Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very clear about his fundamental goals in invading Ukraine: he wants to disarm the country, sever ties with the NATO military alliance and end the Ukrainian people’s aspirations to join the West .
While guessing exactly how he plans to execute this plan is another matter, the story can serve as a guide to understanding Putin’s possible endgames.
Annexation of Crimea 2.0
If Russian forces manage to seize the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, it is possible to imagine a land bridge crossing southern Ukraine, potentially connecting Transnistria – a separatist enclave in Moldova, where Russian troops – in Odessa, Crimea and southern and eastern Ukraine.
A partitioned Ukraine
If Putin has partition in mind, Galician Ukraine and the city of Lviv – near the Polish border – could potentially become part of some sort of rump Ukrainian state, while Russia focuses its attentions on eastern country.
A pro-Russian state
Western intelligence officials are warning that Russia is planning to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government, replacing it with a puppet regime. Putin has hinted that he views the current democratically elected government in Ukraine as illegitimate and lamented the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Ukraine has other politicians who may be keen to fill the ranks of a pro-Russian government, possibly installed by force.
A difficult job
Russia says it doesn’t want to be an occupier, but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where Russia tries to impose its brutal form of rule on Ukraine. It would be a hard pill for Ukrainians to swallow as they have a free press, freewheeling local politics and a tradition of street protest. In the Russian political system, genuine opposition demonstrations are either largely prohibited or very difficult to organise.
A violent occupation
Putin had no problem supporting violent local strongmen with little regard for human rights. His own political rise began with the pacification of Chechnya, a breakaway republic in the Russian North Caucasus.
A republic of fear
Russia has a formidable internal security apparatus that imprisons and persecutes dissidents and keeps potentially troublesome opponents out of politics. Ukrainians living in Crimea – which was occupied by Russia in 2014 and annexed after a referendum widely seen as a sham – have experienced first-hand what it is like to live in a state where the FSB, the service of Russian state security, is all-powerful.
You can read the full analysis here.