Reason for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at this time? Attempting to explain the unexplainable has become a common occurrence in today’s society, it appears. Every news report, every conversation with our children, every prayerful request for peace, and every conversation between Americans across the country is more likely than ever to be followed by a shake of the head and a question mark. It doesn’t matter whether you call it genocide, war, an unlawful invasion, or a special military operation; an accurate accounting of the loss of lives and treasure in Ukraine will forever reflect the most heinous and inhumane of crimes committed against humanity.
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Reason for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at this time?
One of the hundreds of unanswered questions surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions is why he did it now. “Why now?” is one of the most important questions that has yet to be addressed: “Why now?” Why would Putin launch an attack on Ukraine at a time when the Biden administration and NATO were working to strengthen ties and heal divisions?
Before I proceed with my hypothesis, let me state unequivocally that Putin is solely responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. The debacle that was the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, as well as a less-than-perfect “perfect” phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, did not inspire Putin to take this step. The failure to respond to Bashar al-use Assad’s of chemical weapons in Syria after President Obama drew a “red line” in the sand did not accomplish this goal, either. No, all of this was orchestrated by Putin. He is the one who committed the war crimes. His actions have resulted in death and catastrophe. A similar sentiment can be expressed about the humiliating destruction of his military at the hands of an outmatched but incredibly courageous, disciplined and experienced Ukrainian combatants’ force.
Putin’s decision-making, which is primarily influenced by the nature of his national autocracy and narcissism, was nonetheless influenced by the factors listed above, as well as many others. Putin did perceive a lack of resolve on Obama’s part in Syria, where he aided Assad’s regime. In response to the refusal of Zelensky to fabricate an investigation in exchange for an approved weapons package, Putin saw an opening shaped by what Trump would always consider a personal insult. When we left Afghanistan on President Biden’s orders in a hasty departure and without appropriate cooperation with NATO allies, Putin saw a splintered and weakened NATO and an America on the verge of disintegrating.
Of doubt, there have been other strategic adjustments that have had an impact on Putin’s calculus, but why did he wait until now to make his decision?
Putin, in my opinion, had been planning an invasion of Ukraine for some time and did not want to complicate what he believed would be an inevitable re-election of Trump by invading Ukraine during Trump’s first term. Instead, Putin has always intended to wait for Trump’s second term because, right or wrong, he believes a second Trump administration will provide a more favorable response to his policies and initiatives.
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Once again, this isn’t about Trump; it’s about how Putin felt about the prospect of a second term. However, Putin was well aware that the United States’ legitimate emphasis on Iran, North Korea, and China made the idea of a warming relationship with Russia more acceptable in the United States. Moreover, given Trump’s emphasis on “America First” policies that downplayed globalism and multilateral partnerships such as those associated with NATO, Putin was likely under the impression that the response to a Russian invasion under a second Trump administration would be quite nuanced, potentially fracturing NATO to the point of operational imprudence or even disintegration.
The important thing to remember about this is that Putin’s narcissism and the dictatorship he created hindered him from correctly assessing the new geopolitical landscape that emerged as a result of Biden’s victory as president. He failed to recognize the potential consequences of fresh American leadership in uniting NATO — and, possibly, the majority of the rest of the developed world — in a consolidated and forceful fight against the cruelty that Putin’s own stupidity has unleashed against the rest of humanity.
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Because of this, Putin has been able to keep his demented plan on track and has chosen to move forward without having the foggiest idea that NATO’s defensive foundation, combined with the outrage of much of the world, will crush the lifeblood from Putin’s economy; reveal his military as an incompetent pariah; and turn his country into an isolated island of imperialistic autocracy surrounded by freedom-loving and newly awakened nations.
So, why now? Quite simply, it was the plan all along and Putin’s autocrats knew his narcissism would never permit a change. So, they simply lied to him about the potential outcome.
The decision to invade Ukraine, among the worst in modern history, provides a lesson not just for Putin but for the rest of the world as well. Autocratic, narcissist leaders inevitably will lead nations to their own slow demise. I hope we resolve never to join that club in America.
Daniel P. Woodward is a retired Air Force brigadier general and longtime fellow of the American College of National Security Leaders, a nonpartisan community of national security professionals devoted to informing, influencing and inspiring debate in America. The opinions expressed here are his alone.