Nobody knows how Russian President Vladimir Putin and his lust for Ukraine eventually will play out. His taking of Crimea and the presence of Russian armed troops along the eastern border with Ukraine certainly resembles a country in an invasion mode and one with expansion plans.
There are those people, including close Russian observers, who believe Putin is doing what dictators often resort to when conditions are unsettling on the domestic front — they divert the attention of the people by creating a crisis, often with other countries that are portrayed as enemies. Putin claims he is taking actions to support Russian-leaning people in Ukraine. Russia has done this in other regions where there are Russian ethic groups. None, of course, are as big as Ukraine.
Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director of and a Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He wrote this is Foreign Affairs magazine: “By annexing Crimea and threatening deeper military intervention in eastern Ukraine, Russia will only bolster Ukrainian nationalism and push Kiev closer to Europe, while causing other post-Soviet states to question the wisdom of a close alignment with Moscow.” That’s an opinion from a man who knows Russia. He may be right.
One result of Putin’s actions is that he is much more popular in Moscow and other parts of Russia. His popularity has soared since he annexed Crimea and has fanned ethnic tensions in Ukraine. Putin may be a liar but he’s not a fool. He knows Russia could not win a war with European nations, aided by the United States. He also knows that he has enriched his own standing with the Russian people.
Will tougher economic sanctions make Putin back off? If they really hit home, Putin is going to do something to save face. Like all dictators he is a proud man. He may agree to some kind of a settlement that won’t make him look like a leader who has been forced to yield to a point that he appears weak.