Without any knowledge on the history of the situation, it may be difficult to understand why Putin would invade Ukraine. On the surface, it may look like he is putting his country’s economy in the dumpster just to take over some land. However, the key to understanding Putin’s reasoning lies in, first, understanding the Russian economy.
Russia is the world’s second largest producer of oil and the leading exporter of natural gas. 30% of Russia’s GDP comes from oil and natural gas. This is mainly because Russia is the only petrostate located in Europe. Most of Russia’s gas is sold off to customers in the European Union. About 35% of the European Union’s entire gas supply comes from Russia. This is one of the reasons why certain members of the European Union have not been able to directly challenge Putin during the invasion.
Now, we have to look back at the annexation of Crimea, back in February of 2014. In early 2012, it was discovered that in Ukraine’s exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea, near the Crimean peninsula, there may be over a trillion cubic meters worth of natural gas. This was a great threat for Russia because if this gas was extracted, a second petrostate would emerge in Europe. At the time of these discoveries, Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-russian politician, was in power in Ukraine, meaning that these discoveries were not a great threat for Russia and its economy. However, after the pro-western Ukrainian revolution in 2014, it became a major problem. If Ukraine would join the European Union and NATO as their main suppliers of natural gas and oil, not only would Russia’s economy collapse, but they would also lose the leverage that they had on the countries of the EU. So what did Russia do? Immediately after the revolution, before the country could get back on its feet, Russia took control of the Crimean peninsula and about 80% of Ukraine’s potential oil and gas reserves.
After Crimea’s annexation, the Ukrainian government blocked the only canal that would bring water into Crimea. With Crimea having no water source, both the land and the people are suffering. 2020 was the driest year ever recorded in the history of Crimea. On top of this, as of today, Crimeas’ reservoir is about 7% full. With all of this, Russia is struggling to maintain its hold on Crimea. Which brings us to one of the possible reasons for Putin and Russia’s invasion. Russia may want to take over most of Ukraine to open up the North Crimean Canal, and strengthen their hold on Crimea, as well as take over other areas of Ukraine which have the potential to contain oil and gas reserves, such as Luhansk and Donetsk.
Second, we must take a look at the geography of Russia and Ukraine. The USSR, back when it existed, was in a region known as the North European Plain. This is a region that is almost entirely flat, but shaped like a funnel, surrounded by mountains. The plain has a small opening in east Germany that grows wider and wider as you carry on towards Russia. During the time of the USSR, all of that land was under their control. Now, however, with Germany being part of NATO, this opening is not Russia’s control. If Ukraine was also to join NATO, it would be impossible for Russia to defend in the case of a full on war, as the area to defend would be too wide. This is similar to the reason why Russia invaded Georgia and stopped them from joining NATO in 2008.
Overall, history is repeating itself once again. Putin is doing exactly what he did to Georgia in 2008 again, except this time to Ukraine. Putin says that it is his dream to re-establish the USSR and is making absurd demands from NATO as conditions for him leaving Ukraine. What is next for Russia after taking Ukraine? Will he continue deeper into Europe? What will the EU and NATO do about this? Only time can tell…