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The current Russia-Ukraine crisis has been 30 years in the making


Ukraine is under attack this morning. Russia is launching strikes across the country. The Kremlin has called this a special military operation, not a war. Angela Stent is senior adviser to the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies. She's also the author of a number of books about Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Angela, we've been warned about this. The Biden administration has been warning about this for a while now. Are you surprised, though, that Vladimir Putin went ahead and went with this attack?

ANGELA STENT: I'm not too surprised. I mean, when you look at the military buildup - and it kept escalating and, every time we had diplomatic talks with the Russians, they escalated again. I think some of us thought this would be a slower process. It would be more salami tactics and piecemeal. But this is a full-scale invasion despite the Orwellian language that the Russians use.

MARTÍNEZ: Before we get to his long game, Angela, what would you say his immediate goals are for doing this?

STENT: The immediate goal is to change the government in Kyiv, to have a government come in that's going to be pro-Russian. And, you know, in essence, they've said they want to demilitarize Ukraine. But the main thing is to have a different government there and one that will stop Ukraine's movement westward.

MARTÍNEZ: And that figures into the long game because you've written about what you call the Putin doctrine, and so this crisis has been 30 years in the making. Help us understand why.

STENT: Well, I think Putin, of course, has said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a great geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. And I think, since he's been in power for 22 years now, he has been doggedly trying to reverse what happened in 1991 and to at least restore a sphere of influence that Russia can have over the post-Soviet states and to really challenge the European security order that emerged in the 1990s.

MARTÍNEZ: Why do you think now, though? I mean, he's turning 70 later this year. Do you think that has anything to do with it? Because I - he's been acting and sounding as if legacy means a lot to him.

STENT: Yeah, I think his legacy as he sees it is to reunite Ukraine with Russia. And, you know, that's his immediate objective. And I think why now also has to do with what he sees as the weakness of the West, looking at the United States and all the problems we have in the European South. And he thought this was a time to strike. And I think he also believed that the Ukrainian government was weak and therefore this would be reasonably easy to do.

MARTÍNEZ: President Biden and NATO commanders have both said they won't send troops into NATO - into Ukraine. Ukraine is not part of NATO. They've also said they won't allow a full-scale Russian invasion. So what does war look like with Russia if it comes to that?

STENT: Well, the - NATO does not want to go to war with Russia, and that's why that - you know, you're not going to have U.S. troops in Ukraine. We can't get into a direct fight with the Russians. We're both nuclear superpowers. What worries me is containing Russian-Ukrainian war so that it doesn't spread to neighboring NATO members like Poland and Romania because that could ignite a much larger conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: Would that be your number one piece of advice? President Biden is going to be speaking to the G-7 leaders around Europe to plan a response. So if you were advising him, what would you say?

STENT: Yeah, I mean, I think they have to be very vigilant. They have to beef up NATO's forces around Ukraine. But I think everybody has to be very careful that this doesn't ignite into something greater.

MARTÍNEZ: Angela Stent is director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies. Angela, thank you.

STENT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.