U.S. intelligence laying out the positioning of Russian troops and artillery suggests President Vladimir Putin is readying for a possible invasion of Ukraine, as our exclusive reporting from Alberto Nardelli and Jennifer Jacobs shows.
While Putin says he doesn’t plan a war, he has long accused NATO of plotting to undermine Russia’s security.
That helps explain Russian anger over Ukraine’s tilt to the West and Putin’s determination to keep a grip on neighboring Belarus, even as President Alexander Lukashenko — an international pariah even before last year’s disputed elections — stokes a border crisis with the European Union over migrants.
The messianic reading of all this is that Putin regards himself as on a historic mission to unite the so-called “Russian world” that extends into Ukraine and Belarus.
Russia already seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and is backing separatists in the country’s east. Ukraine, he wrote in a 7,000-word essay in July, “was shaped — for a significant part — on the lands of historical Russia.”
A more pragmatic interpretation is that Putin spots an opportunity to strike a deal on Russia’s “red lines” over potential NATO expansion into Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. He said in a speech last week that “it is imperative to push for serious long-term guarantees that ensure Russia’s security” along its western borders.
NATO argues it poses no threat as a defensive alliance. Still, the Kremlin has used the fact of military expansion toward Russia since the end of the Cold War to persuade Russians that only Putin can protect them. The folk memory of insecurity is real enough for Russians, who recall the enormous losses suffered during the Nazi German invasion in World War II.
As a KGB spy in East Germany, Putin watched Soviet power drain away in eastern Europe before returning, humiliated, to Russia. He may be bluffing about invading Ukraine, but the resentment against NATO is deep-seated and real.