Foreign Policy

Why Does Russia Want Ukraine, and What Does It Mean for the Future?

11 Things to Know about the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Mar 1, 2022 By Will Hurd
Updated: Dec 27, 2023
Russia vs Ukraine flag on cracked wall, concept of war between russia and ukraine, silhouette of soldiers on russia vs ukraine flag
7 min read

With Russian troops conducting a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, citizens of the United States and European Union concerned about the possibility of a world war have been asking why does Russia want Ukraine? The current crisis has roots going back to 2014 when Russian President Vladimir Putin first violated the Ukrainian border by invading two parts of the country – Crimea in the south and the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine. Early Thursday morning on February 24, 2022, Russian forces began a military action to assault the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and remove Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from power in an effort to topple the Ukrainian government.

What does Russian President Vladimir Putin want?

To understand Russia’s invasion of Ukraine we have to understand Russia’s leader who was forged in the intelligence services of the Soviet Union. His first stint as President began in 2000 and since tasting that power his overaching goal has been simple

To Die in Office

Like all autocratic leaders, Putin’s number one goal is to stay in power until he dies. While Putin has absolute control over the government, businesses, and the media, Russian public opinion still matters. When public opinion turns to public outrage, mass protests follow. A recent example of this reality was the “Bloody January” protests in Kazakhstan at the beginning of 2022. Mr. Putin had to send Russian forces to quell protests in the former Soviet Republic. The need for this action was a reminder to Russian officials that even autocratic rulers who rule with an iron fist need to prevent public outrage by keeping public opinion on your side.

To Cement His Place in Russian History Books

Putin wants to be remembered in Russian history books as the individual who reversed the collapse of the former USSR following the end of the Cold War and rebuilt a Russian empire. Pursuing this desire allows Putin opportunities to manipulate Russian public opinion by appealing to Russian Nationalism. This formula has worked before and he knows it will work again.

He’s lied over the recent weeks to his population about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) wanting to invade Russia. His propaganda machine has benefitted from having former and current Democratic and Republican politicians and Conservative commentators reinforce these Russian lies. Putin’s televised address hours before the Russian invasion, claiming he was conducting a special military operation and lying about the reason he was sending his armed forces across Ukraine’s borders was an excuse.

It was a made-up pretext for him to achieve his desire to bring the former Soviet Republics that became independent states back under the Russian sphere of influence.

To Make NATO Irrelevant

Putin wants to make NATO an irrelevant military alliance. After the end of World War II, NATO was created to defend Europe from an encroaching Soviet Union. NATO is the biggest impediment preventing Putin from achieving his dream or re-establishing Russia’s borders to the old USSR days.

NATO has been responsible for over seventy years of peace and prosperity in Europe. If Russian aggression and threats make other Eastern European countries rethink their desire to seek NATO membership, then Russia wins. If US President Joe Biden and NATO allies French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz aren’t on the same page about NATO expansion, then Russia wins. Weakening NATO is the only way the Russian leader will secure his position in the annals of Russian history.

Why should Americans care about Ukraine?

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Prior to the infamous phone call between Presidents Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy about whether or not America would provide equipment and supplies to help Ukrainian forces displace Russian soldiers from Eastern Ukraine, most Americans probably don’t think much about Ukraine. It was a faraway country that didn’t have much impact on our everyday lives. However, with Russia’s invasion in early 2022 this changed.

Global Instability Makes Inflation Worse

Americans should care about Ukraine because with inflation increasing the cost of goods and services from gas in your car to food in your pantry, global instability caused by war makes this reality even worse.

A recent article on the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine published in the Economist explained, “[the Russian invasion of Ukraine] will result in the isolation of the world’s 11th-largest economy and one of its largest commodity producers. The immediate global implications will be higher inflation, lower growth and some disruption to financial markets as deeper sanctions take hold.”

You Have Less Money to Buy Goods and Services

If you are living off retirement income or about to start living off retirement income, global uncertainty and war negatively affects the global economy and global markets which means you have less money to buy goods and services. 

In an article about how the Russia-Ukraine Crisis Shakes Markets, Jeff Sommer of the New York Times wrote, “The escalating conflict has shifted the value of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in millions of retirement accounts, even for people who have not thought deeply about Eastern Europe and who have never invested directly in oil, gas or other commodities.”

We Need To Have Our Friends’ Backs

If you want your friends to have your back when you need them, you need to have their back when they need you. We learned this on 9/11. When I talk about how foreign policy is not foreign and what USA foreign policy should be, I talk about how the world is an interconnected and dangerous place. It’s important to solve problems before they hit our shores and the only way to do that is to have a big posse that has your back.

The War in Ukraine Reverberates in Other Parts of the World

China wants to invade Taiwan and the West’s failure to help Ukraine, is a sign nobody has Taiwan’s back. While the Russia-Ukraine crisis feels like a blast from the past Cold War, we are in a New Cold War with the Chinese Government. The People’s Republic of China is trying to replace the United States of America as the sole global superpower by becoming the global leader in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing and bioengineering.

If the Chinese military were to cross the Taiwan Strait to subjugate the Taiwanese people, then Chinese President Xi Jinping would end up controlling over 70% of the world’s manufacturing capacity of semiconductors — the building blocks of the information revolution. Inflation and the semiconductor shortage we are experiencing will get worse. It will take forever to get new phones, cars, and stuff like refrigerators. When we can get these things, their prices will be sky high. Learn more about why is Taiwan important to the U.S.

What should we do next?

Historical Krakow, Poland

Be Prepared for the Next Moves

Because of the failure of Western Powers to do enough to prevent Russian troops from creating the Ukraine crisis, President Biden and world leaders need to be prepared to prevent Putin from invading Poland, the Baltics or other NATO countries. We do this by making it clear to Vladimir Putin and his cronies that if one Russian boot steps foot in NATO territory then we will mess them up.

The Biden Administration and the rest of the world need to prepare our citizens for the need to be able to back up this threat if we must. We will have to get over the hurdle of Putin and other nations seeing this as an idle threat, since President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan was viewed as an example of America not having the back of an ally. World leaders need to start making better cases to their citizens about the need to be tough with tough guys as a necessity to achieve peace.

Recommit to All For One and One For All

We need to make it clear to Putin and the rest of our adversaries that a cyberattack on a NATO country will trigger Article 5 of the NATO agreement, where an attack against one ally is treated as an attack against all. Cyberspace is a domain of conflict just like land, air, sea, and space. In this domain, Russia has been perfecting its tools of attack. We need to make sure we are prepared to defend against a digital attack on our homeland as well as respond if our friends are attacked.

Create Conditions for Another Color Revolution

The world needs to put the most draconian financial pressure and economic sanctions on Putin’s allies to create the same preconditions inside Russia that created the “the color revolutions” that led to independence movements in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. While Putin has absolute control in Russia, he needs help from officials who can be influenced by public opinion, especially if that public opinion were to turn to outrage.

These same officials have financial interests in the West, and they and their families enjoy the ability to benefit from the finer things afforded by life outside of Russia. These individuals need to suffer consequences for Putin’s destructive behavior because only then will they consider doing something to stop it.

Stop Nuclear Musical Chairs

We need to get the Germans to agree to not move nuclear weapons out of their country and we need to prevent Belarus from agreeing to move Russian nuclear weapons into their country. Since the end of World War II, the world has been able to prevent a nuclear conflict through a series of diplomatic initiatives and complicated nuclear weapons non-proliferation agreements. Actions in Germany and Belarus could cause a collapse of this framework which could trigger a chain-reaction of events that could create the most fragile and dangerous environment we have seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Do We Want To Go Fast Or Far?

NATO Headquarters

In mid-2019 during an address to a joint session of Congress, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reminded us that President Truman saw NATO as “a shield against aggression and the fear of aggression … which will permit us to get on with the real business of government and society, the business of achieving a fuller and happier life for all our citizens.”

The Ukrainian citizens trying to flee their country and the ones creating Molotov cocktails to defend their country wish this shield was protecting them. This shield remains indispensable to the almost 1 billion people living in NATO’s 29 member states, in cities from Los Angeles to London, and from Tallinn to Thessaloniki. Secretary-General Stoltenberg also told Congress that “it is good to have friends.” Sitting in the Chamber of the House of Representatives when he made this statement, it reminded me of an old Swahili proverb that says, “If you want to go fast – go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If we want to continue this period of peace and prosperity, then we need to be strengthening our alliances, not weakening them.

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