Putin’s Game Plan in Ukraine

How Moscow Aims to Force Concessions Out of Kiev

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a rally and concert marking the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea in central Moscow, March 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko / Pool via REUTERS

At the end of 2013, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president, postponed signing an association agreement with the European Union, choosing instead to pursue closer ties with Russia. Protesters began massing on Kiev’s central square, known as the Maidan. Weeks of tension spilling into violence culminated with Yanukovych’s ouster on February 22.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looked on with anger and alarm. Suppose that what had happened on the Maidan sparked similar protests in Russia?

Putin began to refer to the Ukrainian government as a “junta” in speeches. The term belonged to the Soviet propaganda lexicon: the Kremlin used it to describe the Latin American dictatorships the United States supported during the Cold War. Putin’s revival of this language marked a steep downturn in relations between Moscow and Kiev. Russian state-controlled media took up a propagandistic narrative, in which the new Ukrainian authorities were illegitimate and Russia would not hesitate

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