Understanding Putin’s narrative about Ukraine is the master key to this crisis | Jonathan Steele

With his incursion into Donetsk and Luhansk, Vladimir Putin has broken international law and destroyed the best negotiating track, the Minsk agreement. That is clear. What is also clear is why he did it.

An increasing number of politicians and media analysts claim Putin may be mentally unstable, or that he is isolated in a bubble of yes-men who don’t warn him of dangers ahead. Many commentators say he is trying to restore the Soviet Union or recreate a Russian sphere of influence on his country’s borders, and that this week’s intrusion into eastern Ukraine is the first step towards an all-out attack on Kyiv to topple its government and even move against the Baltic states. None of these assertions is necessarily true.

The Russian president is a rational man with his own analysis of recent European history. Coming from a former Communist, his blaming of Lenin for giving excessive scope to local nationalism in drawing up the Soviet constitution is remarkable. Similarly, his criticism of the way national elites destroyed the Soviet Union in its final years is sharp.

Does he want to turn the clock back? People often quote his statement “the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. But it bears pointing out that he enlarged on it later, saying: “Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.”

It is crucially important for those who might seek to end or ameliorate this crisis to first understand his mindset. What happened this week is that Putin lost his patience, and his temper. He is furious with the Ukraine government. He feels it repeatedly rejected the Minsk aagreement, which would give the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk substantial autonomy. He is angry with France and Germany, the co-signatories, and the United States, for not pressing Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to implement them. He is equally angry with the…

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