Analysis & Opinions - Russia Matters

5 Years Since Russia's Intervention in Ukraine: Has Putin's Gamble Paid Off?

| Apr. 14, 2019

In February 2014 Russia’s “little green men” began a not-so-covert military intervention in Ukraine, stoking a conflict that has killed 13,000. In the West, Moscow’s actions were roundly condemned; for the Kremlin, they surely look different. Five years later it is worth asking: Has President Vladimir Putin’s gamble in Ukraine paid off and, if so, for whom? The answer is of paramount importance as it can illuminate Russian leaders’ decisions on future interventions—whether to pursue them, where and how.

To answer the question, this article will attempt to take stock of some key costs and benefits generated by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine at the following levels: (I) for the Russian state, measured by the impact on vital national interests as seen by Russia’s leadership; (II) for Putin personally; (III) for Russia’s ruling elite; (IV) for the Russian economy; and (V) for the Russian public.

On balance, it is this author’s view that the intervention advanced one vital national interest for Russia, as seen from the Kremlin—preventing the growing proximity of a hostile military alliance—while doing damage to several others, primarily involving development of the economy and constructive relations with both post-Soviet neighbors and key Western countries. If Putin’s hope was that the costs imposed by the West on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine would be as fleeting as the costs imposed after Russia’s intervention in Georgia in 2008, then he clearly erred in his calculations. These costs have been manageable so far, but there is a chance they can eventually become prohibitive—not only due to the cumulative impact of ever-expanding Western sanctions in the longer term, but because of Russia’s lackluster economic growth model.  

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Saradzhyan, Simon.“5 Years Since Russia's Intervention in Ukraine: Has Putin's Gamble Paid Off?.” Russia Matters, April 14, 2019.

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