What Putin Wants in Ukraine

[Editor’s note:  This essay, which was recently published in Foreign Affairs, was sent to me by one of our regular contributors.  It is here presented to you without further commentary.  For an additional synopsis of the facts on the ground as related to us by Helleniscope, especially after the latest Color Revolution attempt in Kazakhstan {which NATO/EU lost}, please scroll to the bottom.]

What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine: Russia Seeks to Stop NATO’s Expansion, Not to Annex More Territory
Dmitri Trenin,

December 28, 2021

As 2021 came to a close, Russia presented the United States with a list of demands that it said were necessary to stave off the possibility of a large-scale military conflict in Ukraine.  In a draft treaty delivered to a U.S. diplomat in Moscow, the Russian government asked for a formal halt to NATO’s eastern enlargement, a permanent freeze on further expansion of the alliance’s military infrastructure (such as bases and weapons systems) in the former Soviet territory, an end to Western military assistance to Ukraine, and a ban on intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The message was unmistakable: if these threats cannot be addressed diplomatically, the Kremlin will have to resort to military action.  These concerns were familiar to Western policymakers, who for years have responded by arguing that Moscow does not have a veto over NATO’s decisions and that it has no grounds to demand that the West stop sending weapons to Ukraine. Until recently, Moscow grudgingly acceded to those terms. Now, however, it appears determined to follow through with countermeasures if it doesn’t get its way. That determination was reflected in how it presented the proposed treaty with the United States and a separate agreement with NATO. The tone of both missives was sharp. The West was given just a month to respond, which circumvented the possibility of prolonged and inconclusive talks. And both drafts were published almost immediately after their delivery, a move that was intended to prevent Washington from leaking and spinning the proposal. 

If Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting as if he has the upper hand in this standoff, that’s because he does. According to U.S. intelligence services, Russia has nearly100,000 troops and a great deal of heavy weaponry stationed on the Ukrainian border. The United States and other NATO countries have condemned Russia’s moves but simultaneously suggested that they will not defend Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, and have limited their threats of retaliation to sanctions.  But Moscow’s demands are probably an opening bid, not an ultimatum. For all its insistence on a formal treaty with the United States, the Russian government no doubt understands that thanks to polarization and gridlock, ratification of any treaty in the U.S. Senate will be all but impossible. An executive agreement—essentially an accord between two governments which does not have to be ratified and thus does not have the status of a law—may therefore be a more realistic alternative. It is also likely that under such an agreement, Russia would assume reciprocal commitments addressing some U.S. concerns so as to create what it calls a “balance of interest.”  Specifically, the Kremlin could be satisfied if the U.S. government agreed to a formal long-term moratorium on expanding NATO and a commitment not to station intermediate-range missiles in Europe. It might also be assuaged by a separate accord between Russia and NATO that would restrict military forces and activity where their territories meet, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Of course, it is an open question whether the Biden administration is willing to engage seriously with Russia. Opposition to any deal will be high in the United States because of domestic political polarization and the fact that striking a deal with Putin opens the Biden administration to criticism that it is caving to an autocrat. Opposition will also be high in Europe, where leaders will feel that a negotiated settlement between Washington and Moscow leaves them on the sidelines.  These are all serious issues. But it’s crucial to note that Putin has presided over four waves of NATO enlargement and has had to accept Washington’s withdrawal from treaties governing anti-ballistic missiles, intermediate-range nuclear forces, and unarmed observation aircraft. For him, Ukraine is the last stand. The Russian commander-in-chief is supported by his security and military establishments and, despite the Russian public’s fear of a war, faces no domestic opposition to his foreign policy. Most importantly, he cannot afford to be seen bluffing. Biden was right not to reject Russia’s demands out of hand and to favor engagement instead.



There is significant asymmetry in the importance the West and Russia ascribe to Ukraine. The West did extend the prospect of NATO membership to the country in 2008, but without a formal timetable for admittance. After 2014—when Russia took over Crimea from Ukraine and began supporting pro-Russian militants in the country’s Donbas region —it became difficult to see how the U.S. government would allow Ukraine to join NATO. After all, there would be little public support in the United States for deploying troops to fight for Ukraine. Washington is saddled with a promise to Kyiv that both sides know it cannot keep. Russia, by contrast, treats Ukraine as a vital national security interest and has professed its readiness to use military force if that interest is threatened. This openness to committing troops and geographic proximity to Ukraine give Moscow an advantage over the United States and its allies.

This does not mean a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent. Despite the Western media’s predilection for depicting Putin as reckless, he is in fact cautious and calculating, particularly when it comes to the use of force. Putin is not risk-averse—operations in Chechnya, Crimea, and Syria are proof of that—but in his mind, the benefit must outweigh the cost. He won’t invade Ukraine simply because of its leaders’ Western orientations.  That said, there are some scenarios that could prod the Kremlin to dispatch troops to Ukraine. In 2018, Putin publicly declared that a Ukrainian attempt to regain territory in the Donbas region by force would unleash a military response. There is historical precedence for this: in 2008, Russia responded militarily to a Georgian attack on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Another Russian redline is Ukraine’s accession to NATO or the placement of Western military bases and long-range weapons systems on its territory. Putin will never yield on this point. For now, however, there is almost no support from the United States and other NATO members for letting Ukraine join the alliance. In early December 2021, U.S. State Department officials told Ukraine that NATO membership for that country is unlikely to be approved in the next decade.  Putin is cautious and calculating, particularly when it comes to the use of force.  If NATO were to build up its forces in the eastern member states, that could further militarize the new dividing line in Europe running along the western borders of Russia and Belarus. Russia could be provoked into placing more short-range missiles in Kaliningrad—the noncontiguous, westernmost part of Russia that is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. A closer military alliance with Belarus could put even more pressure on Ukraine. Moscow could also recognize the self-proclaimed “people’ srepublics” of Donetsk and Luhansk and integrate them into a new geopolitical entity with Russia and Belarus.  The geopolitical implications of these developments could reverberate beyond Europe. To counter more drastic Western economic and financial sanctions, either in anticipation of a Russian incursion into Ukraine or as a consequence of it, Moscow may need to lean on Beijing, which also finds itself under increasing U.S. pressure. Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping are already discussing financial mechanisms to protect their countries from U.S. sanctions. In that case, Putin’s scheduled visit to China for the Winter Olympics in February 2022 might turn out to be more than a courtesy call. The United States could then see the current Chinese-Russian entente turning into a tighter alliance. Economic, technological, financial, and military cooperation between the two powers would reach new levels.



Putin’s threat to resort to force comes from his frustration with a stalled diplomatic process. The Kremlin’s effort to entice Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to strike a deal on Donbas—which seemed promising as recently as late 2019—came to naught. Zelensky, who won the presidency in a landslide running as a peace candidate, is an exceptionally erratic leader. His decision to use armed drones in Donbas in 2021 ratcheted up tensions with Moscow at a time when Ukraine could not afford to provoke its neighbor.

It’s not just Ukrainian leadership that Moscow sees as problematic. France and Germany have flubbed efforts to strike a diplomatic resolution to the Russia-Ukraine stalemate. The Europeans, who were the guarantors of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 that were supposed to bring peace to the region, had little success pushing the Ukrainians to strike a deal. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then foreign minister, could not even get Kyiv to accept a compromise that would have allowed for elections in the Donbas region. Last November, the Russians went so far as to publish private diplomatic correspondence between their foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and his French and German counterparts to demonstrate how the Western powers fully sided with Ukrainian government’s stance.  And although the focus in the West has been on the Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border, this came as NATO countries expanded their military activities in the Black Sea region and in Ukraine. In June, a British destroyer sailed through territorial waters off Crimea, which London does not recognize as belonging to Russia, provoking the Russians to fire in its direction. In November, a U.S. strategic bomber flew within 13miles of the Russian border in the Black Sea region, infuriating Putin. As tensions rose, Western military advisers, instructors, arms, and ammunition poured into Ukraine.  Russians also suspect that a training center the United Kingdom is constructing in Ukraine is in fact a foreign military base. Putin is particularly adamant that deploying U.S. missiles in Ukraine that can reach Moscow in five to seven minutes cannot and will not be tolerated.

Putin’s threat to resort to force comes from his frustration with a stalled diplomatic process.  For Russia, the escalating military threats were unmistakable. In his articles and speeches, Putin may emphasize the unity of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, but what he cares most about is preventing NATO expansion in Ukraine. Consider what he said in March 2014 after sending forces into Crimea in response to the overthrow of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. “I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors,” he said of the famous Russian naval base in Crimea. “Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round.” Putin’s actions suggest that his true goal is not to conquer Ukraine and absorb it into Russia but to change the post-Cold War setup in Europe’s east. That setup left Russia as a rule-taker without much say in European security, which was centered on NATO. If he manages to keep NATO out of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and U.S. intermediate- range missiles out of Europe, he thinks he could repair part of the damage Russia’s security sustained after the Cold War ended. Not coincidentally, that could serve as a useful record to run on in 2024, when Putin would be up for re-election.






  1. The United States could then see the current Chinese-Russian entente turning into a tighter alliance. Economic, technological, financial, and military cooperation between the two powers would reach new levels.

    Russia is no fool, and neither is China. Putin knows which way the world is turning, and it’s not in the favor of America (at least the globohomo Atlanticist version).

    For almost 10 years China has been working on it’s Belt & Road initiative financing infrastructure projects all over the world as a soft power grab (like we have done with military bases). While America has been losing ground fighting over which gender can use which bathroom and exporting that filth over the world, China has been investing. Dr. Steve Turley is really good amount summarizing this in many of his videos. Like it or not (and I am not agreeing with China), but, they and Russia know about cultural preservation, traditional gender norms, and essentially act as the antitheses of the West. Is that really such a bad thing?

    After the U.S military loss in Afghanistan, the loss in Syria and their falling under the sphere of Russia (don’t forget the major Russian military base in Latakia), and the very recent, and failed, color revolution that America clearly attempted in Kazakhstan, Putin I’m sure knows very well that should America try anything in Ukraine then they will fail miserably. I fully expect the CIS countries to eventually fall under the Russo-China sphere of influence. We witnessed the same color revolution attempt last year in Georgia with the Tbilisi Pride, which got decimated.

    On a completely separate but equally important ecclesiastical note, there is a reason that only Greek-speaking primates have recognized the OCU. The OCU equals Americanism in “Orthodox” form, along with the UGCC, to act out its anti-Russian narrative in the religious sphere. The two exceptions to this are the Greek primates of Albania & Jerusalem, both of which oversee flocks who are ethnically Albanian & Arab (plus the massive Russian presence in the Holy Land), and it would be ecclesiastical suicide on their parts should they recognize the OCU, much the same as what just happened with Patriarch Theodoros. The Greeks have hedged their bets on the wrong players in the game and given Russia’s political clout they will have the ability to set up parallel Exarchates in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus as they have done in Africa, and there are clergy and laity in those countries who will join the Russians.

    Being Greek does not equal agreeing with Bartholomew and there are many, many ethnic Greeks are are not on his side from what I understand.

    Bartholomew, like his American overlords, has overplayed his hand.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Petro, put me down as a Greek who is not bamboozled by the EP and his globohomo puppet-masters.

      • I have no doubts, George! You and Gail do a great job railing against it.

        There is a very well known (famous?) Greek Cypriot priest near where I live that is doing the same, and indeed many others I’m sure.

  2. Excellent article!

  3. RT reports Washington won’t consider the Russian proposal to end NATO expansion:

    Washington will not consider Russian proposals to legally prohibit the eastward expansion of the NATO military bloc, and has no intention of even discussing the idea, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.

    Earlier that day, in Geneva, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov spoke for almost eight hours about proposals put forward by Moscow in December for legally binding security guarantees, including prohibitions on weapons placements and restrictions on military exercises. However, one of the key aims for Russia is to get Washington to agree that NATO won’t expand further even eastwards and allow Ukraine become a member.

    According to Price, American diplomats are happy to accept various reciprocal agreements on missiles and transparency of troop movements.

    “We were firm, however, in pushing back on security proposals we have heard from Moscow that are simply non-starters for the United States,” he said. “We will not, for example, allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s ‘Open Door’ policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance.”

    “Negotiations on complex topics like arms control can not be completed in a matter of days, or even weeks. We must give diplomacy the time and space required to make progress on such complex issues,” he concluded.

    A NATO-Russia meeting is planned for Wednesday, in which diplomats will discuss another set of security proposals, pitched by Moscow, also in December. The text delivered to the 30-member bloc last month focuses mainly on the movement of military personnel and material, including a promise that no signatories will station their forces on European states that were not members of NATO in 1997. It also includes a clause that current NATO members renounce any military activity on the territory of Ukraine, as well as in other Eastern European, Transcaucasian, and Central Asian states.

    On Monday, following the meeting in Geneva, Ryabkov told the press that Moscow would not accept anything less than complete assurance from Washington that NATO ends its eastward enlargement.

    “For us, it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO,” he said.

    See: https://www.rt.com/russia/545674-us-refuses-end-nato-expansion/

  4. This is surprisingly cogent given its origin. Foreign Affairs is relatively liberal and often echoes their talking points.

    • For both the US and Russia it’s all about power, Russia’s foreign policy has been the same since 1917.

      • Mike “Russia’s foreign policy has been the same since 1917.”

        I would rather think that Russian foreign policy returned to the patterns after Crimean War (1853-1856).

      • Haha…..Not remotely the same FP. Well, perhaps the FP of the (thirty years deceased) Soviet Union was the same as the US, but the FP of Russia today is not remotely that of the US.

  5. The great Solzhenitsyn had thoughts about what’s going on. https://boydcatheyreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/

  6. As a person who descends from the white emigre Russians, I can affirm this article reflects reality. There was a time when there was the USSR, and it was without a doubt an evil empire where all people within its domain and influence suffered, first and foremost Russians who sustained the largest body count from the system (you’ll never hear this said in today’s west). At that time, the United States was the leader of the free world, free in part because it was not afraid then to still be associated with Christian values.

    Many Russian and other Orthodox Christians back in the cold war era correctly supported the NATO nations against the USSR’s expansionary policies.

    Fast forward 30 years later, and we have a very different situation. I’m not going to lie, there are still some scars from the Soviet era, but there absolutely is no ideology of world revolution/pan-Marxist expansionism and destabilization. In other words, Russia is not seeking to reestablish the Soviet space and Eastern Bloc (even if it wanted to, it lacks the resources at the moment), nor engage in ideological geopolitical warfare.

    Ukraine itself is very polarized over the issue of its own alignment, yet it is often portrayed to be “pro-Western” (yes, everyone wants to have western GDP figures, but not in one package with cultural Marxism and being allied to an explicitly anti-Russian security architecture). It is for this reason why when the cue happened in 2014 it was absolutely forbidden to discuss any referenda on Ukrainian federalization which could have easily forestalled the events in Crimea and the war in Donbass.

    On the other hand, Zbigniew Brzezinsky left pretty much out in the open his ideas of a post-Soviet space. He proposed for the sake of “efficiency” to split the remaining Russian Federation (separate, of course, from Ukraine) into three autonomous regions. He emphasized also how important it was to keep Ukraine away from Russia (so much so that he praised Yanukovich – you heard that right – when he pushed for EU membership prior to changing his mind, even though he had all the same accusations of corruption against him then). All of Zbiggie’s students in the State Department, be they left or right, continue to follow this ideological schema (even the Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe websites are divided according to Brzezinsky’s federalist lines).

    This Albright-Brzezinsky post-USSR unipolar world order vision is exactly what infuriates normal Russians. It also, to my great sadness, gives fuel to Russia’s left that leverages this to its own political advantage (think of how the Greek left, Syriza, leveraged the financial scandal in Greece to bring Tsipras to power).

    None of this is good for anyone, but unlike 1917-1990, this is explicitly the fault of Washington’s geopolitical witches and their media spindoctors, the Georgetown global studies gang that creates the Albrights and Boltons of this world and brought to you the Yugoslavia wars…

    • Gail Sheppard says

      You hit the nail on the head. Thank you!

      • George Michalopulos says

        Very well, said, GeorgeS.

        The world is not black-or-white but shades of gray. Having said that, when you ask a normal Russian, Kazakh, Arab, Persian, Mesoamerican, whatever, whether you want “freedom” if by “freedom” one means being part of Globohomo, then you needlessly, but inexorably, push them to the other side.

        We’re seeing that with Russia increasing its entente with China.

        • Absolutely. The tragedy of the situation is that many people in the eastern European space (be it Ukraine, be it the anti-regime Russians) are so desperate to get working visas abroad, they’ll agree to anything – including selling their own country with its national interests down the river. Because to this lot, “freedom” is simply going to live someplace nice as opposed to making where they currently live nicer. People in those countries are not used to thinking independently, long term, and understanding risk/reward payoffs. They all want to go back to some form of a welfare state where they free ride off someone else’s capitalism.

          The globalist witches know this well and they play it up to get students to protest and make noise while getting the politicians to adopt the “globohomo” agenda. Once the Georgetown Boys get their people in there, they’re back to the same rent seeking behavior and totalitarian tactics toward any ‘opposition’ which is labelled as a foreign security threat (always a reliable way to get political capital against an opponent, see Stalin purge trials and Russiagate). Double standards galore.

    • GeorgeS,

      There is actually a silver lining to it all in which I see the hand of God. Had the US refrained from expanding eastward with NATO/EU and had the Russians under Yeltsin and then in the early years of Putin been received into the western fold, they would have simply been absorbed into the western borg as globalists and become part of the problem. It may have even developed that there emerged an adversarial role between the RF government and the ROC.

      Thank God the West is stupid and arrogant.

      • You really continued the logic very well Misha, and I’ve often thought of this myself.

        Yeltsin was a very complicated figure, and I have very divided feelings about him. He did try hard to join the transatlantic club (his foreign minister Kozyrev was a major pro-western shill) but fortunately the Yugoslavian situation ended up being the ultimate tipping point.

        I’ll never know for sure whether Yeltsin himself cared about the Serbs, but I think he was genuinely afraid of a military cue if he sold them down the river entirely. By the time the dust of that had settled, Yeltsin ran out of gas and he had no choice but to make an immunity deal with Putin, before leaving him the nuclear football. And then began a new era: independent, non aligned Russian foreign policy which began with the second Chechen war.

        Putin genuinely wanted positive relations with the west but unlike Yeltsin, he was not ready to sell Russian national security interests to do so. The Americans at this point were accustomed to playing Yeltsin, and now here was a guy who wouldn’t go for the same baloney. At the same time, Putin gave the Russian Orthodox Church a role in society, without getting involved in its affairs (some Russians in the higher ups will actually tell you that it’s the government that is more afraid of the church than the other way around). Yeltsin meanwhile was much more utilitarian in his relations with the church.

        The challenge remains maintaining a security space and an economy that can not simply survive but thrive in an environment of sanctions/blockades. Fortunately technology is making it easier to build a multi-polar world, and the irony of globalization is it brings together people and ideas that would never have met otherwise, which means that people who want to resist these unhealthy global trends can now build their own communities (just wait till auto-translate gets better!).

        • “Fortunately technology is making it easier to build a multi-polar world…”

          Seems to be a very multi-polar political situation in the Book of Revelation, despite the Mark of the Beast. Appears there are plenty of other end times figures and nations/alliances to be fans of, over and against the Antichrist, while being Marked by whatever the local version of the Mark happens to be called, while being oblivious that from God’s perspective it doesn’t matter.

  7. George Michalopulos says

    Looks like we may have seen the last of George Soros’ “color revolutions” after all:


    I’m astonished by the speed and strength that Putin was able to show this past week in putting down the Maidan-like “spring” that the Deep State was able to organize in Kazakhstan.

  8. George Michalopulos says
  9. Paul Craig Roberts made some interesting observations here.

    It appears that the West needs a war. It only takes one side to start one and the US is talking and behaving in such a way as to signal that it is going to fight one. Now it may be that the West only needs the rumor of war to serve its purpose. And I would have said the odds of war were low before the Putin initiative.

    Putin is not exactly threatening war. Putin sees that the West wants war and Putin is proposing an armistice agreement ahead of hostilities. Allegations of false flag operations on both sides may mean that it is only a matter of time before some type of kinetic conflict unfolds. Each will blame the other.

    If Russia expands, which is likely in the event of armed conflict, it will be into the Donbass and possibly the south of the Ukraine across towards Odessa. This stretch has been referred to as Novorossiya in the past and would likely be the most the Russians would annex since they aren’t looking for mouths to feed or to put down rebels indefinitely. They’re really only willing to take in people who want their protection.

    • PS:

      The above only deals with the Ukraine and the problem is broader than that. In addition to developments in the Ukraine, we could see movement on other fronts to reduce NATO capacities in Russia’s near abroad. I don’t want it to seem like I was saying that Putin would only confine himself to activity vis a vis the Ukraine. His initiative was broader than that and the resolution he seeks would likely be broader.