What does Vladimir Putin want? It’s a question Washington finds hard to answer because we Americans rarely put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Two important recent essays provide some clues. Both suggest that the Russian president has stayed in power since 1999 not by being a reckless gambler but rather by being careful, even rational.
Putin’s dilemma is that Ukraine is, in slow motion, escaping Russia’s grasp. In the past decade, the country has become more independent, democratic and pro-Western. The West, in turn, has been cooperating and assisting Kyiv in ever-greater measure. But Putin is probably also conscious of the reality that an outright Russian invasion would create what he fears most — a permanently anti-Russia Ukraine.
His goal, then, is to get the Americans and Europeans to recognize that Ukrainian membership in NATO is a step too far. He also wants for Kyiv to recognize that, in the long run, it has to have good (by which he means respectful, even subservient) relations with Russia.
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