Published: March 7, 2014 (Issue # 1800)
On Sunday, Russian troops invaded Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine in which 15,000 sailors of the Russian Black Sea Fleet are stationed. What was the Russian president’s thinking in escalating a world crisis over the past week? Why has a politician, whom many considered to be a rational actor, chosen to intervene in Ukraine?
Analyzing Putin’s mind is not a simple task. His statements are often contradictory. He maintains, for example, that Ukraine’s new leaders should have adhered to the deal brokered by European foreign ministers on Feb. 21 that would have allowed Viktor Yanukovych to remain in office as president until an early election that was scheduled for December, according to the agreement. Yet Russia took no part in that discussion and refused to sign that agreement. Perhaps even more significant, it has not advocated the return of Yanukovych, despite the fact that he has fled to Russian territory.
Putin also maintains that because of the collapse of the European Union-brokered deal, Russia is no longer bound by the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, according to which Russia, the U.S. and Britain committed themselves to guaranteeing the security of Ukraine. Many were left scratching their heads, asking what the link was between the two events.
In essence, according to this line of reasoning, the protest leaders carried out an illegal coup. Yet it was precisely as this deal was being debated that the former president ordered his troops to use live ammunition on the protesters, carrying out a massacre on the square. Consequently, Yanukovych lost his majority support in the parliament as many Party of Regions deputies deserted to the opposition. Sensing that he had lost all support and legitimacy, he fled to Russia.
What else do we know about Putin’s thinking on Ukraine? What could have prompted him to flout the Budapest Memorandum and perpetuate and give new credibility to the old canard of Russian aggression against Ukraine? If we assume for the moment that we are inside Putin’s head, then it might run something like the following: