“Clever people finally managed to convince him that he was a little wrong about Ukraine,” says Igor Bunin, director of Center of Political Technologies, listing the reasons for Putin’s decision: “that pro-Russian sentiment is not necessarily as significant as some like to present it; that providing for the Luhansk and Donetsk regions would be expensive for Russia; and most importantly, that the third stage of sanctions threatened the Russian economy.”
But the main reason for the withdrawal was the number of troops: “It is one thing to invade Ukraine, and a different thing to keep the occupied regions under control,” says military expert Alexander Golts. Putin had thousands of rapid-reaction troops at hand just 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the Luhansk region, on highways leading into Ukraine. But to control millions of people living in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Russia would need to set up thousands of checkpoints that would require bringing draftees to Ukraine. “That all sounded too problematic,” Golts says.