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Ukraine War: What did Putin Want? What did He Get?

Vladimir Putin (Russia), Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukraine) | OPED COLUMN Magazine
Russia’s aggressive actions and threatening rhetoric driving many nations in Europe to opt for NATO membership.

Nicholas Lovric | Oped Column Syndication

The biggest war in Europe since the World War Two (WWII) was launched by the Russian President Vladimir Putin with the excuse that Ukraine was leaning too much towards the West so much so that it became a constant threat for Russia to feel safe, develop and exist. With this war on the Ukrainians, Putin created the biggest post-WWII security crisis in the continent.

During the launch of invasion of Ukraine in late February, Putin declared he had several goals; one being to “demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine”. However, an opinion piece published on Ria Novosti, a Russian state-run news agency, made clear that “de-nazification is inevitably also de-Ukrainization”, meaning the aim was to erase the modern Ukrainian state.

Putin’s another self-declared goal of the invasion was to protect civilians in Ukraine’s eastern regions, areas which have borders with Russia and which are home to Russia-backed separatist groups. He said he wanted to protect the people who were subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government, though there was no evidence they were under any threat. Instead, it is Russia that is now accused by the international community of carrying out war crimes and some countries even called Russia’s actions in Ukraine a genocide.

Putin’s another self-declared goal of the invasion was to ensure Ukraine’s neutral status. He wanted to capture Kyiv, kill the Ukrainian government officials and install a pro-Russian government headed by a pro-Russian puppet until the appropriate environment is created for annexing Ukraine with Russia. Indeed, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s democratically elected president, said that Russia had designated him as the number one target and his family as target number two. There were accusations that Russian troops made two attempts to storm the presidential compound.

Putin had done all these so that Ukraine and other European neighbours of Russia abandon their desire to join the Western defensive alliance NATO and the multilateral European Union. However, faced with fierce resistance from the Ukrainian military and the civilian-turned-militias, Putin abandoned his bid to capture the capital Kyiv and turned his ambitions to Ukraine’s east and south.

Indeed the weakening morale of the Russian troops inside Ukraine as well as the defeats and stalemates pushed Russia to pull back from Kyiv a month after launch of invasion and declared its main goal was the “liberation of Donbas”, broadly referring to Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. More than a third of this area was already seized by Russian proxy forces in a war that began in 2014, now Russia wants to conquer all of it.

The Kremlin claimed that the invasion’s first phase had been accomplished by reducing Ukraine’s combat potential. But the reality is that Ukraine’s resistance coupled with pressure of international sanctions and isolation had forced Putin to scale back his ambitions.

With this invasion, Putin’s initial plan was to send a message across Russia’s European neighbourhood that Russia’s neighbours should neither join NATO nor the European Union; otherwise they would face similar fate to that of Ukraine’s, which Putin initially thought would be the fall of Kyiv and gradual disintegration of the country followed by accession to Russia.

However, The Russian troops’ pull back from Kyiv sent a contrary message to Russia’s neighbour that if Putin faces harsh resistance from the enemy, he would decide to settle for less. Indeed, he had settled for endeavoring to take Luhansk and Donetsk, dropping the decision to take the entire Ukraine including the capital Kyiv.

This whole drama was sharply noticed in the capitals of Finland and Sweden, two of Russia’s neighbours, and both capitals perhaps had understood that ‘things did not go Putin’s way’ because Putin fumbled due to harsh resistance. Hence, these two countries have started looking closely at joining NATO, an alliance that now seems as unified as ever.

At the NATO Youth Summit 2022, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Finland’s and Sweden’s change of mind regarding joining NATO demonstrates to Putin that he got exactly the opposite of what he wanted; that he wanted less NATO at Russia’s borders but he now got more of it. Jens Stoltenberg blamed Russia’s aggressive actions and threatening rhetoric for driving many nations in Europe to opt for NATO membership.

Indeed, Putin triggered the opposite effect of what he wanted out of the Ukraine invasion. He wanted to weaken NATO; instead he unintentionally helped NATO to become much stronger now. What an unintended consequence of war!

Nicholas Lovric researches on European current affairs and their impact on other regions of the world.

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