The war between Russia and Ukraine, which began as Russia's “special military operation,” has transformed into a full-fledged war between the two neighbors. Every armed conflict has a reason, and Russian President Vladimir Putin had his own reasons for invading the former Soviet country. What does Putin demand from Ukraine and NATO and will they meet his demands?
Putin has said that he's working for the “demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.” The “denazification” aspect has especially baffled many considering the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jew and he lost his family members in World War II. While there has been some antisemitism in Ukraine, Putin’s forces aren't exactly invading the country to fight antisemitism.
What does Putin demand from Ukraine?
Putin has made it clear that he's against Ukraine joining NATO. He also wants the country to implement the Minsk agreement, which was signed in 2014. The agreement was signed after the Crimea annexation. Ukraine and Russia haven't fulfilled the terms. Putin wants Ukraine to give up its claim on Crimea and accept the autonomous status for the Donbas region.
Putin wants a docile leadership in Ukraine and Russian influence.
Meanwhile, the real reason Putin has invaded Ukraine is that he wants a docile political leadership in the country. Zelensky has been warming up to the West, which makes Putin uncomfortable. Also, through the invasion of Ukraine, Putin is exerting his power in the region.
Putin has long seen the former Soviet nations as a sphere of Russian influence and Ukraine’s invasion is a warning to other former Soviet nations that might be planning to get more closely aligned with NATO or the European Union.
Also, while a lot of former Soviet countries are sham democracies, Ukraine has been quite democratic, even if not by liberal western standards. Most of the autocratic leaders in the region including Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus have been supporting Putin. This is why Zelensky’s aggressive pivot towards the west has been troubling Putin.
What does Putin want from NATO?
Putin wants NATO to stop its eastwards expansion. Former Soviet countries of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia have already joined NATO. So have Warsaw Pact countries like Poland and Hungary who were in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War. Putin wants NATO to lower its military presence in Eastern Europe, including the missile deployment. He's also against any more former Soviet countries like Moldova joining NATO.
Putin wants Russia to be recognized as a world power.
Reading between the lines, Putin wants Russia to be recognized as a global power. He has long rued the humiliation after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has sent the West a message that Russia is now getting stronger, even if it isn't as strong as the former Soviet Union.
He also wants to reshape the security order in Europe. For a long time, the continent has relied on NATO and American forces and has been cutting down on their defense budgets.
Putin’s belligerence has already forced a rethink and Germany, which has been among the pacifists in the region, has also increased the defense budget above 2 percent of the GDP that former President Donald Trump had been asking from NATO allies.
What Putin demands was probably best articulated by Vice-admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, the former German navy chief. At an event in India in January, he said, “On eye level, he wants respect. And my God, giving him respect is low cost, even no cost. It is easy to give him the respect he demands, and probably deserves.”
Schönbach’s candidness cost him his job. But he made his point that Putin demands (even if he does command) respect from the West. Would Biden, NATO, and other western leaders be willing to give Russia the respect that a military power of Russia’s size seeks? We’ll have to wait and see.