Why does Putin want Ukraine? The Ukrainian conflict is part of a larger pattern of geopolitical instability. Moscow has been trying to unwind its tightening ties with the West. But it has not been able to do so through peaceful means, and it has not found a way to use its limited non-coercive leverage over the West to achieve its goals. The West will not change its open-door policy, and the Russians lack non-coercive options to change the situation. So what are their other options?

The Russian government is also interested in keeping control of the Black Sea. Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, claiming that its annexation was necessary for ethnic Russians. The annexation has left Russia in control of nearly two thirds of Ukraine’s coastline and its exclusive maritime economic zone, as well as 80 percent of the country’s newly discovered oil reserves. It also seized billions of dollars’ worth of drilling equipment and infrastructure. Ultimately, the annexation has crippled Ukraine’s ability to challenge Russia for its dominance in oil.

While the Russian leadership has not ruled out war in Ukraine, it does appear that his main goal is to energize nationalists at home. The Ukraine crisis has already prompted thousands of Russians to take to the streets to protest the conflict. Some Russians have even taken to the streets, some of them at risk to themselves. Yet, President Biden recently stated that the U.S. government would not send troops to Ukraine. That is, as Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance and is not part of the NATO collective defense commitment.

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