What does Vladimir Putin want in Ukraine?
I think they’re doing the best they can, given the circumstances. Basically, what the administration is doing right now is definitely what I would recommend doing. But I don’t know if we can say if it will work or not. The real test is going to be over a long period of time. I don’t think this is going to be a short, sharp crisis.
What do you mean?
Putin has been trying to control Ukraine for years. They cut off the gas to Ukraine in 2006. He’s been in power for 22 years, and all that time he’s had Ukraine in his sights one way or another, and it’s intensified over time. Putin wants to be the person who, under his watch, under his presidency, brings Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit. And he could be president until 2036, depending on what is possible for him.
Is it fundamentally ideological for him, or geopolitical?
It’s about him personally – his heritage, his view of himself, his view of Russian history. Putin clearly sees himself as a protagonist in Russian history and puts himself in the shoes of former Russian leaders who tried to come together in what he sees as Russian land. Ukraine is the outlier, the one that got away that he has to bring back.
And does that mean he’s behaving irrationally here?
No, I don’t think he’s irrational at all, from his point of view. He is in a different setting from the one where we are. He lives in the story and his telling of the story. He is also part of a larger group of security officials in Russia who have opposed NATO expansion; they want the United States out of Europe.
But it seems that he has worsened his security situation.
It’s from our point of view, from the outside. We don’t know exactly what it says internally. From his current point of view, he is putting pressure on Ukraine and the Ukrainian economy is crushed. He has our full attention. We’re all running around doing nothing but talking about him. As he would say, he makes us listen now. Whether we hear him on the terms he wants us to use is another matter.