What Putin Really Wants With Ukraine – It’s About Power and Control

By Rachel Puryear

As the world watches the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and overwhelmingly supports and admires the bravery and courage of the Ukrainian people in resisting the invasion; onlookers theorize various motivations for Putin to carry out this egregious and wholly unprovoked attack.

Robbing Ukraine’s natural resources, which include oil and gas, is presumed by many to be a primary motive. Certainly, Ukraine does have valuable natural resources, and this has been the motive for multiple wars in recent history. Putin has also certainly long since demonstrated a willingness to bleed others dry to enrich himself, which is how he became Russia’s top billionaire.

However, it goes even deeper than that. There’s another reason circulating as being Putin’s primary motive for invading Ukraine – it’s about destabilizing Ukraine’s democracy, in order for Putin to maintain power and control over that part of the world. And what we’re seeing from Putin is, on a large scale, what all abusers do when their power over others is threatened (though it’s usually happening on a much smaller scale) – isolate, and control.

Protestors supporting Ukraine, with someone holding a sign reading, “We Stand With Ukraine”, and people holding up a Ukrainian flag. By Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

To give context for the situation, here is a very abbreviated summary of Putin coming to power:

  • Over the past few decades, Putin has rigged Russian elections (because he couldn’t win a fair one). He’s taken over control of the entire government and media in Russia. He’s suppressed free speech in Russia – by laws, and by intimidation through violence and murder. He has robbed the Russian people so blind that he and a few other oligarchs close to him now have most of the wealth in Russia – while most of the Russian people don’t have much.
  • Putin has also played the victim (an underrated abuser tactic) where other world leaders have rightfully called him out. For example, Putin interfered with the 2016 U.S. election partly to destabilize democracy, but it was also personal because Hillary Clinton and then-President Obama might have (rightfully so) previously spoken favorably of protests against Putin.

So now, Putin wants to maintain that power. Ukraine once belonged to the Soviet Union, and Putin views former Soviet countries as still belonging to him. Like any abuser, he doesn’t like to see people he thinks are his get away from his grip – and he doesn’t mind hurting others at all to prevent that from happening.

Ukraine has, in Putin’s view, presented a thorn in the side of his power – particularly since 2014, when pro-democracy Ukrainian protestors drove out their previous deeply corrupt, Putin-friendly oligarch president, Yanukovych; and then later electing Zelenskyy in a landslide vote in 2019, after the latter ran on a campaign promising to stamp out oligarchy and political cronyism.

Invading Ukraine is about Putin wanting to maintain his power. Even though it’s a separate country from Russia, Putin doesn’t want a successful democracy bordering Russia. Because a successful democracy anywhere – but especially one in close proximity, is a threat to his power, and a threat to oligarchy and kleptocracy everywhere.

That is why Putin is so desperate to isolate Ukraine, and try to force them under his control. He does not want Ukrainians to show Russians and people in other surrounding countries that democracy can work, and inspire them to demand the same at home.

For Putin, stealing everything the Russian people have from them has made him astoundingly wealthy – but that’s only half of it. Greed is a motivator for him, but it doesn’t entirely explain this theft. The other half is about controlling people under him by impoverishing them, by never letting them have or keep anything for themselves. People who are hungry, cold, and living in shitholes cannot stand up and fight back nearly as effectively as people who are well fed, warm, and living reasonably comfortably. This is the twofold nature of any financial abuse, which is an important element of abuse in general.

Yes, Putin really is that evil. This is why efforts to appeal to empathy and decency in him will fail, because he has none of those things. The only option with people like this, is to fight back against them and take them down. Ukrainians clearly understand this.

Putin’s efforts to undermine democracy in the West – such as spreading misinformation to steer elections; including the 2016 U.S. election, and Brexit – are also about him trying to maintain his power. There’s a saying from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – and that’s absolutely true.

What’s also true, is that freedom and democracy anywhere is a threat to dictatorships and kleptocrats like Putin everywhere.

This is why Putin finds Ukraine so threatening to him, even though it’s a separate nation from Russia. Because once people see other people enjoying freedom, they start wanting it for themselves, too – because they realize that there is another, better way.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to strength and power to the people of Ukraine.

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