What was Putin’s intention in invading Ukraine?
Miguel Ángel Velasco López cmf
MA in Development and Diplomacy. UNITAR
Many of us ask ourselves these questions, or we should think about them. Another thing is if it is able for us to answer. The whole international landscape is about to evolve into a new scenario that we do not know to specify what it will be. In any case, I would like to offer some food for thought on this subject.
The strange sensation of having seen all this previously
More than a month into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the media is full of images. The conquest of cities, encircled so that their inhabitants die of thirst, hunger, and cold, under a rain of shells, reminds me of the siege of medieval towns. Russian cities like Stalingrad (Volgograd), destroyed to the ground, or Leningrad (St. Petersburg), were destroyed with their populations by the Nazis, as Putin is now destroying Ukrainian cities; World War II seems to be happening again. The images of the trenches dug by the Ukrainians remind me of the 40,000 kilometers of trenches dug in the First World War. A First World War that the aggressor countries thought would last for weeks and drag on for four years.
S. Petersburgo World War II
What is Putin looking for?
We do not know with certainty why Vladimir Putin had for invading Ukraine. Perhaps he wanted to annex the territories of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Zaporiyia as quickly as he did with Crimea? On the other hand, it seems clear that he did not imagine the response that the people of Ukraine, the European Union, the United States, or NATO would give. But what was Vladimir Putin’s intention? It is possible that Putin’s obsession with regaining some of the might of the Soviet Empire may have played a trick on him, or maybe not. We do not know for sure.
The invasion of Ukraine could also be a warning to countries that might be reluctant to follow Putin’s dictates. I do not think this warning would be directed at any of the NATO countries; he would not dare invade any of them, but it would warn other nations of his determination to enforce his will. For example, a warning to the non-NATO Nordic European countries, Belarus or Ukraine, about the need for pro-Russian governments, or perhaps a sign to the Central Asian countries in the Soviet orbit. In short, to pave the way for a return to the international scene as a great global power, not just a regional one, as President Obama once claimed.
I am talking about Putin’s obsession to return to the greatness of the Soviet Union and the Tsarist style of governance, indeed yes, but not only that; there is more to it.
He is securing the economic base to become a great power again.
Let’s see something about Russia’s economic power, and it’s based on; I present some comparative data with Italy and Spain that may come as a surprise.
|Gross Domestic Product||Inhabitants||Area|
|Russia||1.687 billion $||144.406.261||30.207 km2|
|Italy||2.009 billion $||59.729.082||17.098.242 km2|
|Spain||1.393 billion $||47123521||505.370 km2|
|https://datos.bancomundial.org/pais/federacion-de-rusia (year 2019)|
Indeed, Russia’s economic power is nowhere near the 21.43 billion GDP of the USA or the 14 billion GDP of China in 2019. Russia’s exports are centered on Oil and derivatives (41.40%), metals and minerals (15%) gas (5.98%), according to the World Trade Organization (https://oec.world). Suppose to this 63% of the total; we add the exports of wheat and other agricultural elements and the sales of armaments (estimated 13 billion $ in 2019). In that case, we find ourselves in a country enormously dependent on raw materials. Russia needs, for its growth, to control the places from where today it extracts raw materials and other new territories that will ensure its economic future as a nation. Let us bear in mind that it obtains currency and power from raw materials, two aspects that are evident regarding the European Union. In short, Putin seems to need to: consolidate a perimeter of “servant countries”, frighten possible “non-collaborating” countries, and secure new spaces from which to extract more raw materials. All this is to realize the dream of being, once again, a great world power.
Let us now take a short tour of the border environment of the Russian Federation. Belarus secures the security perimeter in the west and it wanted to secure it with Ukraine. The extraction of raw materials in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) is still in the process of agreement and understanding with China. The Arctic Ocean is another relevant front.
A few years ago, the Arctic was practically impassable for navigation except in summer, but it is thawing due to climate change. The melting of the Arctic allows Russia to exploit the territories, the islands, and the sea with its mineral, gas, and oil wealth: but, in addition, Russia intends to make the “Northeast Passage” through the Arctic its domain. This question of the strategic importance of the Arctic as a passable route between the China Sea and Europe has already given rise to a multitude of books and articles. The countries involved are Russia, Canada, Denmark, the United States, and Norway. It seems that Putin would like to realize the Russian dream of being a maritime power by becoming the exclusive owner of the Arctic as a place of resource exploitation and as a waterway between the Pacific and the Atlantic.
Therefore, it is possible that looking for reasons for the invasion of Ukraine, we may find an economic reason along with desires to restore the lost power of the Soviet Union. However, we will have to wait to find out if this is so or not.
Miguel Angel Velasco Lopez cmf