From a pivotal war that changed the course of history to a strategic annexation that solidified a nation’s dominance, the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74 and the annexation of Crimea by Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1783 reshaped the global balance of power.
With access to the Black Sea via Kerch and Azov, Russia became a dominant naval power, and the annexation of Crimea by Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1783 further strengthened their dominance, establishing them as the protector of the Ottoman Empire’s Orthodox Christians.
The Russian Annexation of Crimea in 2014
Russia has had a long-standing interest in Crimea since it was annexed in 1783. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Crimea became part of independent Ukraine but still hosted Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea after the elected government of Ukraine was overthrown by protests backed by the West. President Putin claimed the annexation was necessary to protect Russian speakers and to maintain a strategic foothold in the Black Sea.
Russia’s Security Concerns
Russia’s geography lacks natural borders, except for the Arctic Ocean and Pacific, posing significant security concerns. After World War II, Russia expanded its buffer by regaining control over Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Putin emerged as a strong leader, promising to restore Russia’s pride and strength after the Soviet Union’s collapse weakened its economy.
In 1999 and 2004, NATO expanded adding former Soviet-bloc countries, including the Baltic states. The US promised Ukraine and Georgia membership in 2008, leading to Russia’s forceful response. In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and the current government seeks accelerated NATO accession to protect its sovereignty. The West promised not to expand NATO to the East, but Russia could not ensure its commitment.
Why Putin Invaded Ukraine
Putin’s strategic moves since 2008 aimed to restore Russia’s global role and address its security concerns. These included establishing a presence in Syria, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. In 2014, Putin annexed Crimea to establish a buffer and prevent Ukraine’s NATO aspirations. The conflict escalated due to the West’s weapon supply to Ukraine, the Minsk II agreement’s failure, and the rise of neo-Nazi militias targeting Russian-speaking populations. As Ukraine’s armed forces grew stronger, Russia escalated the conflict into a full-scale war with the aim of demilitarizing and de-Nazifying Ukraine.
Putin’s Objectives in Ukraine
Putin mobilized 150,000 troops to achieve his goals in Ukraine, which involved either bringing the country under Russian control or creating a buffer zone along the Russian border to the Black Sea. However, the war has been unpredictable, and despite territorial gains, Russia has not achieved its actual goals. After seven months, Russia still does not control the whole of the Donbas, and Kharkiv remains out of reach.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a high-stakes gamble aimed at restoring Russia’s global power and addressing its security concerns. While the conflict does have echoes of the Cold War, it is a distinct conflict with its own unique factors and dynamics. It remains to be seen how it will play out and what the long-term ramifications will be for the region and the world.