Figurines of former pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov from the collection entitled "Toy Soldiers of Novorossiya" on display at a workshop in Moscow, August 29, 2014.
Sergei Karpukhin / Courtesy Reuters

By now, most observers of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine assume that Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to annex the Donbas region of Ukraine and, possibly, other parts of the country’s southeast, which his regime has taken to calling “New Russia.” But that leaves open two questions: First, why didn’t Putin invade Ukraine immediately after he seized Crimea in early March; and second, why, if he intends to hold the Donbas, would he allow his proxies to shell cities, kill civilians, and destroy mines, plants, schools, and other infrastructure?

In a recent interview with Marat Gelman, a political commentator for the liberal Russian publication Novoye Vremya, Vladimir Lukin, a veteran policymaker who served as Putin’s human rights commissioner from February 2004 to March 2014 and who represented Russia in the West’s negotiations with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the democratic opposition on February 20, offered some answers.

According to

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