Instagram / National Security / Politics

What is Vladimir Putin Really Up To?

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman

What does Putin want? It seems to be the question bewitching the Western world. Debate rages in the media, driven on by leaks from governmental sources which alternatively assert “no certainty” and imply the most wild suggestions that Putin is after not just part of Ukraine, but Kiev, the entire country, or maybe even the Baltic States or Poland. Biden poured fuel on this speculative fire in his press conference Wednesday, saying he “guessed” Putin would probably invade Ukraine, and proceeded to make comments interpreted around the world as a “green light” for a Russian invasion. 

Ironically, it is the efforts that both Washington and Moscow seem to be going to persuade everyone that Russian aggression is imminent—and that there is little the West can do to stop it—which suggests that both sides might actually be after a deal. A deal that would not herald a new frozen conflict or cold war, but that instead would end the state of tension which has existed since 2014.

Under this interpretation, Putin’s actual aim is not to conquer Ukraine, depose its government, or gain “guarantees” from Western capitals that are not worth the paper they are printed on. In the latter case, Putin’s own focus on “broken” verbal assurances regarding NATO expansion by former Secretary of State James Baker shows he is fully aware of how little any democratically elected official can do to bound their successors.

The cause of the tensions between Russia and the West for the past 8 years lies in the status not of the entirety of Ukraine but of Crimea. As a practical matter, the West cannot—and has no intention of—reversing the Russian seizure of Crimea, and Russia has no intention of leaving. Neither Putin nor any plausible post-Putin government could sustain that. Even Putin’s nemesis Alexei Navalny, if he took office, would be politically unable to surrender Crimea. It’s not going to happen. Yet the Russian occupation of Crimea is used in Europe and America to justify indefinite sanctions against Russia, Russian companies, and individual Russians. In turn, these sanctions and the requirement that they remain in effect until Russia fulfills conditions it will never fulfill mean that Russia has no choice but to rely on China as its major diplomatic partner. Because Russia cannot engage with the West, Moscow lacks any leverage or room to maneuver in the relationship with China, even if they would prefer a Chinese to a Western alliance. Thus under the status quo, Russia is doomed to be not just a junior partner to China, but a satellite and human shield, which China can, theoretically, push into confrontation with the West in Ukraine whenever it needs to distract attention. This is an intolerable position for Russia. It is strategically disadvantageous for the West.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian regions Donetsk and Luhansk (which declared “independence” from Ukraine the same year as the Crimea crisis) are financial and political black holes for Russia, but Russia cannot withdraw from them or return them to Ukrainian control without concessions, and definitely not with the appearance of doing so under pressure. At the very least, conceding them to a Ukraine which still claims Crimea and states an intention of retaking it would vindicate the Ukrainian nationalist position. Yet Kiev cannot make any sort of “grand bargain” that might concede Crimea in the face of domestic opposition when the West still insists it is illegally held—despite the fact that absolutely no one has a realistic plan for how that could be reversed.

One very rational theory of the current Ukraine crisis, then, is that Putin’s objective is to break this impasse and move beyond it, not exacerbate or prolong it. Whether it be seizing Kiev, threatening the Baltic states, or occupying territory where a resistance movement would arise, all of these would worsen the trap, and leave Russia worse off strategically. But if the result of a Russian operation was to force Kiev and the West to formally recognize Russian control of Crimea in exchange for a withdrawal and guarantee of autonomy for the rest of Ukraine, the frozen conflict would be ended. There would no longer be any pretense for sanctions on Russia, which means they would rapidly fall. With sanctions gone, there would be a path to cooperation. The major threat of Ukrainian NATO membership, namely Kiev’s desire to retake Crimea, would be taken off the table. With those obstacles out of the way, the natural incentives for cooperation between Russia and the West – in the Middle East, in East Asia, and elsewhere – would take precedence over a conflict which makes little strategic sense for either side. And Putin would have successfully resolved the issue rather than leaving it “hanging” for a successor.

There are hints from the Russian side that this is indeed the idea. Sergey Karganov, seen as close to Russian Foreign Policy hardliners, implied as much in a recent interview conceding that NATO expansion was a fact that little could be done about, and that Russia’s goal had to be to consolidate its relationship with the West now as a prelude to friendly relations in a decade.

How does this factor into the behavior of the Biden Administration? Various American figures have cautiously floated the idea that Crimea’s status might be a settled issue, and that the U.S. might benefit from recognizing Russia’s seizure in exchange for something. Such suggestions always hinged on what that “something” would be—which was hard to define, not least because it was always as much a matter of image as substance. They struggled to articulate what they would have wanted. And after the Russiagate hysteria consumed Trump’s presidency, it became dangerous for any Republican to voice such thoughts, and unthinkable for a Democrat. But the conclusion is too logical for the notion to have vanished entirely.

As improbable as it may seem, it may be that Putin is in fact offering the answer with his present actions. The United States has painted his moves as the prelude to World War III, and his ambitions involving not just all of the Ukraine, but potentially the Baltics as well. An eventual settlement in which Ukrainian independence is preserved, and all that it “costs” is recognition of the status quo ante (i.e., acknowledging the obvious reality in Crimea) would look like a massive victory given the buildup of the last few months. It would mean Putin abandoning most of his demands, and conquests which the United States seems at pains to suggest they can do nothing to stop him from making.

In this scenario, there are two distinct issues at play. First is whether the Biden Administration believes that Putin actually is planning to invade and potentially go for Kiev. The second is whether or not they would want to promote that idea. Experts can speculate over the first. What is most interesting is the contrast between the public statements of the Biden administration – alarmist, warning of an imminent military threat – and their actions, in which they not only seem to be taking few if any steps to respond, but in some cases doing the opposite, ruling out options for retaliation and leaking that they might not even aid the Ukrainian resistance to a Russian occupation. If the Biden administration did believe the Russian threat was real and wished to deter it, doing the opposite would make the most sense. Even if they did not in fact intend to fight a proxy war in Ukraine following a Russian invasion, implying they would or at least keeping their intentions ambiguous would serve to heighten the costs of Russian intervention and keep them guessing. By contrast, what purpose does it serve to leak discussion about abandoning Ukrainian insurgents in the event of a successful Russian invasion?  

Usually a propaganda war, like any other sort of war, is adversarial. But this informational war is oddly collaborative. The goal of both Russian and American messaging is to convince the wider world that a Russian invasion is imminent, it will involve overwhelming force, that Russia’s ambitions are vast. So that brings up the question: why?

The answer does not appear to be that either or both sides want a fight. Both Russian and American messaging is counterproductive to their nominal goals – deterring any Russian moves in the case of the U.S., gaining a secure borderland in the case of Russia. But there is one possible benefit of raising the stakes in public consciousness to this degree: It makes any eventual compromise look much better.

While this theory is of course speculative, there is reason to believe that Putin’s real objective here is indeed a “reset” of relations with the West. He intends to threaten war and the total destruction of the Ukraine to showcase the dangers a continuation of the post-2014 status quo will entail for all involved. That in turn will pave the way for a justification of ending the frozen conflict through Western recognition of his 2014 gains. The White House, by embracing his saber rattling, is effectively agreeing with Putin that the status quo is untenable, which will justify their agreement to his terms, and perhaps even allow Biden to claim a great diplomatic “victory”.

This would not bring “friendship” between Russia and the West. The Russian leadership does not believe friendship with the liberal elites who currently govern the West is possible because they do not believe those elites are capable of genuine friendship or even equal relationships with those who do not share their values and worldview. They look at the efforts to exclude not just Viktor Orban from the West, but the Polish government as well due to its positions on abortion. If there is no place for Poland or Hungary in Biden’s “alliance of democracies” what place could there be for a Russia?

However, nothing is forever, and many of those around Putin seem to suspect that the liberals who rule the West may not rule forever, and even if they remain in power, within five to ten years the rise of China will force them to realize that “purity” is a price they can no longer afford when it comes to allies. When that happens, when the West needs Russia, then there might be the chance for a real reset. But for that to happen, Russia needs to end the Cold War over the Crimea, the sanctions which come with it, along with the “poison” it has injected into American and European discourse. Only then can time do its work.

Does this mean war won’t break out? No, there is a reasonable chance of a Georgia 2008-style operation in which a Ukrainian military defeat would provide the justification for the settlement. But it is hard to see what Putin has to gain from an occupation of tens of millions of hostile Ukrainians which would worsen his dependence on China. It may very well be that rather than being on the brink of war, the West and Russia, they may be on the brink of a genuine reset in their relationship.

Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. 


We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...

Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.

Donate Now

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter
and Download the AMAC News App

Sign Up Today Download

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter!


Subscribe
Notify of
41 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dr Moe Howard
8 months ago

Putin will do whatever he WANTS! He’s not afraid of Sippy Cup Joey. Biden can’t read from a teleprompter for 40 seconds straight without screwing up. He’s got 8500 troops ready… Yeah.. WTF are they gonna do against 200,000 troops…. If Biden had any sense he’d go back to Trump’s policies. I don’t like Trump personally but…. his policies on everything made me feel safe

Becky
8 months ago

If our military since the Jihadi Mooslem wasn’t led by snivelling little worms, America should return to our old policies. Get the hell out of everyone else’s business. Until they attempt to harm the world.
Then bomb the hell out of them.

A million times better than this perpetual interfering and babysitting. And bankrupting us to fill the pockets of friends and cronies.

Raymond Badynskyj
8 months ago

After reading the article by Daniel Roman I believe he would have sided with Hitler at the 1938 Munich Conference that resulted in the Sudetenland being sliced from Czechoslovakia and given to Germany so that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain could go back to Great Britain and wave his magic document that promised “peace in our time”. That did not satisfy Hitler for long.

Putin is not a democrat. He is an authoritarian close to being a dictator. He opines for the glory of the Soviet Union under Stalin. He has designs on every country, now free, that was once part of the Soviet Union to be brought back into the fold. He sees most of these countries, now part of NATO, and is demanding that NATO almost abandon them. He is a bit late with most of them because it took time to rebuild the Russian military after the collapse of the Soviet Union and now NATO has taken root in these countries but sees an opportunity with Biden’s weakness and with Ukraine not yet part of NATO. As long as the concept of “Mother Russia” lives, no country in Eastern Europe is safe from Russian Imperialism.

It is interesting to see in the article how Mr. Roman reduces Ukraine (and not “the” Ukraine) to the status of a pawn on a chess board much like what happened to Czechoslovakia. Ukraine was invaded in 2014, lost Crimea, and has a Russian backed insurrection on its eastern border and the world hardly could be bothered. By not addressing it then, we have the situation today. Appease Putin now and he will come back and want more of what he thinks Russia is entitled to just like how Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia in less than a year after the Munich Agreement.

And by the way, Kiev is the Russian spelling of Kyiv which is how the Ukrainian government is insisting its capital city be spelled.

Becky
8 months ago

Since he was KGB, he IS a dictator.

BAE
8 months ago

I really would like to know how much money corrupt Biden and his son Hunter have gotten from Russia, Ukraine, and China. Will we ever know? I hope so; they are so corrupt !!!

Philip Hammersley
8 months ago

Biden and Barry O gave the Russians Crimea and their always-coveted warm-water port in ’14 so Putin has no fear of Senile Joe’s “words” such as they are. He will take as much of Ukraine as he wants: part or whole. And Biden will do NOTHING of significance. Besides being senile he has never understood how the world works. He only knows how to graft money.

CharlieSeattle
8 months ago

Did’ja forget?? Trump did not make them give it up during his 4 years.

Barb304
8 months ago
Reply to  CharlieSeattle

So? We’re not discussing President Trump here. It’s all in Bidy Boy’s hands now! And we all know how ‘well’ he’s doing don’t we?

Becky
8 months ago
Reply to  CharlieSeattle

Gee….maybe because he had more important things to focus on…..like the health of the US after the Jihadi mooslem wrecked it.

Scott
8 months ago

I wonder what China is doing while all eyes are focused on Russia?

Max
8 months ago
Reply to  Scott

It is a table tennis/ping pong match. The Russians and Chinese tag teaming together verses the USA. Not going to be an equal match at all.

Barb304
8 months ago
Reply to  Scott

Nothing good for us I’m sure.

johnh
8 months ago

AMAC: I would like to see an article on where you think that future USA elections are headed in the future. It must be very disturbing to many voters when the both of the last two Presidents have stated that elections are fraud or not legitimate. The 2022 mid-terms are only a few months away & now Biden says this will not be legit unless his Election Reform passes. That is almost blackmail to voters and sort of telling people why vote if you do not count. Why should any of us voters donate to candidates of either Democrat or Republican party if the top leaders do not believe in election.
My biggest concern is what will happen in future if either party does not accept election results!!!!!

PaulE
8 months ago
Reply to  johnh

Are you sorry you voted for Biden yet?

Myrna Wade
8 months ago

Excellent. Sheds light not available anywhere else.

Mic J Palazzolo
8 months ago

Politics…A perpetual make work project.

Robert
8 months ago

While actual leaders contemplate the world stage and their country’s interest, our leaders play with toys in a kindergarten sandbox contemplating their personal interests.

Tim Toroian
8 months ago

He wants Biden to play Neville Chamberlain so he and the rest of NATO will GIVE him Ukraine. Then something else after that.

Alberta Kanya
8 months ago

I wonder if Biden realizes how flimsy the assumption that Nato countries will back any moves of Russia to take the Ukraine because Putin could turn off the gas and gasoline he is supplying to the European Union countries because of the cancellation of the US pipelines and fracking.

Steven E King
8 months ago
Reply to  Alberta Kanya

Add that we (US) are getting over 200,000 barrels of oil a day from Russia since Biden took over.

johnh
8 months ago
Reply to  Steven E King

FOX news today had following barrels of oil per day US is importing from Russia:
Oct 2017=18,000 and Oct 2020= 145,000 and Oct 2021= 206,000. —This is a very disturbing trend & today value is about $80 per bbl

PaulE
8 months ago
Reply to  johnh

That’s what happens when Biden shut down the Keystone pipeline, stopped any future drilling of oil and natural gas on federal lands and his administration “suggested” banks not provide loans and lines of credit to American oil companies as part of his “climate change” strategy. Thus providing a one two punch to the American energy sector.

The reason we now have global oil at over $80 a bbl is because the United States output of American drilled oil and natural gas has declined nearly 2 million barrels a day and changed us from an energy exporter to once again an energy importer dependent on the whims of OPEC and other foreign nations. Bad administration policies do indeed result in higher prices. Elections have consequences.

HocasPocas
8 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Biden crime family making all kind of money from deal

Tom
8 months ago

Putin has shown a willingness to take territory that he believes belongs to mother Russia. He took the Crimea with barely a whimper from the POS who was in The White House at the time. Well guess what? He knows there’s another POS in the White House now, so who knows what he might do? I know one thing, when he hears either the president or the vice president speak I’m sure he’s laughing his head off just like the rest of us.

HocasPocas
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Can you really stand listening to their mutterick?

Elton Yancey
8 months ago

Think more about Russia and less about China.Bad idea.

Russ
8 months ago

Biden is consulting with Putin behind the scenes and will sellout US interests as soon as he finds a way to do it and have his pet media cover for him. This article may be right. Biden might officially recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

PaulE
8 months ago

Yet another article questioning what Putin really wants regarding the Ukraine. Putin has never made it a secret, that he firmly disagreed with the decision of Gorbachev to dissolve the Soviet Union and end formal communist control of the countries that made up the U.S.S.R. Putin has given many interviews on the subject over the years and those interviews were printed in multiple western newspapers at the time. Putin generally doesn’t care about most international agreements he signs nor does he particularly care what European leaders think, as he doesn’t respect or fear them. In that sense, he is very much like President Xi of China. Utter contempt for other world leaders that they consider weak and feckless.

One of Putin’s primary goals is to reconstitute the former glory days of the U.S.S.R. by putting all the geographic pieces back together. Putin does long for the days when the U.S.S.R. was a major world power, that could influence leaders around the world by merely suggesting Moscow was not happy with something. While Russia still has some influence, primarily economic through its oil and natural gas exports to Europe, that’s not on the same scale as “the good old days” Putin desires.

A number of smaller former Soviet Union countries surrounding Russia have to one extent or another already essentially rejoined Russia via the election of authoritarian leaders, who have quickly established close ties with Putin. Ukraine would be one of the biggest chess pieces on the board for Putin to re-take, as it territory would extend Russian influence much closer the western European countries and also provide Putin with the necessary buffer zone he desires to prevent the west from staging missile defense systems closer to Russia.

No, Putin doesn’t want an outright war with NATO or western Europe. He honestly doesn’t need a large scale war to achieve most of the goals he desires. So aside from the expected military invasion of the Ukraine, at some point in the near future to re-take territory that Russia considers theirs, it is doubtful Putin will press for a large scale push into Europe. Europe making itself dependent on Russian natural gas has effectively given Russia power over most the leaders of western Europe to pretty much tolerate anything short of a full-scale military invasion of western Europe itself. Nord Stream 2 going on-line was the checkmate move of the game (say thank you Ms. Merkel for selling Europe out), as it cemented European dependence on Russia for decades to come. So why waste Russian military resources for a economic war that Putin has already won via the stupidity of western European leaders?

European leaders are realistic enough to understand that without the military support of the United States, which is pretty obvious not even potentially on the table after Biden’s comments the other day, that they themselves don’t have the military means to fight a large scale military engagement against Russian forces. That’s what happens when European leaders for decades leaders prioritize an ever -expanding social welfare state over national defense. Plus Russia has the added advantage that Putin literally has the means to freeze to death most of Europe simply by shutting off the natual gas flow.

D.P.
8 months ago

For me, the burning question is “what are Biden and his twisted handlers up to?” We all know someone is behind the scenes on all that this president is doing and saying, even in his present state of decline, both personally and politically….and we need to know just who those people are….they need watching….they need exposing. Only then can pressure be brought directly to change the course they have set….in secret, from behind the curtain and under the table. Putin is more than happy to use the words and actions of others for his own gain…and knows full well, the U.S. with it’s failed and failing leadership is no more a threat than the Ukranians.

Max
8 months ago

As stated before, Putin wants the old Soviet Union put back together as a new Russian empire. He will take the necessary steps either diplomatically or militarily to achieve this goal. He will work through deception or any other means as long as it benefits the Russian empire. He will not act impulsively but will wait for the right time to make his moves. He will also do his best to create a buffer zone to protect the Motherland.

anna hubert
8 months ago
Reply to  Max

Might he want a total control of Black Sea?

Max
8 months ago
Reply to  anna hubert

Yes, the Russians have always desired ice free ports to utilize for their economy and naval assets.

Russ
8 months ago
Reply to  Max

Putin is just like democrats. It is the end result that matters. No matter who gets hurt, what laws you break, who’s sovereignty you violate all that matters is the end result. Just like a democrat.

Frank
8 months ago

I guess everyone forgot how Ukraine, Bosnia and the other countries of this part of the world are controlled by power mongering and bloodthirsty rulers that harbor terrorists that have attacked Russia in the past. This part of the world also is noted for kidnapping women for their sex ring and like Mexico are a huge drug ring and weapons are trafficked through these countries not to forget that the Military suppresses the people in the name of their ruler. These countries are always in the news for negatives so just maybe Putin is doing the world a favor. I for one remember and I don’t care what Putin does.

Russ
8 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Totally agree but the Clinton-Epstein child sex ring, an open border allowing unlimited drugs in, fast & furious, illegally detaining J6 protesters without bond or a speedy trial in the name of our ruler, Afghanistan supplying the Taliban makes us appear much like what you describe. We need to clean up our own country before we go telling other countries how to run theirs.

Phillip
8 months ago

I spend two hours each week on Skype with an extremely intelligent Russian living in St. Petersburg. It is clear to me that Russia is more free than the US under democrats. I do not believe Russia is as big a threat to world peace as the US democratic party.

41
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x