Inside Putin’s mind: Moscow’s Motives Explained
Blake Mauro, Contributing Writer
As discussed in part one of this series, Putin has repeatedly denounced and denied Ukraine’s independent sovereign nation status. In July of 2021, Putin released a chilling essay in which he articulated that “Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe.” Putin views his invasion of Ukraine as simply taking back what is rightfully Russia’s territory.
Russia's military strategy has been for centuries to separate itself from the West through buffer states. There are no natural boundaries on the Northern European plain to stop a potential invasion or even slow one down. Russia first used its vast empire and then the Warsaw Pact states to develop this buffer between itself and Western influence. Since the collapse of the empire, however, the West has slowly encroached upon the former buffer states, leaving only Belarus and Ukraine as the non-NATO members between Russia and the West.
With no friends in the Western World, especially not after his tyrannical raid in Ukraine, Prescient Putin has reached out to China for military and monetary assistance. According to US officials, Russia requested military and economic aid from China to assist their continued destruction of Ukraine. Chinese president Xi Jinping has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin more than any other state leader over his time in office. The two have met 38 times as national leaders. The two presidents have a close relationship driven by various shared interests and common enemies, such as the United States. Xi has supported Putin as Russia has increased its military action in Ukraine.
As the relationship between Russia and China becomes scarily close, there is a looming possibility for Russia and China to become primary trading partners to evade Western sanctions. Such action would allow the two countries to preserve their economies without maintaining accountability for their actions and would have cascading effects on the world’s economy.
The economies of Russia and Ukraine are deeply intertwined. The US State Department states that, “Ukraine offers a large consumer market, a highly educated and cost-competitive workforce, and abundant natural resources.” Ukraine places first in terms of arable land area, eighth in the world in coal reserves, third-largest in gas production with the fourth-largest gas market in Europe, the 12th-largest steel producer in the world, and holds many more impressive rankings just like these. “Without Ukraine’s population, industry and agriculture, early-20th-century Russia would have ceased to be a great power.” Putin still strongly values Ukraine as an economic asset which, along with China’s support as a trading partner, could be instrumental in Russia’s economic future.
The US dollar’s share of official global reserves is the lowest in over 25 years in the international market. As the dollar's purchasing power falls, more and more countries may find it is in their best interest to use more stable currencies for their transactions, dethroning the dollar as the world reserve currency. Economists seek an alternative global standard as the dollar loses its hold in the transnational economy. With its economy steadily rising, the Chinese dollar, known as the yuan, looks like a promising, reliable option.
The value of the Chinese currency has been on the rise for a while now. On December 1, 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it awarded the yuan status as a reserve currency. The recent invasion of Ukraine might precisely be what the country requires to influence its value, as the raid has significantly devalued the American dollar.
Before the yuan can become a global currency, it must first be successful as a reserve currency. Such a label would give China the following three benefits. First, the yuan would be more frequently used to price international contracts. China exports a substantial amount of traditionally priced commodities in US dollars. If they were priced in yuan, China would not have to stress so extensively about the value of the US dollar. Secondly, all central banks would be required to hold yuan as part of their foreign exchange reserves, increasing the yuan’s overall demand. This boost in demand would, in turn, lower interest rates for bonds denominated in yuan. Finally, and perhaps the most threatening characteristic of all, China would have more economic clout in relation to the United States, lessening its status as the world’s single dominating force, a title it has held since the conclusion of the Cold War.
The stage is consequently set for an escalating cycle of violence, with Moscow seeking to stamp out a Ukrainian insurgency and retaliate against Western efforts to obstruct Russia’s advance. Since the end of the 1980s, and especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has maintained hegemony status in the international community as the world’s lone superpower. Challenges to the superior power in the global hierarchy, such as Russia’s challenge to the United States’ influence, have dire consequences. Such a stiff challenge tests the durability of global strategy, alliances, and the efficacy of international regimes and institutions that have safeguarded world peace, security, and prosperity.