What Vladimir Putin fears most – key insight into mind of Russian despot

Vladimir Putin describes the assassination attempts against him

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Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last month a number of theories have been proposed to explain why the 69-year-old made his decision. From the ‘Putin Paradox’ to speculation the Russian leader is suffering from cancer, many people have tried to explore what’s behind the unrelenting invasion. 

President Putin has claimed Russia is waging war to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine”, while also snuffing out any intention Kyiv has of joining the western military alliance NATO.

To date, the war in Ukraine is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, though no exact figure has been confirmed from either side.

According to data from the United Nations (UN) nearly four million people have fled into neighbouring countries, with Poland alone thought to have taken in more than two million.

Negotiations to bring an end to the war are moving slowly as both sides stand firm on their respective demands.

One of the key stipulations President Putin wants is for Ukraine to amend its constitution and declare neutrality between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia.

So, could the Russian President have invaded Ukraine partly out of fear he was losing the country from his sphere of influence?

When previous democratic uprisings took place during the 2000s – known as the ‘Colour Revolutions’ – President Putin pivoted each time to more hostile policies against the US.

The ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia from 2003 and Ukraine’s ‘Orange Revolution’ a year later are both examples of where this happened.

Robert Person and Michael McFaul wrote in the Journal of Democracy that President Putin did this because he believed Russian national interests were being threatened by what he saw as American supported coups.

To Russia’s President, the Orange Revolution undermined a core objective of his grand strategy: to establish a privileged and exclusive sphere of influence across the territory that once comprised the Soviet Union.

They argued that President Putin believes in spheres of influence and that as a great power, Russia has a right to veto the sovereign political decisions of its neighbours.

As a result, Ukraine’s stated intention to join NATO handed Moscow’s incumbent leader a pretext to take authoritative action.

However, the duo say it’s plausible that President Putin’s real reason for invading Ukraine is to prevent the country’s democracy from gradually chipping away at his “sphere of influence” in the region.

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They said that Mr Putin believes “that as a great power, Russia has a right to veto the sovereign political decisions of its neighbours.”

The pair continued: “Putin also demands exclusivity in his neighbourhood: Russia can be the only great power to exercise such privilege (or even develop close ties) with these countries.”

But after eight years of “unrelenting Russian pressure”, Ukrainian failed to break. Just as the Ukrainian people have failed to break now.

Mr Person and Mr McFaul wrote: “Putin is threatened by a successful democracy in Ukraine. He cannot tolerate a successful, flourishing, and democratic Ukraine on his borders, especially if the Ukrainian people also begin to prosper economically.

“That undermines the Kremlin’s own regime stability and proposed rationale for autocratic state leadership. Just as Putin cannot allow the will of the Russian people to guide Russia’s future, he cannot allow the people of Ukraine, who have a shared culture and history, to choose the prosperous, independent, and free future that they have voted for and fought for.”

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