On February 24, 2022, Russian military forces invaded neighboring Ukraine, launching a full-scale military assault and marking the start of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War. Russia’s unprovoked attack shocked the world and sparked global condemnation as the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.
Nearly a year later, fierce fighting continues as Russia seeks to capture territory and topple Ukraine’s leadership. The war has brought immense suffering to Ukraine’s civilian population, with thousands killed, millions displaced, and cities devastated.
Russia’s decision to invade its neighbor remains controversial and complex. Examining the possible motivations behind Russia’s aggression can provide critical insight into the roots of the conflict and Russia’s goals in waging this devastating war against Ukraine.
Outline of Topics Covering Russia’s Potential Reasons for Invading Ukraine
Historical Ties Between Russia and Ukraine
- Overview of shared history and longstanding cultural/political connections
- Ukraine’s ties to Russian empire and Soviet Union
- Post-Soviet relations between independent states
Ukraine’s Geopolitical Importance to Russia
- Strategic location neighboring Russia
- Access to Black Sea and Sea of Azov
- Role as buffer state between Russia and West
Russia’s Desire to Rebuild Sphere of Influence
- Loss of dominance after USSR collapse
- NATO/EU expansion into Eastern Europe
- Perceived encroachment on Russia’s borders
- Regaining regional hegemony and buffer zone
Opposition to Ukraine Joining NATO
- Concerns over NATO military presence on borders
- Blocking Western expansion/containment policy
- Fears Ukraine could host NATO bases or missiles
Securing Access to Crimean Peninsula
- Strategic Black Sea location and natural resources
- Russia’s historical claim and bases in Crimea
- Reacting to political shifts after 2014 uprising
Supporting Russian-Backed Separatists in Donbas
- Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in region
- Independence push by Donetsk and Luhansk
- Providing military aid since conflict began in 2014
Removing Pro-Western Government in Kyiv
- Ukraine’s growing ties with EU and desire to join NATO
- Overthrow of Russian-aligned President Yanukovych
- Installation of pro-Kremlin regime as goal
Safeguarding Russian Assets and Population in Ukraine
- Protection of infrastructure, businesses, cultural sites
- Millions of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine
- False ‘genocide’ claims used as pretext
Reclaiming Territory Seen as Historically Russian
- Belief that Ukraine rightfully belongs to Russia
- Myth of Ukraine as an artificial state
- Restoring ‘lost’ lands to recreate greater Russia
Removing Perceived Threats to Russian Security
- Allegations Ukraine harbored extremist anti-Russian elements
- Unfounded claims Ukraine planned to attack or undermine Russia
- Preemptive effort to eliminate security threats
Boosting President Putin’s Domestic Political Image
- Distracting from internal problems with patriotic war
- Rallying popular support and nationalist sentiment
- Showcasing Putin as strong leader defending Russia
Historical Context Behind Russia and Ukraine’s Relationship
Ukraine and Russia share deep historical, cultural, political, and economic ties that span over a thousand years. After the fragmented territories of the Kievan Rus’ fell to the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, the core of the Rus’ civilization shifted toward the northeast in what would become Russia.
In the following centuries, parts of modern-day Ukraine were absorbed into the growing Russian empire. Ukraine was under Russian imperial rule from the 17th to early 20th century, during which time its economy became more integrated with Russia’s and Russian cultural influence increased.
This long period under the Russian empire was punctuated by brief intervals of independence following uprisings and the Russian Revolution of 1917. But Ukraine was reconquered and incorporated into the new Soviet Union as a founding republic in 1922.
Under Soviet rule, Ukraine underwent a forced process of rapid industrialization and collectivization, as well as suffering devastating famines in the 1930s. Its borders, culture, and politics were tightly managed from Moscow.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine finally emerged as a fully independent state. But maintaining constructive relations with the dominant power of Russia to the north and east remained an imperative, if challenging, priority.
Shared Historical Figures and Cultural Icons
As a result of their long shared history, Ukraine and Russia have many common historical figures, cultural touchstones, and language ties that bind them together.
Key figures like St. Vladimir the Great, who brought Christianity to the medieval proto-Russian state centered in Kiev, are revered in both Russia and Ukraine. Literary giants like Nikolai Gogol, born in Ukraine, and political activists like Leon Trotsky, who was from Ukraine, are significant to the cultural heritage of both nations.
The Russian language is widely spoken and understood in much of Ukraine, especially in the east and south. The majority Orthodox populations of both countries trace their religious traditions back to Kiev Rus’. These shared historical and cultural connections contributed to Russia perceiving Ukraine as a rightful part of its own lands.
Post-Soviet Relations Prior to 2014
Following the collapse of the USSR, relations between the now-independent Ukraine and the Russian Federation were complex, but largely cooperative in the 1990s and early 2000s.
A key agreement struck in 1997 resolved lingering disputes over the Black Sea Fleet and the status of Crimea, with both sides allowing Russian bases in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
Economic ties between Ukraine and Russia remained very strong, with Russia dependent on pipelines through Ukraine for its vital gas exports to Europe and Ukraine reliant on Russian energy.
Despite moments of conflict, like the 2004-2005 gas dispute and ensuing Russia-Ukraine gas wars, overall relations remained stable if delicate for nearly two decades.
The Euromaidan Protests Trigger Change
The Euromaidan protests that erupted in Ukraine in late 2013 marked a major turning point, bringing simmering tensions to the fore.
Triggered by President Yanukovych’s 11th-hour refusal to sign an EU association agreement, the protests rapidly expanded into a broader anti-government movement calling for Yanukovych’s removal and a decisive break from Russian influence.
After Yanukovych unleashed brutal crackdowns resulting in civilian deaths, he was ultimately forced to flee in February 2014. Russia condemned his ouster as an illegal Western-backed coup, setting the stage for imminent conflict.
The Strategic Importance of Ukraine to Russian Interests
Beyond cultural and historical ties, Ukraine also holds vital strategic importance for Russia geographically, economically, and militarily. Losing influence over Ukraine threatens a number of core Russian national interests.
Geopolitical Role as Buffer State
With more than 1,500 miles of shared border, Ukraine serves as a crucial buffer state for Russia from perceived Western encroachment.
This protective barrier between Russia and Eastern European members of NATO has long been viewed as vital by Russian military strategists. The potential expansion of Western alliances into Ukraine is seen as a grave national security threat.
If Ukraine joined NATO, Russia would share a direct border with a hostile military alliance, a situation it is desperate to avoid.
Access to the Black Sea and Sea of Azov
The Ukrainian coastline controls key access points to the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, vital to Russian trade and naval operations.
Russia’s only warm water ports with access to the Black Sea and beyond are in Crimea. Losing that direct access would severely weaken Russia’s navy and shipping capabilities.
The disputed Kerch Strait between Crimea and mainland Russia is a key route for Russia projecting naval power into the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Increased NATO presence in the Black Sea area is perceived as compromising Russian interests.
Economic Ties with Ukraine
Ukraine plays an essential role in Russian energy exports, with pipelines running through Ukraine carrying Russian oil and natural gas to European markets.
Disruptions to this crucial transit route, as occurred during pricing disputes, can create energy crises and billions in losses for Russia. Maintaining control over pipeline infrastructure in Ukraine bolsters Russian economic leverage.
Beyond energy, Ukraine has deep economic and industrial ties with Russia, serving as an important trading partner and market. Losing that economic relationship weakens Russia’s broader regional economic influence.
Rebuilding Russia’s Sphere of Influence Over Former Soviet States
A driving motivation behind Russia’s foreign policy under Putin has been to restore its dominant influence over former Soviet republics like Ukraine. This aspiration stems both from national pride and practical security imperatives.
Perceived Loss of Great Power Status
Russia’s loss of its superpower status with the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 remains a bitter national trauma. After dominating Eastern Europe for decades, Russia suddenly found itself severely weakened.
Reasserting control, especially over Ukraine as the second-most populous Soviet republic, is seen by nationalists as necessary to rebuild Russia’s great power status and regain what it has lost.
Opposing NATO and EU Expansionism
Russia vehemently opposes the eastward expansion of Western institutions like NATO and the EU into former Eastern Bloc states.
Yet since 1999, 14 formerly communist Central and Eastern European states have joined NATO, with the EU also expanding to add former Soviet republics like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
To Russia, this amounts to hostile encirclement and containment, compromising its security interests. Reclaiming influence over neighbors like Ukraine is meant to reverse this trend.
Establishing a Russian Sphere of Influence
Vladimir Putin harbors aspirations of forming a renewed Russian sphere of influence within the former Soviet region, similar to the political-economic bloc of the USSR. This Russian-dominated bloc would insulate Russia from the expanding West.
Ukraine, with its location, resources, population, and economic potential, is the linchpin to realizing this neo-imperial project. Losing Ukraine to Western integration could collapse this entire vision.
Maintaining Buffer Zones
Russia’s vast landmass has made buffer zones with surrounding powers historically vital. The USSR encompassed Eastern Europe to block any ground invasion.
Losing these buffers with the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution left Russia feeling exposed. Rebuilding buffer zones in places like Eastern Ukraine is seen as strategically necessary.
Pro-Russian separatist areas in Ukraine could function as a renewed buffer against NATO nations like Poland and Romania, preventing their direct land access to Russia’s heartland.
Blocking Ukraine’s Integration with NATO
While Putin’s security demands leading up to the invasion included other points like demilitarization, the non-negotiable core aim was blocking Ukraine from ever joining NATO.
Preventing Foreign Troops and Missiles on Russia’s Borders
Russian officials have clearly signaled for decades that any expansion of NATO to include Ukraine (or Georgia) would constitute an unacceptable “red line” scenario that Russia is unwilling to tolerate.
If Ukraine joined NATO, alliance members could potentially station troops and missiles directly on Russia’s 1,500+ mile land border. Even with no immediate plans to deploy such assets, Russia views the inherent option as an untenable threat.
Containing NATO’s Spread and Rollback of Western Influence
Letting Ukraine slip fully into NATO’s sphere of influence would also represent the continued enlargement of Western alliances at the expense of Russian power – an unacceptable reversal that must be contained.
Russia is seeking to thwart and roll back the spread of NATO and the Western strategic agenda, halting and reversing their advance into former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia.
Strategic Depth in Case of Western Attack
NATO expanding right up to Russia’s borders is seen as creating an indefensible position in the event the West attacked Russia. Their territory would be at risk of being rapidly overrun.
Retaining political control or at least influence over Ukraine provides vital strategic depth to absorb and repel any hypothetical Western invasion. Ukraine represents a critical buffer zone keeping foreign armies further from Russia’s heartland.
Preventing Encirclement by Adversarial Forces
To Russian strategic planners, Ukraine’s addition to NATO would essentially complete the military encirclement of Russia by potentially hostile powers, enabling attacks from multiple fronts.
Dominating Ukraine ensures a friendly buffer that prevents encirclement and multi-front wars, keeping Russia’s flanks protected. Letting Ukraine turn to the West risks Russia’s annihilation if forced to fight a two-front defensive war.
Reclaiming Strategic Control Over Crimea
Regaining control over the Crimean peninsula has been a key Russian objective since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, but Russia’s influence over Crimea faced potential threats after Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.
Securing Vital Black Sea Naval Base at Sevastopol
The Russian Black Sea Fleet is headquartered at Sevastopol in southwest Crimea, Russia’s only warm water port. Securing Sevastopol and rebuilding Russia’s Crimean bases have been Russian strategic priorities for decades.
Even under a pro-Russian government, Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea meant potential threats to Russia’s vital naval base, like demands for higher rents. Regaining direct control over Sevastopol eliminates any risks of losing this geopolitically vital port.
Assuming Control of Natural Resources
The Crimean peninsula contains substantial offshore natural gas fields in the Black Sea and onshore oil potential.
Russia’s annexation allows Russian energy firms to seize control of these hydrocarbon resources and integrate them into Russia’s energy production grid. Denying these assets to Ukraine also increases Russia’s energy leverage.
Reacting to Political Shifts After Ukraine’s Revolution
Russia’s aggressive moves in Crimea came in direct reaction to the sudden fall of Russian-aligned President Yanukovych after Ukraine’s pro-West uprising.
Fearing potential threats to its Crimea bases and Russian speakers, Moscow rapidly mobilized to seize control while Ukraine’s interim government was fragile. Russia moved to secure its interests amidst perceived increasing turmoil and uncertainty.
Establishing a Land Corridor to Crimea
The narrow Kerch Strait separating Crimea from Russia proper is relatively easy for hostile forces to block or close.
Gaining control of southeastern Ukrainian territory adjacent to Crimea improves Russia’s ability to supply and reinforce Crimea without relying on the vulnerable chokepoint at Kerch. It provides a direct overland route fully within Russia’s control.
Providing Support to Pro-Russian Separatists in Donbas
Russia has provided extensive military support to separatist forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (collectively known as the Donbas) of Eastern Ukraine, though it publicly denies direct involvement. Russia’s backing of breakaway regions serves several purposes.
Supporting Ethnic Russian Enclaves
Donbas has a large population of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Since the conflict began in 2014, Russia has supported Donbas separatists under the pretext of protecting this Russian-speaking community from alleged persecution.
Creating a Semi-Autonomous Buffer State
Russia has used Donbas separatists to destabilize Ukraine for years. But Russia stops short of recognizing their total independence.
A semi-autonomous Donbas that still formally belongs to Ukraine, but functions as Russian protectorate, serves as a buffer state between Russia and the West-aligned parts of Ukraine.
Retaining Levers of Pressure Against Kyiv
The simmering conflict in Donbas provides low-cost but highly effective political leverage Russia can use against the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.
Russia can threaten further escalation or stir more active conflict if Ukraine acts against Russian interests. This destabilization tactic enhances Russia’s regional influence.
Establishing a Contiguous Land Corridor
Connecting Russia to Crimea via captured territory in Southern Ukraine creates a single contiguous land bridge through Donbas to Crimea.
This land corridor strengthens the integration of Russia’s military forces and economic supply lines between Russia proper, Donbas, and Crimea.
Justification as Essential to Russian Security
The narrative that ethnic Russians in Donbas face extermination by Ukrainian extremists provides Russia the pretext to claim intervention is necessary to protect Russians from genocide.
This allows Russia to portray invasion as an essential moral and security imperative while casting Ukraine as the aggressor against Russian speakers in Donbas.
Removing Ukraine’s Pro-Western Government
A driving impetus behind Russia’s invasion was removing Ukraine’s pro-Western government led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and installing a regime aligned with or subservient to Moscow.
Eliminating Ukraine’s Ties With NATO and the EU
President Zelenskyy governs Ukraine with an explicit goal of integrating with Western institutions like NATO and the EU.
Russia seeks to depose his administration and fundamentally shift Ukraine’s geopolitical orientation by empowering Russia-friendly politicians, likely enforcing permanent Ukraine neutrality.
Reversing Ukraine’s Democratic Revolution
President Zelenskyy came to power as a reformer following Ukraine’s pro-democracy “Revolution of Dignity.”
Russia likely aims to roll back the political changes stemming from this revolution, restoring a compliant puppet regime akin to Yanukovych’s before his 2014 ouster.
Enforcing Friendly Policies Toward Russia
A puppet government installed by Russia could be forced to resume closer economic ties, end opposition to Russian actions, and permit long-term Russian military presence.
This would greatly enhance Russia’s sway over Ukraine without requiring permanent occupation. Russian forces could withdraw after political terms are imposed.
Recapturing Lost Regional Influence
Toppling Kyiv’s Western-aligned government would demonstrate Russia’s dominant power over Eastern Europe, serving as a stark warning to other former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states considering defying Russia.
It reestablishes Moscow as the preeminent political force in the region that autonomous action comes at a steep cost.
Securing Ukrainian Non-Alignment
Forcing Ukraine to codify neutrality and non-alignment in its constitution or laws prevents Kyiv from ever seeking to join Western institutions like NATO and the EU.
It requires Ukraine to be a permanent buffer between Russia and the West, formally renouncing any integration with Russia’s adversaries.
Asserting Obligation to Protect Russian Assets and People
While clearly untrue in any systematic sense, Russia has used accusations of the Ukrainian government oppressing ethnic Russians and Russian speakers as justification for invasion on “humanitarian” grounds.
Allegations of Rights Abuses Against Ethnic Russians
Despite no evidence of widespread abuses, Russia claims ethnic Russians
Allegations of Rights Abuses Against Ethnic Russians
Despite no evidence of widespread abuses, Russia claims ethnic Russians in Ukraine face persecution, including legal discrimination, violent attacks, and genocide. These exaggerated allegations provide pretext for invasion as a “peacekeeping” mission.
Protecting Russian Language and Cultural Sites
Russia often falsely depicts the Ukrainian government as oppressing Russian culture and language, such as by restricting education and media in Russian. This provides additional justification for invasion under the guise of defending Russian heritage in Ukraine.
Securing Infrastructure and Industries Vital to Russia
Ukraine contains vast infrastructure like gas pipelines and industries relied upon by Russia. This includes defense plants that supply Russia’s military. Russia claims the need to protect these assets as a premise for occupation.
Safeguarding Ethnic Russian and Russian-Speaking Populations
Ukraine has millions of ethnic Russian residents and Russian-speaking Ukrainians concentrated in the east and south. Russia asserts the need to protect these populations from imagined persecution as moral rationale for invasion and control.
Creating a Land Bridge to Transnistria
The contested territory of Transnistria in Moldova contains a large pro-Russian separatist enclave. Russia claims its military drive along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast aims to connect Transnistria with mainland Russia, ostensibly to protect and support its Russian-speaking residents.
Enforcing Russian as an Official State Language
Russia often depicts the Ukrainian government as oppressing Russian speakers by not giving Russian official state language status equal to Ukrainian. This is used to justify forcing policies like making Russian an official second state language across Ukraine.
Reclaiming Territories Seen as Historically Belonging to Russia
Putin claims Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” wrongly divided, arguing that Ukraine as a truly sovereign state is an artificial construct, with its lands rightfully belonging to Russia.
Myth of Ukraine as an Illegitimate Breakaway State
Putin asserts that modern Ukraine was “created” by Russia and forcibly incorporated lands that were ancestrally Russian. He denies Ukraine a unique identity, claiming correctly unified Russian lands must be brought back into Moscow’s orbit.
Restoring the Former Borders of Greater Russia
Putin laments the perceived tragedy of millions of ethnic Russians becoming “stranded” outside Russia when the USSR dissolved. He envisions reabsorbing Ukraine into a reunified greater Russia spanning roughly the territory of imperial Russia.
Righting Soviet-Era Administrative Mistakes
Putin considers Ukraine’s recognized borders purely an accident of Soviet administrative decisions, with traditionally Russian areas like Donbas mistakenly incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. He strives to paint invasion as righting this historical wrong.
Control of Spiritually Significant Cities
As the birthplace of Slavic civilization, Putin depicts Medieval Kievan Rus’ cities like Kyiv as the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy, spiritually essential to Russia. Occupation gives Russia control of ancient cultural sites it considers vital.
Integration of Economically Valuable Territories
Putin seeks to retroactively correct the perceived squandering of Russia’s Soviet inheritance, reintegrating economically and agriculturally rich Ukrainian lands like the Donbas, Kherson, and Zaporizhia into Russia’s holdings.
Defending All Russian “Lands and People”
Putin broadly declares the right and obligation to protect all traditionally Russian lands and ethnic Russian populations, even outside Russia’s borders. This provides justification for invading any neighboring state like Ukraine with sizable Russian populations.
Subscribe to our list
Don't worry, we don't spam
Countering Perceived Security Threats to Russia
While clearly false, Russia has justified its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in part by accusing Ukraine of plotting attacks that threatened Russia’s security.
False Claims of Ukraine Preparing to Attack Donbas
In a speech days before the invasion, Putin accused Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack on Donbas that would allegedly kill Russian civilians. By fabricating claims that Ukraine was the aggressor, Russia portrayed attack as defensive.
Allegations Ukraine Hosted Anti-Russian Extremists
Despite no evidence, Russia claimed Ukraine harbored extremist anti-Russian elements from the North Caucasus, Middle East, and other regions that threatened Russia’s security. This created a false narrative of invasion being counterterrorism.
Accusing Ukraine of Seeking Nuclear Weapons
Putin falsely charged that Ukraine intended to illicitly obtain nuclear weapons, presenting a grave strategic threat to Russia. This provided a deceptive pretext that invasion was a necessary act of preventive disarmament.
Unfounded NATO Bases and Missiles Claims
Another Russian accusation was that NATO planned to imminently deploy major offensive assets like missile systems and bases in Ukraine targeting Russia. In reality, NATO rejected such provocative steps, but Russia used the specter as justification to strike preemptively.
Fabricating Bioweapons Labs Allegations
Part of Russia’s information war included ludicrous claims that secret U.S.-run bioweapons labs in Ukraine were creating deadly pathogens to use against Russia. While patently absurd, this provided rhetorical cover for military action.
Containing Radical Nationalism Allegedly Targeting Russians
A frequent Russian allegation is the need to contain dangerous Ukrainian far-right radicalism and nationalism that supposedly threatened ethnic Russians in Ukraine. However, Russia failed to provide any evidence substantiating accusations of systematic abuses.
Rallying Russian Citizens Around a Foreign War
Provoking conflict with Ukraine has allowed Putin to strengthen his domestic political position by rallying Russians around an external adversary.
Boosting Putin’s Public Support and Nationalist Fervor
The war has fueled Russian nationalism, patriotism, and support for Putin as a “defender of the homeland.” Putin’s domestic approval has risen as many Russians rally around their leader against a perceived foreign threat.
Providing a Strategic Distraction from Domestic Problems
The war serves as a strategic distraction from challenging issues inside Russia like economic stagnation, poverty, and political repression by directing outrage toward an external enemy.
Silencing of Domestic Dissent and Opposition
The war’s initiation was accompanied by harsh crackdowns on anti-war protests and independent journalism in Russia. The conflict allows Putin to portray dissent as treasonous while encouraging loyalty to the regime.
Uniting Russia Against a Shared External Threat
Generating conflict with Ukraine’s Western-backed government gives Russia a unifying enemy to direct national frustration toward. This decreases focus on domestic grievances against the Kremlin’s policies.
Fulfilling Public Demand for Restoring Russian Power
Putin is seen as delivering on longstanding public sentiment demanding that Russia reemerge as a dominant world power that commands respect after the humiliations of the 1990s.
Frequently Asked Questions About Russia’s Motivations for Invading Ukraine
Why did Russia choose to invade Ukraine instead of using diplomatic means?
Russia opted for military invasion rather than diplomacy because Putin saw Ukraine’s Western pivot over the last decade as reaching a breaking point that required forceful intervention. Russia had previously tried to pull Ukraine into its orbit economically and through gas price manipulations. But with Ukraine seeking NATO membership, Putin believed only an openly hostile takeover could achieve Russia’s goals.
How has Russia justified the invasion under international law?
Legal experts overwhelmingly agree Russia’s attempted justifications for invasion do not pass scrutiny under international law. Russia has weakly argued the operation constitutes counterterrorism, anticipatory self-defense against threats like NATO expansion, or humanitarian intervention to protect ethnic Russians. But these explanations clearly fail basic standards set by UN principles on non-intervention, prohibition of force, and self-determination.
Is Russia’s primary motivation to take Ukrainian territory or reshape its government?
Russia likely envisions permanently annexing parts of Southern and Eastern Ukraine it sees as historically Russian. But Russia’s principal aims are negating Ukraine’s pro-Western orientation and barring its NATO membership – goals achievable without permanent occupation if Russia installs a subservient regime in Kyiv. Forcing Ukraine into permanent geopolitical neutrality is Russia’s core objective.
Does Russia see the invasion as an act of conquest or liberation?
Russian propaganda depicts the invasion both as liberating Ukraine from oppressive Western puppeteers, and reuniting wayward Russian lands with their proper home country. These mutually reinforcing narratives cast Russia’s role as both conqueror and liberator. But Russia’s aims fundamentally seek to subjugate Ukraine’s sovereignty to dominion from Moscow.
How does Russian nationalism play into the motivations behind the invasion?
Nationalist ideals of restoring Russian imperial greatness and reclaiming Ukraine as the rightful heritage of ethnic Russians form a major animating force behind the invasion. Putin draws heavily on nationalist historical myths and grievances in justifying aggression against Russia’s culturally intimate neighbor.
Could Russia have achieved its security aims without a full-scale war?
Many experts argue Russia’s stated security concerns about having a non-aligned Ukraine did not necessitate war to resolve. Options like bilateral treaties, troop pullbacks, and arms control were not meaningfully explored. However, Putin ultimately saw Ukraine’s strategic reorientation as so unacceptable that only imposing terms by force could address Russia’s interests.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine represents a dramatic flashpoint triggered by years of rising tensions. But the roots run much deeper, drawing heavily on centuries of entangled history and strategic imperatives that made Ukraine’s possible Western integration an existential threat in Moscow’s eyes.
Examining the layered mix of historical animosities, nationalist pride, geopolitical interests, security doctrine, and personal ambitions that motivated Putin’s decision-making provides vital perspective. While Russia’s actions clearly violate international norms, analyzing its motivations and worldview reveals perceived threats and narratives underlying Russia’s conduct.
Russia’s justifications do not legitimize its aggression. But understanding its longstanding strategic sensitivities and political psyche helps observers comprehend Moscow’s behavior and why it prioritizes reestablishing dominance over its smaller neighbor. This insight provides critical background that hopefully can aid the eventual resolution of this disastrous conflict.
The path forward remains unclear, but will certainly require bridging the profound disconnects in how Russia and the Western-aligned world perceive Ukraine’s orientation and very identity as a sovereign state. Finding an acceptable equilibrium that addresses Russia’s core interests without sacrificing Ukraine’s hard-won independence will be the monumental challenge in ending the war.