Why Did Russia Invade Ukraine? Consultants Clarify Putin Motives, Politics

  • Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
  • Insider spoke to 3 specialists about why it occurred, and the motives behind President Putin’s transfer.
  • They highlighted how Russia seen Ukraine over its historical past, and a few current geopolitical shifts.

Russia stunned the world on February 24, 2022, by invading Ukraine, beginning a brutal battle that’s nonetheless raging at present.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has given various public explanations for why he launched the invasion.

Listed below are the explanations Putin gave, how they match with actuality, and the opposite doubtless the reason why Russia despatched its armed forces into an unbiased, sovereign nation.

A Ukrainian serviceman in uniform stands on a road lined with destroyed Russian tanks and other debris

A Ukrainian serviceman stands amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022.

AP Picture/Felipe Dana, File

Putin sees Ukraine as Russian

Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, earlier than declaring itself an unbiased nation, cementing the transfer in a referendum days earlier than the USSR collapsed in December 1991.

The nation has maintained its independence ever since. However Putin nonetheless refers to Ukraine as Russian, and denies it is a nation in its personal proper. He instructed then-US President George W. Bush in 2008 that Ukraine wasn’t even a rustic.

Stephen Corridor, a Russian politics professional on the College of Tub within the UK, mentioned many Russians nonetheless maintain this view, and that “it is not simply the Kremlin.”

Corridor mentioned Russia sees Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, because the “mom of Russian cities,” and for Putin he cannot have that being exterior his personal nation.

Corridor added that Russia wants to assert Ukraine with a view to again up its argument to being an amazing energy that has existed for millennia.

With out it “Russia cannot declare a thousand years of historical past as a result of Kyiv was already in existence 1,200 years in the past, when Moscow was a forest,” he mentioned.

Four coffins covered in red sheets beside open graves, with lines of grave markings behind them

A priest takes half within the funeral of 38 pro-Russian troopers, at a cemetery in Luhansk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, November 11, 2022.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Recreating a Slavic Brotherhood

Fifteen of at present’s sovereign nations had been as soon as a part of the Soviet Union, and specialists say Russia cares extra about Ukraine than close by Belarus, in addition to different former USSR nations in central Asia.

Corridor mentioned “Putin’s opinion has at all times been that Ukrainians and Russians are the identical folks, that they are a part of the Slavic Brotherhood of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.”

Belarus is already primarily a Russian puppet state, making a army invasion of it virtually pointless, whereas Ukraine has more and more aligned itself with the West in recent times.

Belarus can also be a lot smaller than Ukraine and Russia is much less fascinated by claiming its historical past, Professor Brian Taylor, a Russian politics professional at Syracuse College, famous.

Thomas Graham, cofounder of Yale College’s Russian, East European, and Eurasian research program, mentioned Ukraine has been vital to the “Russian political creativeness for many years, if not centuries.”

A former US presidential advisor on Russia, Graham additionally mentioned that Ukraine’s territory aided Russia’s financial power all through its historical past, together with supplying a lot of the Russian Empire’s coal, metal, and iron from the nineteenth century.

He added that with out Ukraine’s Donbas area, “Russia wouldn’t have been an amazing energy on the finish of the nineteenth and into the early years of the twentieth century.”

A Ukrainian police officer takes cover in front of a burning building

A Ukrainian police officer takes cowl in entrance of a burning constructing that was hit in a Russian airstrike in Avdiivka, Ukraine, March 17, 2023.

AP Picture/Evgeniy Maloletka

Putin blamed the West

Taylor mentioned the invasion of Ukraine displays Putin’s “grievances which were brewing for a very long time.”

For Putin, “Russia has a proper to rule Ukraine. Russians and Ukrainians are one nation and one folks. They had been illegitimately and artificially separated when the Soviet Union collapsed, and he blames the West for attempting to tug Ukraine out of Russia’s pure friendship,” Taylor mentioned.

Firstly of the invasion, Putin blamed NATO’s growth into japanese Europe for forcing his hand, echoing a criticism he has made for years.

Corridor mentioned the concept that NATO is threatening Russia by increasing in the direction of its borders is “very a lot a part of the Russian propaganda narrative.”

He additionally identified that NATO does not merely develop, however that nations apply to affix, often motivated by a perceived exterior risk. In japanese Europe, that risk usually comes from Russia.

Lithuania’s prime minister, for instance, instructed Insider in February that her nation joined NATO “due to Putin.”

However Putin has reversed that excuse and was taking part in a “blame recreation,” she mentioned.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, wearing eye and ear protection and a black coat, hugs a soldier outdoors

Russian President Vladimir Putin embraces a soldier as he visits a army coaching heart for mobilized reservists in Ryazan, Russia, October 20, 2022.

Russian Protection Ministry Press Service through AP

A NATO excuse

Putin has used the NATO line to attempt to persuade a world viewers who would possibly have already got robust misgivings concerning the Western army alliance, Corridor mentioned.

And if Russia can interact with even a minority who really feel this manner “it creates an electoral voice for Russia to make use of to try to cease Western engagement,” he mentioned.

Corridor added that even when NATO was increasing “that does not justify what Russia has finished in Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s personal ties with NATO deepened after 2014, when pro-Russian forces invaded japanese Ukraine, beginning a battle that continued till the 2022 invasion.

However Taylor mentioned he does not see a “coherent rationalization” for a way NATO’s alleged growth may result in this conflict.

Earlier than Finland joined NATO earlier this 12 months, no new nations had joined the alliance since 2004, and even then it was “fairly tiny nations” — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — Taylor famous.

He additionally mentioned that NATO did not put extra troops within the area “so it wasn’t just like the addition of these nations created this army pressure on Russia’s doorstep.”

Actually, Taylor mentioned that the US was reducing again on the scale of its armed forces in Europe till pro-Russian forces occupied components of Ukraine in 2014.

Zelenskyy in coat, armored vehicle and Ukrainian and Polish flags in the distance behind him

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Omar Marques/Getty Pictures

It is all concerning the ‘Nazis’

One in every of Putin’s most regularly claims is that “Nazis” run Ukraine, so Russia should intervene to cease them.

That is regardless of Ukraine having a Jewish president in Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and there being no proof the nation’s management is managed by Nazis.

Taylor mentioned there are some who determine with Nazi ideology in Ukraine, however “it is a small group. They’ve by no means been politically highly effective or vital, however they’re there.”

“However there are additionally Nazis in Russian politics, there are Nazis in American politics,” he mentioned.

The specialists mentioned the important thing to understanding Russia’s repeated declare of Ukrainian Nazis is that they use the time period otherwise to the West.

“Russia has a special notion of what Nazism is and what fascism is normally to how we understand it within the West,” Corridor mentioned.

“Nazism is Russia-phobia to them. So the Ukrainians are Nazis as a result of they’re anti-Russian.”

Putin additionally promotes this Nazi concept to win assist within the West, the place folks have at all times been “inclined” to the argument that Ukraine has a Nazi downside, Corridor mentioned.

He mentioned Putin’s technique is partly “throw issues on the wall and see what sticks.”

However actually, Putin simply needs a legacy

In keeping with Graham, there isn’t a proof that Putin was beneath public stress to invade Ukraine, which suggests not less than a few of his reasoning was private.

All three specialists mentioned Putin’s need to be revered in historical past books doubtless motivated him to assault.

Corridor mentioned Putin’s nervousness is round “am I going to be a footnote in Russian historical past or are they going to write down books about me like they do Peter the Nice, Catherine the Nice, Stalin.”

Taylor agrees, saying that Putin sees himself as “an amazing historic Russian chief restoring Russian lands, and he was serious about his legacy as he turned 70.”

“What have the good Czars finished? They’ve expanded Russian territory,” Graham mentioned.

Russian servicemen stand ready to shoot in front of armored vehicles in the snow

On this handout picture taken from video launched by the Russian Protection Ministry Press Service in December 2022, Russian troopers participate in drills at an unspecified location in Belarus.

Russian Protection Ministry Press Service through AP

Even so, why now?

Even with all the above, why the invasion occurred when it did is an intriguing query. Consultants pointed to a number of the reason why Russia invaded in February 2022.

One was the arrival of Zelenskyy, who got here to energy in 2019 after a profession as a comic and actor. Putin believed that in Zelenskyy “he had somebody he may manipulate in Ukraine,” Corridor mentioned.

Taylor mentioned that in the course of the 2019 election, Zelenskyy was additionally seen “because the one who was probably extra pro-Russian. He is from a Russian talking area. His first language was Russian.”

However then, in 2021, Ukraine charged one in all Putin’s closest allies with treason.

Taylor mentioned the arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk made Putin notice “his objective of bringing Ukraine beneath Russian management peacefully has failed. And so the one choice left is the army one.”

He additionally pointed to geopolitical the reason why Putin did not launch a full invasion sooner.

A part of the explanation was US President Donald Trump moving into energy. Trump was “very pleasant in the direction of Putin, not less than in his public language,” mentioned Taylor, and likewise publicly criticized NATO. This meant Putin may wait to see if the alliance would ” type of shatter from inside.”

However in 2021 President Joe Biden, who was a a lot stronger proponent of NATO, took workplace.

Taylor additionally credit the COVID-19 pandemic, saying Putin “was far more remoted for that two-year interval than he usually would have been.”

Graham mentioned Putin’s current tendency in the direction of “megalomania” had been “exacerbated” by him being “in excessive isolation.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin raises a finger in front of a microphone while seated

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with conflict correspondents in Moscow, June 13, 2023.


Putin noticed his probability 

Graham believes that Putin additionally doubtless noticed some alternatives from the state of world politics in 2022.

He famous Zelenskyy had a low approval ranking earlier than the invasion, and a few squabbling amongst Ukraine’s elite meant Putin thought they doubtless would not unite towards him.

The US’ “chaotic” withdrawal from Afghanistan, new leaders of Germany and the UK, and stress for France’s president all meant Putin thought there was no “succesful Western management” to oppose Russian aggression, he mentioned.

Based mostly on all this, Putin thought that he may simply invade Ukraine and take Kyiv in a matter of days.

However little has turned out the best way he anticipated.

“Virtually all of Putin’s assumptions turned out to be mistaken,” Graham mentioned.