Vladimir Putin, despite his past as an espionage agent in East Germany, is nostalgic for the Soviet Union. Nor does he dream of expanding the territory or the natural resources of
the Russian Federation, vast in itself.
The first reason that seems to move the head of the Kremlin to foment the current crisis is NATO’s intention – embodied in concrete movements – to expand into Eastern Europe. Ukraine, which has not stopped knocking on the doors of the Alliance since Zelensky came to power, has a 1,200-kilometre border with Russia. Putin is convinced that the only way to dissuade NATO from moving away from Ukraine – which he describes as a ‘backyard’ – is raise the real possibility of an invasion. Moscow will only withdraw its plans if the Alliance signs a written agreement that Ukraine will never be welcomed into the Western military club.
The second reason that pushes the Russian president to play this arm wrestling match is psychological. Putin wants to end the prejudice that Russia lost the Cold War, and since then it has been condemned to be a second on the international scene, far behind the US, China and the European Union. The Russian leader’s wager is, of course, based on the conviction that if Russia invades Ukraine, the United States will not respond militarily. The superpower has lost the last two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, and with Joe Biden in the White House and a North American public opinion hostile to more adventures, to trust in a counteroffensive from the Pentagon is to think of the excused.
The crisis began last December, but its roots are set in 2014, when popular protests brought down President Yanukovych, supported by Putin. Soon after, Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula and supported pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The 2015 agreements sealed the status quo in those two territories torn from Ukraine, but the arrival of Zelensky to power in Kiev changed the situation. The US and NATO then began to accumulate military potential in the country, setting off the alarm in the Kremlin, which has finally decided to play hardball.