International South Connect

What Does Putin Want?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which many experts earlier claimed was not possible, is a living reality now. Amid flying missiles, incessant bombings, and death and destruction, many wonder what could be the conclusion and human cost of this offensive launched by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s undisputed leader for over two decades. In the 21st century, when the entire world is interconnected in some or other way, two countries indulging in a traditional and full-fledged military warfare against each other sounds like a 20th century thing. However, that did not deter Putin from bringing an abrupt and horrifying answer to a mystery that had absorbed the world for months, by sending his troops into the neighboring country. 

After the full-scale invasion Putin launched in Ukraine Wednesday night, there have been same type of questions in minds of not only his rivals, but also allies. What does Putin Want? How far will he go? What’s the ex-KGB officer’s endgame? 

What did Putin say? 

With the Russian flag behind him, seated at a desk in the Kremlin next to a battery of telephones, Putin gave an address to the nation on Thursday morning. He said he had authorized a “special military operation” against Ukraine to eliminate what he called a serious threat, saying his aim was to demilitarise Russia’s southern neighbour. Putin said he had been left with no choice but to launch the operation. 

“I have decided to conduct a special military operation.”

“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide… for the last eight years. And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said. 

“And to bring to court those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”

Reading between the lines

Russian President has not referred to the military action as “invasion”, nor has he shown an intent to annex the two breakaway regions of Ukraine- Donetsk and Luhansk, like he did with Crimea in 2014. Putin, this time around, is bent on military surrender by Ukraine. Putin wants to demilitarise Ukraine, which in turn will ensure safety of his country from its neighbour that had shown a great deal of interest towards the West by trying to join the NATO. 

Though many Putin critics and defense experts also claim that the Russian President’s aim behind this offensive is to restore the erstwhile USSR or the Soviet Union, a federal union of multiple national republics that spanned Eurasia during its existence from 1922 to 1991. The USSR collapsed and was dissolved in 1991, marking the culmination of the cold-war.   

In the last few months, Putin has deliberately misled and deceived people as to what his true intentions are. Earlier, the Russian premier had suggested he would launch an operation to defend the separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine. However, he ended up ordering a massive strike across the entire country. With his statement on “demilitarising” and “denazifying” Ukraine, one could gauge that at a minimum he wants to destroy Ukraine’s military infrastructure and replace its government with a puppet regime.

 Timing of the offensive

When the whole world is still scrambling to get over with the Covid-19 pandemic, Putin’s adventure in Ukraine looks timely and planned. The economic impact of the pandemic, even on the Western countries, has been massive. No country, at this given point, will risk going to war, considering the economic and human cost of the action. Putin gauged the reservations even the powerful nations will have to act militarily in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The fact that Putin was planning to invade Russia, even when he was saying that he’d not invade, could be understood by a few indications. Russia was scheduled to chair the UNSC in February 2022. Moreover, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Moscow on the very day Russia invaded Ukraine. Usually, world leaders tend not to go on foreign visits to countries that are actively involved in wars and their visit could have diplomatic repercussions. However, experts claim that Khan was used as a shield by Putin to keep Western countries in dark regarding his plan to invade, as many would have expected him to not do so on the day a foreign premier was visiting his country. 

What does Putin want?

“The purpose of military operation seems to be putting pressure on Ukraine and not so much about capturing territories or taking over Ukraine,” said Lt Gen DS Hooda (Retd), who is the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command, and was the Northern Army Commander during the ‘surgical strike’ in September 2016. 

“We, for now, don’t see any major operation to take over the country. There’s pressure in the South and East, but it’s not like he (Putin) has taken over major townships or has advanced deep into Ukraine. Militarily, he’s relying on cyber attacks, air attacks, missile barrages etc.Ultimately, all military operations are for some political objective. So some kind of a regime change could be one of his possible aims. Since the Zelinsky government was seemingly going pro-EU or pro-NATO, he wants to send a message that it is not acceptable to Russia,” Gen Hooda added. 

However, Gen Hooda was unsure if Putin could achieve a regime change with what he called a “minimum use of force”. 

“If you look at the casualties from both sides, it doesn’t look like a full-scale mass attack. So this is being used to build pressure to try and dissuade Ukraine from going the NATO way,” Gen Hooda said. 

“Are we seeing concerted efforts to capture and take over the countryside? No, we don’t see that. So he’ll try to capture some ports and airfields to pressurize the Ukrainian leadership.”

“Purely from the military perspective, if he actually wanted to drive into the country, he would have done it by now. He’s currently only on the periphery in South, East, around black sea port,” Gen Hooda said, stressing that its difficult to gauge his complete plan for now, and only new developments would guide us to any conclusions about his intentions. 

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