What is Putin Thinking?

Writing in Transitions Online, Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought Peter Rutland speculates as to the rationale behind Russia’s show of force in the Crimea region of Ukraine. He considers the possibility that “Putin’s unilateral display of military muscle would seem a classic example of a state rationally pursuing self-preservation, using the means at its disposal,” though this seems unlikely, as Ukraine poses no real threat to Russia. Alternatively, Putin could seek to annex Crimea–or even other Ukrainian provinces where Russians form a majority–Rutland writes, though the advantages of doing so would pale in comparison to the international condemnation such an action would provoke. Putin’s strategy also could be to undermine the European Union to show its weakness, or to sow discord between the EU and the US. Finally, Rutland writes, “Grand strategy aside, maybe one can find a more mundane explanation for Russian behavior. As things were falling apart in Kyiv, Putin had to be shown to be doing something –anything – even if it did not make much sense from the point of view of Russia’s national interests. The military and security services had some contingency plans in their office drawers – to secure the Crimean peninsula, and to trigger an ersatz nationalist uprising in the Donbas.”

Rutland is also professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies, and a tutor in the College of Social Studies.