Why Ukraine matters to Vladimir Putin explained as Russian President ‘fixates’ on country

Boris Johnson slams Putin for ‘barbaric’ tactics in Ukraine

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Russia invaded Ukraine last week in an unprovoked act of aggression against its former Soviet neighbour. Russian missile strikes have struck targets across Ukraine and paratroopers have landed in the country’s second-largest city Kharkiv. Outside Kyiv, a 40-mile Russian military convoy is waiting for what analysts believe will be an attempt to capture Ukraine’s capital.

Moscow has claimed its forces have captured the southern city of Kherson, although this is disputed by local leaders.

Putin’s invasion and his war tactics, including the alleged use of controversial weapons such as vacuum bombs, continue to draw condemnation from western leaders and multiple sanctions against the Russian economy and businesses.

US President Joe Biden warned Putin in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that he must “pay a price” for his invasion of Ukraine

For months, the Russian President denied that he planned to invade Ukraine, a country of 44 million people.

However, with hundreds of Ukrainians now reported to have been killed, questions remain about Putin’s goals in Ukraine and why the country matters to him.

Anton Troianovski, the Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, recently claimed the Russian leader was “fixated” on Ukraine, as he discussed his motives for war.

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The expert was interviewed by Michael Barbaro on the newspaper’s ‘The Daily’ podcast in December.

He said: “What we do know is that he has been extraordinarily fixated on the issue of Ukraine for years.

“But I think to really understand it, you have to look at three dates over the last 30 years that really show us why Ukraine matters so much to Putin.”

The first key date he picked out was the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 when Ukraine became independent.

Mr Troianovski said: “For people of Putin’s generation, this was an incredibly shocking and even traumatic moment.

“Not only did they see and experience the collapse of an empire, of the country that they grew up in, that they worked in – that in Putin’s case, the former KGB officer – that they served.

“But there was also a specific trauma of Ukraine breaking away.

“Ukraine, of all the former Soviet republics, was probably the one most valuable to Moscow.”

The expert pointed to the shared cultural history of Russia and Ukraine, including through Ukrainian-born Russian writers such as Mikhail Bulgakov and Nikolai Gogol.

He also referenced Ukraine’s military importance in the Soviet Union, not only in arms manufacturing, but also as a “buffer between Moscow and the West”.

Mr Troianovski claimed Putin was “clearly thinking” about how to re-establish Russian influence in Ukraine by the time he was inaugurated as President in 2000, as he tried to foster greater economic and political ties between the two nations.

The journalist said the second key year in the Russian leader’s Ukraine timeline is 2014.

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Following a period of civil unrest in Ukraine, a new pro-Western government came to power in the country that year, and the Russia-allied president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted.

According to Mr Troianovski, Putin viewed Ukraine’s revolution as a “coup” plotted by the CIA, the US intelligence agency.

In response, the Russian leader annexed Crimea, the southern Ukrainian Peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014.

He also armed pro-Russian separatists in the Ukrainian breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Moscow recognised the independence of the rebel-held regions in February before the invasion.

Mr Troianovski claimed the third key date for Putin and Ukraine was 2021.

This was the year when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became more “aggressive, anti-Russian and pro-Western”, according to the expert.

The Ukrainian leader cracked down on pro-Russian media and staged further military exercises with the US and other Western nations.

Mr Zelensky stressed last year that his ambition was to reduce the influence of powerful oligarchs in the country, including those with links to Russia.

He said: “We are building a country without oligarchs… A country for forty million citizens, not for a hundred of Forbes.

“A country where the state really helps business and big business doesn’t live at the expense of the state budget.”

Mr Troianovski said: “Putin made it clear that this was starting to cross what he describes as Russia’s red lines and that Russia was willing to take action to stop this.”

However, Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has been widely criticised, as have the brutal tactics Russian forces have deployed in the country.

The International Criminal Court is set to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine after Mr Zelensky accused Russia of using internationally banned weapons.

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