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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been ringing propaganda-laced alarm bells about the U.S.-led NATO alliance. Putin portrays it as the “enemy” at Russia’s gates, threatening the besieged motherland — which only Putin can defend.
But the alliance is instead comprised of Russia’s sovereign, free, democratic neighbors committed to the principles of freedom and liberty, each determined to counter Russia’s economic predation and nefarious political influence — which most threaten Putin’s regime security.
What scares Vladimir Putin the most? It’s always been democracy, especially in the former Soviet Union, whose collapse Putin once called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS – IT’S TIME FOR BIDEN TO SURPRISE PUTIN
That is why Ukraine has been under siege with increasing intensity from the Kremlin’s cyber, economic and military attacks since 2014 when Russia began backing separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region with military and material support and illegally annexed Crimea. Nothing threatens Putin’s regime security more than Ukraine, a democratic neighbor with a bright economic future and sizable Russian-speaking population.
In a throwback to an eerily similar justification Hitler used to annex the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, Putin justified the Crimea referendum and his decision this week to send troops thinly disguised as “peacekeepers” ostensibly to defend Ukraine’s ethnically Russian population.
Russia’s aggression has only increased NATO’s commitment to mutual defense, with commensurate troop and military equipment deployments to the most vulnerable NATO members on Russia’s border. In Putin’s world, a strong NATO in conflict with Russia lends credibility to his propaganda myth that only he, the KGB operative in the Kremlin, can defend Russia from Russia’s pernicious enemies.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be costly to Russia’s economy in terms of lost trade, sanctions, and significant budget resources devoted to the Donbas region just as there was for Crimea including building the Kerch straight bridge as well as South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
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But for Russia, which reportedly lost 1% of its GDP as a result of sanctions the West levied in 2014, guaranteeing Putin’s regime security is worth the cost — even if it makes Russia more subservient to China for imports of its hydrocarbons. And all the better if the Ukraine crisis results in higher oil and gas prices, which can offset some of those losses.
Make no mistake, Putin is targeting first and foremost Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also by extension the EU, NATO, and most especially Russia’s “Main Enemy” the United States. Putin wants to demonstrate that the West is an unreliable ally, who failed to prevent Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea; massive cyber-attacks on Ukraine’s media, electric power grid, and government ministries; and repeated violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
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Putin cannot allow Ukraine to succeed as a democracy, which would serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for his own domestic opponents who are denied basic civil liberties including freedom of expression and assembly. Putin’s long-term objective is the destruction of Ukraine as a state.
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