Russia’s leadership and not just Putin himself may be in a state which from our point of view is irrational. In particular, Russia can’t afford Ukraine or the rest of the USSR. Ukraine is at a lower financial level per person than Russia. It would be a burden on Russia if it had it. Russia can’t afford a conflict with the West. Nor would it be better off. Russia if it got back the entire USSR would be back to the prison of nations. It can’t afford that and that is one reason that it collapsed.
However, Putin and others around him may see Ukraine as a threat to their leadership and control. If Ukraine is converted by the European Union, EU, to a success then Russia will want to follow. Ukraine goes deep into Russia. It is also intertwined with its economy. So if Ukraine is converted to EU, Russia would have to follow for similar reasons to invading Ukraine being a bad idea financially.
Leaderships can acquire attitudes or ideas that are irrational to outside observers. Hamas is pushing a war with Israel it can’t win. If the Palestinians were at peace with Israel, they could get benefits and likely overwhelm them demographically over a century or two. However, the Hamas leadership doesn’t benefit personally from that. It doesn’t benefit in prestige and being important.
In the US, the New York City metro area can not stand more 3rd world immigrant dependents. Yet, its Senators and Reps push that in immigration, amnesty, border crisis, etc. Governor Chris Christie has told public employees that the pensions in New Jersey were vapor promises not backed up by reality. Yet New Jersey senators push more immigration. New Jersey’s cities are unsafe for its productive citizens who bear its taxes. Increasingly this is true for a larger part of New York City and of many cities close by such as Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, lower New Rochelle, etc.
The New York City metro area has high state income tax, sales tax and real estate taxes. They can get away with this from the advantages of financial services. There are network benefits to Manhattan in financial services. It also is getting favorable federal policies. But over time, the burden of New York
City is leading companies and individuals to leave. So the pension promises and other promises become unsustainable.
More immigrants from the 3rd world makes that worse. But the Senators and Reps push for that. They see that as their empire in a sense. It makes them important. It also harms their enemies or those they dislike.
Putin and his circle have similar motives. They want to be important. They want to defeat enemies like NATO, European Union, etc. So they push a new Russian empire and see Ukraine as the key acquisition.
Timetable thinking takes over for Putin as it did in World War One and even in WW2 to some extent. Putin sees himself having a window for the rest of Obama’s presidency to restore the Russian empire. If he is going to invade Ukraine, his generals are telling him to do it in August or early September not wait until the mud comes in fall. That is part of what held the Germans back at a critical stage. So Putin is being told now or next year on Ukraine. If it is next year, Ukraine may have rallied more under its new leader and with Western help. Russia will have felt the cost of sanctions more. It also is losing the benefits of Ukraine as part of its economic network as it enters a hostile relation with it.
Russia is in a position similar to Japan in World War 2. It is in an economic crisis from sanctions imposed by the West. One way out of that difficulty it thought was to expand its empire to include resource areas. By taking Ukraine, Russia expands its economic empire. If it retook all of the Russian empire ie of the USSR, it would have expanded markets, raw resources, a bigger network of industrial resources with Ukraine, etc. So it can see itself getting to a better place by believing that a colonial empire around itself would be a benefit and not a burden. It can convince itself of that by such arguments. It will secure markets, raw resources, human resources, industrial resources, transportation networks and ports.
If Putin ends up with the Central Asian states back under Russia, then he can bargain with the US to give help on supplying Afghanistan without need of Pakistan or of joint pressure on Iran, since he would be back on their border. So Putin can see himself having bargaining power in Central Asia that the US prizes and use that to get sanctions lifted.
Putin can also keep playing the terrorism card. Boston Bombing, Volgograd bombings, MH370, MH17 can be seen as Putin stoking the terrorism threat if one sees Russia as behind one or more of those. The more of Central Asia Putin takes or gains influence over, and the less the US has, the more the US will have to gain from cooperation with Russia. Russia is positioning itself as an Orthodox Christian partner for the West in the fight against Muslim terrorism. So that it is a natural ally with its access to Central Asia and its linguistic and intelligence capabilities there.
So Putin seems himself into a timetable to take Ukraine in order to take more of Russia to get sanctions lifted. The same applies to stoking terrorism. Russia has unique resources to fight Muslim and Central Asian terrorism. So the US needs it as a partner the more terrorism there is. On the other hand, fundamentally, this type of colonial empire in Asia and Europe has collapsed on Russia. But Putin hopes this time it is different. His need to be leader makes him choose to believe the story that a new Russian empire will solve his economic and financial problems and make the West give him aid and economic agreements.
This is draft and preliminary. The above is hypotheses and speculation. Comments and corrections welcome. Please restate as questions. All other disclaimers apply.