Here’s why Putin is obsessed with Ukraine | Opinion
By Ronald Fraser
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Can’t put Humpty back together
Marking the end of the Cold War, in 1991 members of the Soviet Union divided their 70-year-old empire into 15 independent nations. In 2014, starting with his invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin began to pick up the pieces.
The centerpiece of Vladimir Putin’s obsession with Ukraine is his rejection of its independence and his insistence that this vast, populated and resource-rich region is an essential part of Russia.
After World War II, the Cold War pitted the Communist-ruled Soviet Union and Eastern Europe against Western democracies. To counter the growing Soviet military threat, Western European states, along with the United States and Canada, formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, initially a 12-nation military alliance. Soon after, Turkey and Greece joined NATO in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955.
Responding to an expanding NATO, the Soviet Union in 1955 created its own unified military alliance, officially the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, but better known as the Warsaw Pact. Linking Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania, the Pact formed a continuous anti-NATO bulwark stretching from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea South.
By the 1980s, tensions between the two military alliances were heading towards political and economic confrontation. With the capitalist economies of Western Europe surpassing the centrally planned Soviet economy, political unrest in Eastern Europe was about to boil over at any moment.
Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Communist Party, launched a series of desperate reforms in 1985 to loosen the hierarchical control of the Kremlin, increase productivity and give more autonomy to the leaders of the Warsaw Pact countries.
Three years later, Gorbachev’s reforms had actually generated greater unrest within the Soviet-led alliance. Communist governments were driven from power, and in 1989 the Soviet empire was rocked by its first Humpty Dumpty moment. Mr Putin, a Soviet KGB officer stationed in East Germany at the time, enjoyed a ringside seat to watch the symbol of Soviet oppression, the Berlin Wall, fall.
At the end of 1991, Gorbachev resigned. His reforms were no longer a viable option. The Soviet Union’s final Humpty Dumpty moment came when the 15 Soviet republics declared themselves separate and independent countries.
Boris Yeltsin, president of the new Russian Federation, outlined plans for rapidly changing Russia’s capitalist-led economy. But, in 1999, Yeltsin’s reforms led to more economic chaos, turning the Russian people against liberal democracy and market reforms and towards a strong leader. Yeltsin resigns. His successor, Mr. Putin, effectively ended efforts to decentralize power in Russia.
To explain, at least in part, Putin’s obsession with an independent Ukraine, we must examine NATO’s eastward push after his ascension to the presidency of Russia. While the West seemed to have won the Cold War in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, NATO did not declare victory or disarm.
In the first year of Putin’s presidency, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary – all formerly allies of the Soviet Union under the Warsaw Pact – were admitted to NATO. Estonia followed in 2002.
And then, in 2004, NATO welcomed former Soviet republics, Lithuania, Latvia, and two other former Warsaw Pact countries: Romania and Bulgaria. Finally, in 2009, Albania, the last former member of the Pact, obtained a seat on the NATO round table.
While the former Soviet Union was all Putin had ever known, he rose to power when Russia was left alone. The former Soviet republics were independent countries, and Russia’s former Warsaw Pact allies were now members of NATO.
Fear that NATO could one day snatch Ukraine, the last remaining country in the west from Russia’s doorstep and crush its dream of a restored Russian empire, partly explains Putin’s obsession with Ukraine .
He bets that all his tanks and all his men can, one by one, put the broken pieces of the Soviet Union back together – first Ukraine, then Moldova, then…
Ronald Fraser, PhD, a former defense analyst at the Center for Defense Information and columnist for the Navy Times, is a retired commander in the US Coast Guard Reserve and a graduate of the Naval War College.