Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very clear about his primary goals in invading Ukraine: he wants to disarm the country, cut ties with the military alliance of NATO, and end the Ukrainian people’s aspirations to join the West.
While the exact guesswork of how he plans to carry out that plan is different, history can serve as a guide to understanding Putin’s potential final games.
Annexation of Crimea 2.0
If Russian forces are able to capture the Ukrainian port of Odessa, it is possible to imagine a land bridge stretching all the way across southern Ukraine, perhaps even connecting Transnistria — a breakaway region of Moldova, where Russian forces are stationed — with Odessa, Crimea, and southern and eastern Ukraine.
If Putin is considering partition, it is likely that Galician Ukraine and the city of Lviv — close to the Polish border — are part of some sort of faltering Ukrainian state, while Russia is focusing its attention on the country’s east.
Western intelligence officials warn it Russia plans to overthrow the democratically elected government of Ukraine, and replace it with a puppet regime. Putin has suggested that he considers Ukraine’s current democratically elected government to be illegitimate, and lamented the overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Ukraine has other politicians who might be eager to fill pro-Russian government positions. Perhaps by force.
Russia says it does not want to be an occupier, but it is easy to imagine a scenario in which Russia is trying to impose its form of harsh rule on Ukraine. It will be hard for Ukrainians to swallow because they have a free press, free local politics, and a tradition of street protest. In the Russian political system, genuine opposition protests are largely banned, or difficult to organize.
Putin had no problem supporting violent local leaders with little respect for human rights. His political rise began with the pacification of Chechnya, a breakaway republic in the Russian North Caucasus.
Republic of Fear
Russia has a fearsome internal security apparatus that imprisons and persecutes dissidents and keeps annoying opponents out of politics. Ukrainians living in Crimea — which Russia occupied in 2014 and annexed after a referendum widely seen as a hoax — have experienced first-hand what it’s like to live in a country where the FSB, Russia’s state security apparatus, has absolute power.
You can read a file The full analysis is here.
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