Vladimir Putin’s political career began following the collapse of the USSR; but his life as a KGB man never ended.
Every moment of his political career – from his time in Boris Yeltsin’s administration, to his rise to power and since then – has been a response to the humiliation which was visited upon Russia in the early 1990s.
Putin has shown the world who he is, repeatedly: from Grozny and Chechnya, to Ossetia and Georgia, to Aleppo and Syria, to the lands and cities of Ukraine today. With each atrocity, the question put to the world has been: “What are you going to do about it?” And each response has been criminally lacking.
Thus, Putin repeatedly challenged the post-WWII consensus and international system of laws and customs, and its weaknesses have been found out.
Having established that repeated grave violations of the rule of international law are without consequence, Putin understands that the entire world order is a Potemkin legal order.
Above all, what this means for Putin is that Western hegemonic power is without substance. Equally importantly, Putin does not care for international rules or institutions, principles or agreements, courts or procedures – indeed, he rejects them entirely and has successfully undermined them again and again.
In a lawless world, might is right
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an outrage against humanity. Yet, this horrific invasion is simply the beginning of his next phase of his political career, which is to (re-)establish and (re-)impose Russian hegemonic power. For Putin, this goal is of greater importance than any other consideration, domestic or international.
This invasion, as some commentators believe, may extend beyond Ukraine and at least as far as the Iron Curtain. However far it goes, member states of NATO are seeking to avoid any escalation with a man who controls nuclear weapons.
As we know, Putin has already made threats to use nuclear arms, and we have now seen members of the Russian army fire artillery shells at the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
Therefore, I don’t believe that Putin’s armed conflict will be limited to conventional warfare.
Will he use nuclear weapons against countries which border Russia? He could re-locate to Vladivostok, but he works in Moscow and is from St Petersburg, so that may be unlikely.
What possible alternatives could there be? What might make an easy target? What non-NATO EU member state at the western edge of Europe, next door to NATO and permanent UN Security Council members Britain and France, with basically zero military and defence capabilities might there be?
Such an action would neatly serve to demonstrate Russia’s total power to the world.