Norman Davies

What does Russia really want?

The question of ‘why’ Russia invaded Ukraine has been forgotten amid war’s fog. Greed and malice partially explains it. History, geopolitics and culture reveals more.

A country which has more land than anyone else on Earth is not grabbing territory for territory’s sake. Logically, Russia should be giving away land to anyone who might manage it better. But that’s not how Putin thinks. He is pursuing a dogged policy of annexations – first in Georgia, then in the Crimea, and now of four further Ukrainian districts.

Logically, Russia’s neighbours have more to fear than Russia has. But that’s not how Putin feels

Equally, a country which owns the world’s biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons can hardly be genuinely threatened by a non-nuclear neighbour. Logically, Russia’s neighbours have more to fear than Russia has. But that’s not how Putin feels.

Putin’s declared aims include the wish to ‘re-unite’ Russia with Ukraine, and the ‘duty to protect’ Ukraine’s Russian minority from nationalists, fascists and neo-Nazis. The first aim ignores the Ukrainians’ own wishes, and the second has many baleful precedents. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain fell for the notion that Czechoslovakia’s German minority was suffering discrimination; he soon discovered, despite Berlin’s assurances, that the Third Reich was preparing to destroy Czechoslovakia. In 1939, word was put about that Germans were repressed in Poland. We now see a cynical prelude to the invasion of Poland and to Germany’s bid for Lebensraum. Specious pretexts conceal ulterior motives.

  1. Putin wants to recover what was lost 30 years ago, or at least significant parts of it. If this is true, one has to say that so far Putin has not been very successful. His Chechen war halted the fragmentation which had destroyed the Soviet Union and threatened to continue.

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