Moscow analysts: Putin wants to destroy Ukraine’s independence, not seize the Donbas

Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow

Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow 


Those who hope for a resolution of what Moscow has managed to label “the Ukrainian crisis” need to recognize that Vladimir Putin has no interest in the Donbas or even some mythical “Novorossiya.” He wants to destroy the independence of Ukraine and is using both military and diplomatic means for the achievement of that goal.

That is the judgment of some of the best analysts in Moscow, two of whom, Igor Eidman and Pavel Felgenhauer, have offered parallel arguments and conclusions in their latest commentaries.

According to Eidman, Putin’s tactics in Ukraine remain the same: “the imitation of a step back” in order to allow “two steps forward along the path of expansion.” At present in fact, he points out, “Russia is introducing new military units in the Donbas and increasing attacks on Ukrainian forces.”

In a related move, “the Russian side is imitating a readiness for dialogue and for some concessions. As a result, the new Russian attack will not lead to a toughening of the position of the West and a strengthening of sanctions.” No one wants to irritate “’the Russian bear,’” and everyone seems to think that there can be “’a peace process.’”

But such people “do not understand that the Russian dictator needs all these talks in order to soften the reaction of the West to the expanding occupation of Ukraine.” He has no intention of stopping. “He doesn’t need the Donbas or even a mythical ‘Novorossiya.’ He wants to destroy the independence of Ukraine.”

Putin has never accepted the overthrow of Yanukovych, the Moscow commentator says, and he will continue to fight until he has “his own new puppet” in Kyiv, a kind of “Yanukovych-2.”

“The chief problem for the world,” he continues, is that “the Russian president is ill.” He views himself as a great historical figure blest by God and undefeatable — rather than a minor Chekist officer he in fact is who came to power thanks “to a tragic chain of accidental circumstances.”

Given his mania, Putin has “decided neither more nor less to subordinate Ukraine to himself.” Such an idea is ultimately condemned to failure, but he cannot admit that to himself or others and is counting on others to help him achieve his goal.

Felgenhauer, perhaps Russia’s most distinguished independent military analyst, says that those dealing with Moscow on Ukraine “need to understand what Russia’s strategic goals are.” These are “now completely understandable” and involve in the first instance “regime change in Kyiv.”

Putin doesn’t like the current cast of leaders in Ukraine, but that is far from the central issue, Felgenhauer continues. “Moscow is interested in a constitutional reform in Ukraine which will guarantee what Russia needs” – keeping Ukraine out of Western organizations and maintaining its neutrality.


Moscow wants a Ukraine in which “pro-Russian forces there will have a veto.” It doesn’t care about Ukrainian territory “as such.” It is interested “not so much in the Donbas as in Kyiv and in having definite control over all of Ukraine which in general must be a country with limited sovereignty.”

In pursuit of that goal, Felgenhauer says, Moscow is applying “various kinds of pressure on Ukraine: military, political and economic with the goal of destabilizing the situation and changing the regime.”

Russia doesn’t yet have a candidate to take over in Kyiv. It even, the Moscow military analyst says, “still hopes that Petro Poroshenko ‘will think it over’” and be prepared to agree to what Moscow wants. It is even “not against” the notion that the extreme right might seize power given that this would isolate Kyiv from the West by appearing to confirm Russia’s line.

“Obozrevatel,” the Ukrainian outlet to which Felgenhauer gave his interview, summed up his remarks in the following way: Given Putin’s goals of subordinating all of Ukraine rather than seizing the Donbas, “negotiations will not help; it is necessary either to win in war or lose sovereignty.”

Edited by: A. N.

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