Putin’s goals are not in the least bit mysterious and he has been telegraphing, indeed explaining, them for a decade and more.
He objects to Russia’s post-Soviet relegation to status as a second- or third-tier power; and he resents American political, economic, and cultural domination of the modern world.
Ukraine is not his target; America is.
Putin views Ukraine as part and parcel of Mother Russia, and the growth of American influence in what ought to be a Russian backwater is particularly galling. It’s bad enough that the Baltic countries and the former satellites of Eastern Europe left the zone of Russian suzerainty that the USSR established and maintained; but, from Russia’s point of view, the fact that they then became full members of the American political and military alliance was a strategic affront and a national insult.
But when Ukraine — the “Kievan Rus”, the true heartland of “all the Russias” — decided that its political, economic, cultural, and strategic future lay with America and the West, the point was driven home to him that Russia’s relegation to the political minor leagues was on the verge of becoming permanent.
He aims to reassert Russia’s domination of the Eurasian land-mass and to diminish the influence, prestige, and power of the United States.
His rhetoric is more subtle than that of his friends in Iran, but his message is the same: The main enemy is America. What is objectionable about America to him (and others like him) is everything: Constitutionalism, rule of law, primacy of individual liberty, religious and cultural pluralism, the enduring success of capitalism as the prime engine for improving human welfare. These are all ideas with which Russia cannot compete; so it must compete on the only level available to it: Force.
Photo credit: [State Department photo/ Public Domain]