A woman holding a sign protesting the Russia-Ukraine war and Putin
Source: Getty

Does Putin Want to Restore the Soviet Union? Doesn't Seem Possible Now

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author

Mar. 7 2022, Published 12:34 p.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which was done under fictitious reasons including “denazification” of Ukraine, has raised alarm bells in Western countries. This isn't the first time that Putin has made aggressive maneuvers in former Soviet countries. Many people wonder whether Putin wants to restore the former Soviet Union.

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Can Putin restore the Soviet Union over three decades after it collapsed? Do any former Soviet countries want to become a part of the Soviet Union?

The Soviet Union’s collapse was a setback for Putin.

As an ex-KGB spy, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a setback for Putin. He has long rued Russia's decade of humiliation after the collapse, including the loss of national power. Some of the former Soviet countries joined NATO, while others have been embracing NATO and the EU.

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Putin has been intervening in former Soviet countries.

Before the current invasion of Ukraine, Putin was at loggerheads with other Soviet countries. In August 2008, Russian and Georgian forces fought in a five-day war. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Apart from these military activities, Putin has been intervening in former Soviet countries' domestic politics.

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Putin helped Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko tide over the opposition in his country over the allegedly rigged elections. Like Putin, Lukashenko has been ruling Belarus for over two decades. Putin also helped broker a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian forces fought in Syria, which is another indication of Putin’s ambitions.

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Does Putin want to restore the Soviet Union?

Restoring the Soviet Union looks impossible now. First, some of the countries have already joined NATO and there isn't a possibility of them re-joining the Soviet Bloc.

Also, several former Soviet countries are ruled by autocrats who might not want to give up their powers. Finally, democracies like Ukraine also don’t want to be a part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been pivoting towards the West and NATO, which Putin doesn't support.

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Putin understands that it isn't possible to restore the Soviet Union and it looks highly unlikely that he's thinking along those lines. However, he certainly wants the former Soviet territory to be Russia’s circle of influence. Putin wants friendly governments in former Soviet countries and not a pro-West leader like President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine.

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Putin wants NATO to stay clear of the former Soviet territories and halt its eastward expansion. Simply put, Putin wants the former Soviet territories to be a loosely connected block that's under Russian influence.

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Putin is changing the world order.

While Putin might not succeed in restoring the Soviet Union, he has managed to challenge the existing U.S.-led world order. The geopolitics in the region is changing and Pakistan, which was a staunch U.S. ally about a decade ago, is now pivoting towards Russia.

Similarly, India, which was mostly neutral during the initial days of the Cold War but later joined hands with the U.S.S.R, is now in a tough position. India has to balance its historical friendship with Russia and the gradual improvement in ties with the U.S.

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The Soviet Union might not be back but the Cold War is.

If we had any doubts about the emergence of a new Cold War and the reshaping of the world order, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has cleared the doubts. While the new Cold War might not be led by the Soviet Union, the Russian bloc and China do make a formidable force.


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