Since Moscow’s Anschluss of Crimea almost a year ago, many in Russia, Ukraine and the West have asked not only why Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of aggression but also why he has chosen it now rather than at some other time and what his timing says about his broader plans for the future.
Some have suggested that it reflects simply a desire to save himself by “a short victorious war.” Others have said that his moves are a reflection of his assumption that no Western leader will stand up to him. And still others that the Kremlin leader is animated by a sense of his own greatest as the latest “ingatherer of the Russian lands.”
Now that it has become clear that the Kremlin leader is stepping up the level of Russian aggression in Ukraine by sending additional men and materiel into Ukraine in an effort to end the stalemate that had been emerging between pro-Moscow and Ukrainian forces there, analysts are again asking why now and what does Putin’s timing presage for the future.
Today, as reported by Kseniya Kirillova, Nikolay Vorobyev, a Ukrainian analyst now living in Washington, provides six reasons for Putin’s latest moves, reasons that he says were “predictable” if not always taken seriously.
The six are:
- The Russian economy. Putin and his entourage “are beginning to understand that the economic problems” Russia faces now are fundamentally different and much worse than those of 2008. They are “serious and long-term,” and consequently, the Kremlin wants to divert Russian attention from those to a foreign enemy lest protests against itself start up.
- The European Union. It is now clear that “no one intends to lift the sanctions against the Russian Federation” anytime soon. As a result, Vorobyev says, “Putin decided to launch an asymmetrical military strike not only against Ukraine but also to ‘show his teeth’ to the entire West,” lest the West disconnect Russia from the SWIFT banking system or do something else.
- The Minsk Agreements. Neither Moscow nor its clients in the Donetsk or Luhansk is going to observe the September 5 accords. “Putin needs a new Minsk and new accords that will be even more unfavorable for Ukraine. Therefore, his ‘force them to peace’ effort began earlier than planned.
- The Donetsk airport. The airport had become “a symbol of the steadfast nature of Ukrainian forces” and at the same time a very public indication of the weakness of the Russian side. That was too much for Putin and those around him and consequently, Vorobyev says, Moscow decided to intervene more massively and publicly than before.
- The United States. Not only is military assistance beginning to reach Ukraine, but the prospects are that there will be more of it now that the Republicans control Congress and Senator John McCain heads the defense committee. As a result, the situation for Russia in Ukraine is likely to worsen, and “the Kremlin decided to attack now.”
- Financial Assistance to Ukraine. The IMF, the World Bank and the US are beginning to provide the level of assistance to Kyiv that may allow Ukraine to avoid a default. Given that “the main goal of the Kremlin today is to weaken the economy as much as possible” before that aid arrives, Putin decided to move.
Given all these factors, Vorobyev says, “Ukraine today as never before must show the maximum of firmness, patience and solidarity.” What is happening now recalls the events in the Maidan last February 18-19, he says, and “we all know the result” of that for Ukraine and for its future.