Valerie Bunce, an expert on Russian politics and Cornell University professor of International Studies and Government, says that Russia’s recent aggressive acts – waging war again in Ukraine, and now a Russian plane carrying a nuclear missile flying close to British airspace – all are part of Putin’s long-term strategy to strengthen Russia’s international influence and to stay in power.
“What is Vladimir Putin thinking when he supports an expansion of the war in eastern Ukraine and authorizes provocative flight patterns by Russian bombers? To answer that question, we need to focus on his objectives. In his early years in power, Putin had three, intertwined goals: stay in power, strengthen the Russian state and grow the Russian economy. Because he was so successful in the latter two areas, he was successful in the third and managed to remain Russia’s leader for 15 years.
“Since his return to the Russian presidency in March, 2012, Putin has narrowed his list of goals to two: staying in power and expanding Russian international influence. Just as the crisis in Ukraine has served as a key testing ground of these objectives, the West has emerged as the primary obstacle to achieving them. In Putin’s view, the West threatens his hold on Russian power in the international system in three ways. One is by exporting revolution. Here, Putin argues that the West, especially the United States, has long pursued a policy of promoting popular uprisings against authoritarian rulers. Just as Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 and 2013 have been cited as examples, so has Hong-Kong in 2014-2015.
“What makes these events so dangerous in Putin’s eyes are three incontrovertible facts: these protests spread quickly across state boundaries; they have often removed authoritarian rulers from office; and Russia experienced similar types of protests following the parliamentary elections in late 2011. Second, and again from Putin’s vantage point, the West is intent on moving Ukraine out of Russia’s zone of influence – where it naturally belongs – and into its zone of influence, given, for example, the new government’s interest in joining the EU and NATO.
Finally, the West has leveled significant economic sanctions against Russia as a result of its annexation of Crimea and its subsequent actions to de-stabilize eastern Ukraine. From Putin’s vantage point, these sanctions are not just damaging economically, especially in a time of low energy prices, they are also hypocritical given the West’s support of independence in Kosovo, on the one hand, and destabilization of many post communist regimes on the other.”