Why did Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine and try to capture Kyiv in February 2022, and not years earlier? Moscow has always wanted to dominate Ukraine, and Putin has given the reasons for this in his speeches and writings. Why then did he not try to take all or most of the country after the Ukrainian revolution of 2014, rather than only annexing Crimea, and giving limited, semi-covert help to separatists in the Donbas?
On Friday’s one-year anniversary of Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, it is worth thinking about precisely how we got to this point – and where things might be going.
Indeed, Russian hardliners spent years criticising their leader for not invading sooner. In 2014, the Ukrainian army was hopelessly weak; in Viktor Yanukovych, the Russians had a pro-Russian, democratically elected Ukrainian president; and incidents like the killing of pro-Russian demonstrators in Odesa provided a good pretext for action.
The reason for Putin’s past restraint lies in what was a core part of Russian strategy dating back to the 1990s: trying to wedge more distance between Europe and the United States, and ultimately to create a new security order in Europe with Russia as a full partner and respected power. It was always clear that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would destroy any hope of rapprochement with the western Europeans, driving them for the foreseeable future into the arms of the US. Simultaneously, such a move would leave Russia diplomatically isolated and dangerously dependent on China.
Read the full piece in The Guardian.