Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very clear about his basic goals in invading Ukraine: He wants to disarm the country, sever its ties to the NATO military alliance and end the Ukrainian people’s aspirations of joining the West.
While guessing exactly how he plans to execute that plan is a different matter, history can serve as a guide for understanding Putin’s possible endgames.
Crimea annexation 2.0
If Russian forces are able to capture Ukraine’s port city of Odessa, it’s possible to imagine a land bridge extending all the way across southern Ukraine, potentially even linking Transnistria — a separatist enclave in Moldova, where Russian troops are stationed — to Odessa, Crimea and southern and eastern Ukraine.
A partitioned Ukraine
If Putin has partition in mind, Galician Ukraine and the city of Lviv — close to the Polish border — could potentially be a part of a sort of rump Ukrainian state, while Russia focuses its attentions on the east of the country.
A pro-Russian state
Western intelligence officials warn that Russia is planning to topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government, replacing it with a puppet regime. Putin has suggested he sees the current democratically elected government in Ukraine as illegitimate, and lamented the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Ukraine does have other politicians who might be eager to fill the ranks of a pro-Russian government, installed possibly by force.
An uneasy occupation
Russia says it doesn’t want to be an occupier, but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where Russia tries to impose its form of heavy-handed rule on Ukraine. That would be hard pill for Ukrainians to swallow as they have free press, freewheeling local politics and a tradition of street protest. In the Russian political system, genuine opposition protests are largely banned, or very difficult to organize.
A violent occupation
Putin has had no problem backing violent local strongmen with scant regard for human rights. His own political rise began with the pacification of Chechnya, a breakaway republic in Russia’s north Caucasus.
A republic of fear
Russia has a fearsome domestic security apparatus that jails 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 — experienced first-hand what it’s like to live in a state where the FSB, Russia’s state security service, is all-powerful.
You can read the full analysis here.