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Putin Invades Ukraine. How Far Will He Go?

The scale of the invasion suggests his goal may be to overthrow Ukraine’s pro-Western government.

Russian tanks
Russian T-72 tanks conduct military exercises in Chebarkul, April 24, 2017 (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Russia has invaded Ukraine from three sides, attacking from Belarus in the north, its own territory and the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Russian-controlled Crimea in the south.

Explosions were reported in many Ukrainian cities on Thursday, including Odessa on the Black Sea, suggesting missile attacks from Russian navy ships.

Russian soldiers took control of an airbase as well as the sealed-off Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kiev. Tanks were spotted on the outskirts of Kharkiv, where residents are spending the night in underground metro stations. Fighting is ongoing in Mariupol across the line of control from the Donetsk People’s Republic Russia — but no other country — has recognized as independent.

Ukraine reports 57 fatalities. The United Nations estimates that 100,000 Ukrainians have fled.

“Deluded”

An American defense official told the Reuters news agency that the three-pronged attack is “clearly designed to take key population centers” and “decapitate” Volodymyr Zelensky’s pro-Western government.

If that is Putin’s goal, Russia expert Mark Galeotti argues he has become “deluded”.

Can he honestly believe that any quisling could rule in Kiev from anything other than a throne of Russian bayonets?

Long term, Galeotti thinks Putin has “ensured that Ukraine will conclusively break from Russia, that the West will be forced to respond and that his own nation will pay the price.”

The European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States are expanding sanctions against Russian politicians and businesses, including state-owned Aeroflot and the country’s second-largest bank, VTB.

NATO is deploying additional troops and warplanes to Eastern Europe. American president Joe Biden insists they will not enter Ukraine.

Control of the coast

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama doubts even Putin thinks he can occupy Ukraine — almost twice the size of Germany — with 190,000 troops. He suspects control of the Black Sea coast may be the real objective:

Ukraine is a major exporter of agricultural commodities, and relies on ports like Mariupol, Kherson and Odessa. They have already been able to squeeze Mariupol, because it exits into the Sea of Azov, which Russia effectively controls (ships leaving Azov have to pass through the Kerch Strait between Crimea and Russia). This leaves Odessa as the big target.

By cutting Kiev off from the sea, Putin could be hoping to make it impossible for Ukraine to grow closer to the rest of Europe and instead convert it back into the Russian satellite it was until 1991.

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