After Putin seized Crimea, many Westerners saw him as a brilliant strategist. Pavlovsky disagrees; instead, he claims the Kremlin doesn’t really have a strategy. The regime jumps from crisis to crisis in a constant state of improvisation. Putin is not the key; it’s the system itself. A crisis is necessary for the regime to be able to present itself as a savior.
This is the way to understand the invasion of Ukraine. A free, democratic Ukraine in the European Union is of course no threat to Russia, if by Russia one means the Russian people. But when the Maidan revolt ousted the Kremlin’s stooge, former President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow suddenly had a chance to claim that Russians were under attack. After his occupation of Crimea—and despite the resulting sanctions that devastated the economy—Putin’s approval ratings rose from 60 to around 80 percent.
This is a short-term tactic, however. Since the planned conquest of “Novorossiya” doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, Putin needs a new crisis. It’s no secret that Russia has been supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad from the beginning of Syria’s civil war, and now it seems Moscow is stepping up its military presence there.