A New Cold War?
The Sources of Soviet Conduct
Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century
Atomic Weapons and American Policy
The Illusion of Disengagement
On Peaceful Coexistence
The Search for Stability
The Challenge of Change in the Soviet Bloc
The Practice of Partnership
The Framework of East-West Reconciliation
The Limits of Détente
After the Cold War
On Power: The Nature of Soviet Power
The Rise, Fall and Future of Détente
What Went Wrong With Arms Control?
Containment: 40 Years Later
Containment Then and Now
Beyond the Cold War
From Cold War Toward Trusting Peace
Toward the Post-Cold War World
America's Stake in the Soviet Future
Beyond Boris Yeltsin
Can Russia Change?
Russia Leaves the West
The Costs of Renewed Confrontation
Mission to Moscow
Why Authoritarian Stability Is a Myth
What Has Moscow Done?
Rebuilding U.S.-Russian Relations
Moscow's Modernization Dilemma
Is Russia Charting a New Foreign Policy?
The Dying Bear
Russia's Demographic Disaster
Managing the New Cold War
What Moscow and Washington Can Learn From the Last One
Russia's Perpetual Geopolitics
Putin Returns to the Historical Pattern
Putin's Foreign Policy
The Quest to Restore Russia’s Rightful Place
The Revival of the Russian Military
How Moscow Reloaded
Why Putin Took Crimea
The Gambler in the Kremlin
Trump and Russia
The Right Way to Manage Relations
Why New Russia Sanctions Won't Change Moscow's Behavior
Washington's Approach Lacks Clear Goals
The Kremlin's Latest Crackdown on Independent Media
Russia's New Foreign Agent Law in Context
Containing Russia, Again
An Adversary Attacked the United States—It’s Time to Respond
Putin's Past Explains Russia's Future
What to Expect After the Election
Has a New Cold War Really Begun?
Why the Term Shouldn't Apply to Today's Great-Power Tensions
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014 was the most consequential decision of his 16 years in power. By annexing a neighboring country’s territory by force, Putin overturned in a single stroke the assumptions on which the post–Cold War European order had rested.
The question of why Putin took this step is of more than historical interest. Understanding his motives for occupying and annexing Crimea is crucial to assessing whether he will make similar choices in the future—for example, sending troops to “liberate” ethnic Russians in the Baltic states—just as it is key to determining what measures the West might take to deter such actions.
Three plausible interpretations of Putin’s move have emerged. The first—call it “Putin as defender”—is that the Crimean operation was a response to the threat of NATO’s further expansion along Russia’s western border. By this logic, Putin seized the peninsula to prevent two dangerous possibilities: first, that Ukraine’s new government might join NATO, and second, that Kiev might evict Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from its long-standing base in Sevastopol.
A second interpretation—call it “Putin as imperialist”—casts the annexation of Crimea as part of a Russian project to gradually recapture the former territories of the Soviet Union. Putin never accepted the loss of Russian prestige that followed the end of the Cold War, this argument suggests, and he is determined to restore it, in part by expanding Russia’s borders.
A third explanation—“Putin as improviser”—rejects such broader designs and presents the annexation as a hastily conceived response to the unforeseen fall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The occupation and annexation of Crimea, in this view, was an impulsive decision that Putin stumbled into rather than the careful move of a strategist with geopolitical ambitions.
Over the past two years, Putin has appeared to lend support to all three interpretations. He has suggested that Ukraine’s accession to
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