In a recent article for Layout, the Russian journalist Ilya Zhegulev investigates how Putin “came up with the idea of a war in Ukraine”. Zhegulev is a respected dissident who’s currently affiliated to the Wilson Center in Washington (he’s not pro-Putin, in other words).
While there’ve been hundreds of articles discussing why Putin launched the invasion, this one happens to be based on “conversations with former and current officials in the Russian and Ukrainian authorities”. So it’s more worth your time than most – even if you don’t agree with all the author’s interpretations.
Some themes are familiar, of course. Putin increasingly viewed independent Ukraine as an “artificial phenomenon”. He was deeply suspicious of U.S. influence, believing that Americans “make all decisions regarding Ukraine”. And he’d sought to keep Ukraine within Russia’s sphere of influence via the Minsk agreements, which were “a great relief”.
When Zelensky came to power, Putin “hoped it would be possible to negotiate”, assuming “he would beat the inexperienced politician and finally launch the implementation of the Minsk agreements”. However, Zelesnky proved to be “an even more difficult negotiator than his predecessor”. After the 2019 Paris Summit failed to yield a satisfactory outcome, relations rapidly deteriorated.
The “last straw” was Zelensky’s decision to ban three pro-Russian TV channels linked to Putin-ally Viktor Medvedchuk. According to Zhegulev, this was an attempt to “neutralise” Medvedchuk – whose party had recently beaten Zelensky’s in six regional elections.
Three sources “close to the Russian president” all confirmed the significance of Zelensky’s decision, which Putin took as a “personal attack”. Zhegulev notes that “the existence of Medvedchuk and his channels” had been “like a bridge and a hope to somehow resolve the situation by political means”.
Read More: U.S.-Backed Closure of Pro-Russian TV Channels Was “Last Straw” for Putin