by Politico Magazine
After his shocking invasion, the world wonders,
how far Russia's autocratic leader is
really willing to push...
Experts on Russia
from around the globe offer a look at what we can expect next.
This week brought an abrupt and horrifying answer to a mystery that
had absorbed the world for months, as Russian troops massed around
the Ukrainian border:
Was Russian President
Vladimir Putin really trying to start a war?
The full-scale invasion
he launched in Ukraine Wednesday night answered that question and
then posed another far graver mystery:
What is his endgame?
How far will he go?
Putin's speech announcing
what he called a "special military operation" made clear that he
wants more control over Ukraine and expects a confrontation with the
West and NATO.
How far he plans to take his offensive, and what's really driving
him, will help shape the response from America and the West -
and determine how far this conflict escalates.
To look ahead to where this conflict is headed and what might be
driving an increasingly autocratic leader with deep historical
grievances and a nuclear arsenal at his disposal - POLITICO
Magazine reached out to a range of,
Russians who know Putin as their day-to-day leader, to former
diplomats and others who've encountered him directly, to experts
outside the United States and Europe who have insights of their
The good news:
Most of them saw
limits to Putin's goals.
The bad news:
Those limits lie far
outside the boundaries of the global order we've come to rely
Here's what they said:
Evelyn Farkas served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense
for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia from 2012 to 2015.
It's clear now that Putin's endgame is nothing short of a
revanchist imperialist remaking of the globe to take control of
the entire former Soviet space.
He has complete
disregard for international law, norms and human rights and will
only be stopped by maximum economic, political and military
pressure. Russia is nothing less than a rogue state on par with
North Korea and Iran.
Now, it is our
obligation to protect the Ukrainian people and government,
to do better in terms of helping them secure their airspace and
to launch an active insurgency.
In addition, we must
slap the toughest sanctions on Russia including sectoral
We can blunt the
impact to allies and partners dependent on Russian oil and gas
by launching a Berlin airlift of fuel and pulling out all the
stops to avoid this war from spreading to NATO territory and
becoming a world war.
Ukrainian military facility burns
aftermath of Russian shelling
Mariupol, Feb. 24, 2022.
served as senior director for Russia on the National Security
Council staff during the George W. Bush administration and is a
distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
If Putin does have an endgame, it is not clear to outsiders at
For the past several
months, he has deliberately deceived people as to what his true
Most recently, he
suggested he would launch an operation to defend the separatist
regions in Eastern Ukraine, and then he ordered a massive strike
across the entire country.
So it is not clear
what his territorial ambitions are. That said, he has declared
that he will "demilitarize" and "denazify" Ukraine.
That would seem to
mean that at a minimum he wants to destroy Ukraine's military
infrastructure and replace its government with a puppet regime.
Kolesnikov is a senior fellow and chair of the Russian Domestic
Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie
Moscow Center in Moscow, Russia.
It is very difficult to determine what the endgame is for Putin.
One could assume that
it would be enough for him to be listened to by the strongest
leaders in the West. Or that
Donbas and Luhansk would
officially become his fiefdom.
And all this against
the background that he has suppressed civil society in his
country, and the elites are afraid of him.
But he probably
authorities in Kyiv under his control as a part of his
b) the world (or
at least part of it) playing by his rules
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy,
French President Emmanuel Macron and
Russian President Vladimir Putin
arrive at a working session in Paris
on Dec. 9, 2019.
Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via AP
is a professor emeritus at the City College of New York/City
University of New York, a senior research scholar at the
Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia
University, and director of the Grand Strategy program at
Putin may well have decided to take down the Ukrainian
government and put in place one beholden to Russia.
His statement to the
Russian people prior to launching this war, as well as the
extensive air and missile strikes on Ukrainian targets,
extending to the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine's far west,
suggests this possibility.
Putin may have
decided on objectives in Ukraine that will amount to a
burning of bridges with the West and is prepared to pay the
economic, strategic and political price.
is program director for Europe and Central Asia at the
International Crisis Group.
I suspect Putin has several endgame options.
There's the one where
everyone capitulates and he is proven correct, and he goes on to
enjoy a friendly Ukraine and a cowed, reeducated Europe.
He and his advisers
are probably not counting on that one, though, much as they'd
There's also the one
in which he does a good deal of damage to Ukraine, installs a
friendly regime there and settles in to manage Western sanctions
and dueling military buildups in Europe for the foreseeable
That may be one he
finds more likely, and thinks he can live with. There are surely
a few options in between, involving Ukraine's surrender on
But he is likely
underestimating Ukrainian resistance, the pain sanctions will
inflict over time, and not only Western, but global horror at
Russia's cruel and unprovoked attack on its
so-called Gray Zone
rebel-held territory near Zolote, Ukraine,
visible through a periscope, Feb. 19, 2022.
is a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for
International Studies and director of the Ford Dorsey Master's
in International Policy. His next book, Liberalism and Its
Discontents, will be published in May.
I believe that Putin's goal in Ukraine is to bring about the
collapse of the current democratic regime in that country
and replace it with a puppet government sympathetic to Moscow.
I think, however,
that it remains unlikely that Putin will do this by occupying
the whole of Ukraine in the short run. Russia right now does not
have remotely enough forces in the region to subdue a country of
nearly 40 million people.
I think what the
Russians are likely to do instead is target and destroy as much
of Ukraine's military as possible and then squeeze the country
economically until it becomes a failed state.
In this regard, it is
important to pay attention to Ukraine's Black Sea ports,
Mariupol, Kherson and Odessa.
These ports are
critical to the country's economic viability since Ukraine is a
huge agricultural exporter, and if Russia can effectively impose
a blockade on them, it will have a huge source of economic
Putin has made a
gamble here, and it is possible to imagine scenarios that lead
to triumph for him or to utter disaster.
What we need to pay
attention to is not so much sanctions - while I am in favor of
them, I don't think they will affect Russian behavior much - but
rather how the Ukrainian military does on the ground in terms of
inflicting costs on Putin's forces.
Shevtsova is the author of Putin's Russia.
Putin is not secretive about his twofold goal.
First, he wants to
subjugate Ukraine, tearing down its statehood.
Secondly, he hopes,
by strangling Ukraine, to force the West to accept his ultimatum
- rebuilding in Europe a Yalta-esque order with spheres of
influence and securing a Western pledge to not interfere in
Russia's geopolitical backyard.
The less responsive
the West is, the tighter will be the noose. Putin's success
depends not only on how Ukraine responds, but also on the West's
readiness to practice what it preaches.
He cannot afford to
Stoner is the director of and senior fellow at the Center on
Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford
University and the author, most recently, of Russia Resurrected:
Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order.
The Kremlin has employed overwhelming force because the goal is
to go far beyond Putin's pretext of protecting Russian
compatriots in the rump republics of the Luhansk and Donetsk
People's Republics (provinces in eastern Ukraine) that the
Russian government officially recognized as independent states
Clearly, the goal is
to absorb all of Ukraine into Russia despite the fact that
Ukrainians themselves clearly want to maintain their sovereignty
and their increasingly robust democracy.
Putin is counting on
being able to weather the already stiff sanctions from the
United States, the U.K. (where many wealthy Russians have
mansions) and the European Union.
The Kremlin has built
up a war chest of $700 billion in foreign reserves, among the
most of any country in the world, has a low debt to GDP ratio
(about 30 percent last year vs. 116 percent for the U.S., for
example) and is banking on its good macroeconomic policy in the
last decade to stand up, at least for a time, despite what the
West may yet throw at them.
Putin looks on during the opening ceremony
of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
If we are not willing
to put U.S. boots on Ukrainian soil, then sanctions are a start
in terms of trying to punish the Kremlin and increasing the cost
of continuing the war.
Beyond ratcheting up
sanctions and adding export controls, we can likely expect
cyberattacks from the U.S. on Russia, but we must be prepared to
absorb counter attacks on U.S. infrastructure in response.
There will be little
that we can do to stop Putin in his tracks, however.
Biden said Thursday,
up for 'freedom',"
...but Putin is hell
bent on standing up for authoritarianism.
Make no mistake, this
is a war on Ukraine's democracy and has nothing to do with
Russian fears of it one day joining NATO.
For Putin, the
example of a free, independent Ukraine on Russia's border is too
inspiring a model for his own people who might eventually demand
something similar at home, and that would mean his ouster.
So for him, Ukrainian
independence and democracy is an existential threat to his
endgame, beyond ensuring the survival of Putin's regime, is to
create a multipolar world where autocratic Russia and rising
China challenge Western liberal hegemony; the goal is nothing
short of the establishment of a new global order where might is
right, and state sovereignty, individual rights and freedoms,
and human rights are wrong.
was a career diplomat with the Indian Foreign Service, including
most recently as secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs
and earlier as head of the Soviet and East European Department
and political counselor in Moscow.
Putin is determined to go to any lengths to protect what it
considers its core national interests, just as JFK blockaded
Cuba in 1962 when the Soviet Union put its missiles in Cuba.
After the U.S.
thought it had won the Cold War, it relegated Russia to the
status of a strategically irrelevant country whose interests
could be ignored.
Putin has jolted the
West to take a reality check...
Putin doesn't want to
occupy Ukraine - that would be a bloody quagmire, much worse
than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I think he will try
to achieve Russia's military objectives as quickly as possible
and then withdraw.
The operation in
Kazakhstan last month is probably the template he would follow.
He would probably
want to have a pro-Russian, or at least not a hostile,
government in Kyiv, and for Ukraine to be a neutral state like
Finland, Sweden or Austria.
But Putin is not
going to let go of Crimea, and
Luhansk and Donetsk will become
puppet states, independent in name but effectively part of
Russia like South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
They will be the
bases for further encroachments on territory in Ukraine that
Putin's interest in
Ukraine is limited to the eastern, Russian-speaking parts of
Ukraine, not Western Ukraine which has dominated Ukrainian
politics since the Maidan revolution of 2014.
Of course, his
calculations could go wrong, and Russia could pay a heavy price,
but I think that Ukraine will be destroyed and there will be
heavy costs on Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world too.
Jermaine Starr, currently living in Kyiv, is the founder and
host of the Black Diplomats Podcast and a nonresident senior
fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center.
The issue with Putin is that none of what we are seeing has
anything to do with geopolitics.
It has nothing to do
with NATO. This is about Putin subjugating Ukrainians into a
sphere of Russianness.
He is doing this
because Ukrainians are not real people to him. That's how he
views Ukraine. Ukrainians are supposed to be subjects of the
Russian state. This is about Russian supremacy.
He's acting like
Southern Republican governors and lawmakers who are making up
lies about Critical Race Theory and turning it into a boogeyman.
This is Putin's
Critical Ukraine Theory. He's taking Ukraine and making it a
boogeyman. He's manufacturing lies about Ukraine.
He has essentially
racialized Ukrainians. If he can do that, he can justify to his
own people that this is a country that shouldn't exist anyway.
He hates these people.
He does not want them
A young Ukrainian civilian walks among debris
after Russia bombed an apartment complex in Chuhuiv,
Feb. 24, 2022.
Alex Lourie/Redux Pictures
Stent served in the Office of Policy Planning at the Department
of State from 1999 to 2001 and served as national intelligence
officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence
Council from 2004 to 2006. She is a nonresident senior fellow at
the Brookings Institution. Her latest book is Putin's World:
Russia Against the West and With the Rest.
Putin has at least three endgames.
The first and most
immediate is to install a new government in Kyiv that will be
subservient to Moscow.
The next goal is to
get the West to recognize that Russia has a right to a sphere of
influence in the post-Soviet space and that NATO and the EU
should stop trying to engage these countries.
The third - and most
ambitious - is to relitigate the end of the Cold War, revise the
current Euro-Atlantic security system and recreate a sphere of
influence in the states of the former Warsaw Pact.
Goldgeier is a visiting scholar at the Center for International
Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, a visiting
fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the
Brookings Institution and a professor at the School of
International Service at American University.
Putin has made no secret over the years of his belief that
Ukraine does not have the right to exist as an independent
country, and he has launched a horrific invasion of the country
to ensure Russian control over it.
One goal of this
invasion is to topple the current government of Ukraine and try
to rule the country through a puppet regime.
With Russian troops
stationed further to the West in both Belarus and Ukraine, Putin
puts more pressure on NATO's eastern members.
After all the talk of
the need for European strategic autonomy, Putin has once again
highlighted European dependence on the United States for their
security against Russian aggression.
The United States
will need to put even more troops into Eastern Europe and to
abandon its commitment under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act
not to permanently station military forces in the countries that
joined the alliance after 1999.
Russian tanks during military drills
at a training ground in Belarus, Feb. 19, 2022.
Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP
Frye is the Marshall D. Shulman professor of post-Soviet foreign
policy at Columbia University.
Putin would like to break the government in Kyiv, install a
friendly regime that is demilitarized and neutral and then turn
to bargaining with NATO over new security arrangements that
would be more friendly to Moscow.
might include restrictions on troops and weapons in the NATO
countries that joined after 1997 and steps to turn Ukraine into
a vassal state.
Putin likely believed
that using overwhelming force against Ukraine would give him
greater leverage in these negotiations despite the great costs
that will be imposed on Moscow.
It is a risky bet and
will likely fail given the vigor of the Western response, the
difficulty of managing a puppet state with a hostile population
and lackluster support for the move within Russia.
is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign
Relations. Her research focuses on Russia, Eastern Europe and
the Baltic region.
Putin made the aims of the war quite clear:
He intends to
destroy Ukraine's military infrastructure and close the
relevant supply routes.
He is likely also to
replace the country's top leadership - in other words, enact
regime change - and possibly carve up the country by adding
chunks of territory to the self-proclaimed republics in the
East, or even incorporating them into Russia.
The question is, how will he cope with the aftermath?
Ukraine will not be a
friendly client-state; one should expect lasting, simmering
political stability may not survive the stress test, either:
This war is not
popular among Russian society and has completely shocked the
While no revolution
is in the cards for now, the [Russian] system's longer-term
viability is certain to erode.
And it is unclear how
Putin views Russia's future geopolitical place in the world. By
upending its whole relationship with the West, Russia will
inevitably end up much more dependent on China than would
otherwise have been the case.
One cannot help
feeling that in order to subdue Ukraine, Putin has risked both
Russia's domestic stability and its future status in the global
Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping
G-20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan,
Kyung-Hoon/Pool via AP
Serbin Pont is director of the Latin American think tank CRIES,
regional representative at the Global Partnership for the
Prevention of Armed Conflict and a fellow at the Montreal
Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.
It's hard to see a clear endgame for Putin, but under current
conditions we can see some indicators of strategic goals
specific to Ukraine, although it may be a challenge to align
with a broader geopolitical framework.
For the moment, based
on Putin's discourse and his military actions in Ukraine, the
prime target seems to be a drastic corroding of Kyiv's political
and military capabilities.
This was expressed
via his disclosure of intent in setting as objectives the
"demilitarization" and "denazification" of Ukraine.
And it was confirmed
via clear targeting of central military capacities of the
Ukrainian Armed Forces from the beginning of the offensive and
the emphasis on advancing on Ukraine's two largest cities as it
facilitates a collapse of the country's political
infrastructure, leading to an overall weakened state that poses
less of a security threat and is prone to external intervention
Molly McKew is a lecturer on Russian influence and the lead
writer at greatpower.us.
Putin believes that he has found the formula to achieve
imperialist strategic objectives while incurring minimal costs.
His formula is
use of force to put the opponent in a mindset of seeking to
This is a trap. We
must see it as it is. Putin's ambitions go far beyond Ukraine.
He invaded Ukraine to
win his war against the West. If we do not fight him -
economically, diplomatically, militarily - in and for Ukraine,
he will move forward faster than we think possible.
Ukraine is the fulcrum. Our refusal to meet Putin's use of hard
power with hard power only swells his temptation and hunger for
the imagined security of a "divine" empire.
Belarus has been de
facto annexed. In Ukraine, Putin wants the elected government
removed, a puppet restored, the dismemberment of Ukrainian
history and identity.
Adding Moldova, with
little territorial defense of its own, would not take long. In
his pretext speech and declaration of war, Putin described
Finland and maybe Sweden as part of his domain, and he discussed
the Baltic states and Poland, which are NATO members, as
"results of the Second World War" that belong to Moscow.
The international laws and charters that Russia helped draft
have been set alight. If Putin takes Ukraine, he will continue.
But if he loses, it
will be the beginning of his end.
We can fight now, and
save Ukrainian lives; or we fight later, for more tarnished
honor; or we erode bit by bit until the "anomaly" of democracy,
as Putin believes it to be, is gone.
A protest against increasing
aggression toward Ukraine,
Feb. 20, 2022, in Washington.
Kenny Holston/Getty Images
Charap is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit,
nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He has previously served as a
senior adviser to the undersecretary of State for arms control
and international security and is the co-author, with Timothy
Colton, of Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous
Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia.
Based on everything we've seen, it seems like Putin is out for
I would expect a move
on Kyiv in the next 48 hours. An appropriate analogy is the 2003
race to Baghdad. What happens after a new government is
installed is the real question.
Frankly, it doesn't
appear that [Putin's] post-war political playbook is more
thought through than the U.S. one was in Iraq.
But the Russians in
Ukraine have numerous advantages from language to local networks
that the United States lacked in Iraq, so it's possible they
Sokov is a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament
and Non-Proliferation. He previously worked at both the Soviet
and Russian foreign ministries and participated in arms control
negotiations, including on START I and START II.
The war Putin started does not make rational sense.
Putin may win the war
but risks long-term entanglement - the same dynamic the United
States saw in Iraq. Unlike the United States, however, Russia
lacks resources for such an involvement and especially to
sustain economic isolation.
The damage extends
well beyond Putin's rule. Even when he is succeeded by someone
else, it will be next to impossible to restore relations with
We are talking a very
long-term isolation and hostility. To the detriment of Russia,
of course, but also to the detriment of the West.
Among other things,
containment of China will be weak or non-existent for a long
Putin has declared there would be no occupation, so it seems he
plans to install a new government and leave. The problem is the
government will be unstable.
It is possible that
the population in Ukraine's east and south will be hostile but
relatively passive. But in the West, it will be actively
hostile. How Putin deals with that is totally unpredictable.
Will this result in
division of Ukraine? Very unlikely but no longer outside the
realm of possibility.
Military jets fly during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus
military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus,
Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.
Russia has deployed troops to its ally Belarus for
sweeping joint military drills that run through Sunday,
fueling Western concerns that Moscow could use
the exercise to attack Ukraine from the north.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr)
Talbott is a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy program
at the Brookings Institution. From 1993 to 2001, he served in
the State Department, first as ambassador-at-large and special
adviser to the secretary of State for the new independent states
of the former Soviet Union, then as deputy secretary of State.
Putin certainly has an endgame in mind:
the Russian Empire with himself as tsar.
After more than two
decades of iron rule and with no competitors to worry about, he
seems to think he is a genius. He also scorns the leaders in the
West, notably the U.S. president.
However, even before
the attack on Ukraine, the Russian public was becoming less
muted about growing concern of bloodshed in both countries.
That could bring