Russia’s Goal “Conquering Ukraine”, Say Western Media. Not So, Say Experts

Yves here. Further Ukraine funding has suddenly become an impossible hill to climb as government officials and the press started admitting to how Ukraine’s efforts to push Russia back during its glorious counteroffensive had come to little, aside from getting a lot of Ukraine soldiers killed and maimed and burning through a lot of equipment. And that’s before considering even more uncomfortable facts, like this was, depending on how you counted, Ukraine’s third or fourth army.

So now the messaging for why Ukraine should get more dough has turned rapidly from “Russia is a house of cards and will fall over quickly” to “Using Ukraine to weaken Russia is a cheap investment” to “Russia will be in Paris if we don’t spend more to stop the demon Putin!”

This post debunks the notion that Russia wants to take all of Ukraine, let alone advance beyond that. Keep in mind that one of Russia’s paramount objectives in this conflict has been its security. If Russia winds up taking most of Ukraine, it will likely be because the lack of anyone trustworthy on the other side of the table means Russia will have to fall back on physical security.

By Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts. Originally published at InfoBrics

The Ukrainian former defense minister Oleksii Reznikov recently stated that the Kremlin’s goal is to “destroy” Ukraine completely, “assimilating” its citizens into the Russian Federation. Such wild claims have not been much challenged by journalists and opinion-makers in the West. After all, according to Western media Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “plan” is and has always been “to conquer” Ukraine all along. This pervasive Western narrative, also pushed by Kyiv, far from being a kind of self-evident truth, is challenged by voices within the US Establishment such as Jeffrey Sachs and by many respected scholars in the West, including some who are very critical of Moscow. Such a one-sized narrative in fact removes any context regarding the current crisis and completely ignores Russian perspective, goals, and security concerns.

Although a harsh critic of Russian ongoing military campaign in Ukraine, Wolfgang Richter (a Senior Associate in the International Security Division at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – SWP) acknowledged, for example, in a 2022 article that in December 2021, Moscow had “made clear in two draft treaties” what it was after: “preventing a further expansion of NATO to the east and obtaining binding assurances to this end.” The Alliance and Washington, however, according to Richter, “were not prepared to revise the principles of the European security order” and thus Moscow obviously “did not accept this and resorted to the use of force.”

According to this expert, although the US is “far from the theater of conflict in Europe”, French and British nuclear weapons and “the deployment of US sub-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe and NATO’s conventional forces on Russia’s borders” are indeed a security risk in the European continent from Moscow’s perspective. This is so, he argues, quite convincingly, because Russia understands that a future threat could arise from the new American intermediate-range weapons in the continent, which could even reach Russian strategic targets (in the European part of the country) “should Washington and NATO partners decide to deploy them.” Moreover, NATO’s enlargement “has created more potential deployment areas in Central and Eastern Europe.” The Kremlin sees the Atlantic Alliance today, after all, as merely an American tool to advance its geopolitical interests (to the detriment of Russian security).

Sometimes, critics claim that the fact that Moscow cooperated in varying degrees with NATO from the nineties to around 2010 “proves” that Russian claims about NATO’s enlargement should not be taken seriously. This fact, if anything, corroborates Moscow’s arguments.

In his 2018 associated professorship habilitation thesis, Sao Paulo University History Professor Angelo de Oliveira Segrillo describes Putin as a moderate (albeit ambiguously) “Westernist”, rather than an Eurasianist, citing as evidence for it the Russian President’s well know admiration for Peter the Great. Segrillo argues that Putin was never a radical Westernist such as Boris Yeltsin, but rather a pragmatic and moderate one, while also being a gosudarstvennik, that is, someone who advocates for a strong State, in line with Russia’s political tradition. The Brazilian professor thus compares Putin to the French leader Charles de Gaulle, who often opposed Washington and NATO not simply out of an “anti-Western stance” but as someone who is in a position of defending the national interests of one’s own country.

Alas, whether the aforementioned thesis is fully accurate or not, that being something which interests mostly historians and biographers anyway, one can in any case argue that far from being staunchly “anti-Western” due to the supposed personal inclinations of the President (as Western propaganda would have it), the Kremlin in fact has had to take a defensive and counter-offensive approach towards the US-led West over the latter’s many provocations and developments which, from a Russian perspective, constituted crossing red lines.

In the NATO-Russia Founding Act of May 1997, NATO in fact pledged to limit the number of stationed troops, promising not to bring about any “additional permanent stationing of sub­stantial combat forces”, while claiming it had no plan to deploy nuclear weapons in the accession countries. Such agreements eroded over several episodes, as Ritter demonstrates. Countries that did not belong to the CFE started joining the Alliance in 2004 and, to make matters worse, Washington in 2007 established a permanent military presence on the Black Sea. The US had withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 which for the Kremlin was a threat to strategic stability, a perception enhanced by Washington’s 2007 bilateral agreements with the Czech and Poland to deploy missile defense systems in these countries (allegedly to counter an Iranian “threat”).

NATO’s war against Serbia in 1999 (denounced by Russia) had of course already violated the ban on the use of force, and the 1997 and 1999 agreements. Moreover, the brutal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 demonstrated America’s capacity and willingness to break international law, by relying on a “coaling of the willing” of new Eastern European partners and allies (even without NATO consensus). One could also cite Western recognition of Kosovo’s (unilateral) declaration of independence and the 2008 offer of the prospect of joining NATO to Ukraine and Georgia which, according to Richter, was “the breaking point in NATO’s relations with Russia.”

The 2014 Crimea referendum and the Donbass War might have been the culmination of the erosion of an already declining European security order, argues Richter but such erosion “had already begun in 2002 with the growing potential for conflict between Washington and Moscow”, George W. Bush having played an important role in this.

Which brings us to the current situation. For American political scientist John Mearsheimer, if Kyiv and Moscow had reached a deal, which could have happened if it were not for Western interference, Ukraine today would control a greater share of territory. As he writes, “Russia and Ukraine were involved in serious negotiations to end the war in Ukraine right after it started on 24 February 2022”. Regarding that, he adds: “everyone involved in the negotiations understood that Ukraine’s relationship with NATO was Russia’s core concern… if Putin was bent on conquering all of Ukraine, he would not have agreed to these talks.” The main issue was NATO.

To sum it up, although at times Russia considered the possibility of engaging in further dialogue and cooperation with NATO, there have always been tensions about the Atlantic Alliance’s expansion, and Moscow security concerns pertaining to it, far from being a mere excuse, are in fact well-founded.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Viscaelpaviscaelvi

    Some time ago I heard from a Spanish guy that when Russia proposed to Clinton to join NATO, the USA reply was a document where they detailed the conditions to do it, and they were something like the destruction of all their nuclear weapons, the reduction of the size of the army by 50% and other such niceties. The list was probably much longer – these guys know how to make lists. All in all, a not that polite way to say no fucking way.
    However, I have never found any other reference to that document, to the point that I doubt its very existence. Maybe it was a set of conditions transmitted verbally. I don’t know.
    Does anyone here know about the existence of such document/conditions?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Putin who proposed joining NATO, as he recounted, verbally when Clinton visited Moscow in May 2000, right after Putin became President. As I recall Putin’s discussion in his Oliver Stone interview, Putin regarded it as likely to be seen as a joke since Putin knew he would be brushed off. Remember, Clinton was the one who pushed for NATO expansion in 1997, allegedly to win the Polish vote. Putin likely meant it as a jibe. Putin never said Clinton responded.

      Russia by virtue of its size would serve as a counterweight to the US, threatening its dominance of NATO. In fact, trying to do things top leader to top leader, as Putin soon discovered with the US, was a way not to get things done. Putin reported reaching specific understandings with Bush than then went nowhere and were later reversed by clearly bureaucrat-written missives depicted as from the White House.

      I am sure if there had been any such document Putin or the Foreign Ministry would have discussed as proof of the US intent to use NATO as a vehicle to subjugate member states.

      1. Aurelien

        It was never a serious idea, and everybody knew it would have destroyed NATO quite quickly (a Russian Supreme Allied Commander, for example? A Russian chair of the Nuclear Panning Group?). Among other things, the former WP countries would have had a collective nervous breakdown.

      2. AG

        thx for the Richter quotation from SWP-Intitut, (which is in fact located near a cake shop I am a regular custom to so I see the SWP building pretty often, argh. There is even a great Sushi place vis-a-vis. double-argh)

        Here the link to Geoffrey Roberts´ item from 2011 about Molotov´s proposal for the USSR to join NATO in 1954. The proposal was rejected. We owe this document to Mr. Roberts´ research.

        Roberts´ introduction includes below comments. Remember this hapened soon 70 years ago –
        2 years after the Stalin Notes had already been rejected. Eventually a year later FRG joined NATO, got its own army and the Warsaw Pact was formed.

        “(…)The document below is a translation of V. M. Molotov’s proposal to the Soviet Presidium in March 1954 that the USSR should issue a diplomatic note to the Western powers stating its willingness to consider joining NATO. The background to Molotov’s memorandum was the launch of the Soviet campaign for European collective security at the Berlin Conference of Foreign Ministers in February 1954. At that conference Molotov proposed the Soviet alternative to western plans for a European Defense Community (EDC) involving the participation of a rearmed West Germany—the conclusion of a pan-European collective security treaty. This proposal was linked in tum to a further set of Soviet proposals on the German question, including Germany’s reunification and neutralization in the cold war.

        Molotov’s collective security proposal was rejected by western representatives on two grounds. Firstly, because the United States was excluded from the proposed treaty and relegated, together with Communist China, to observer status. Secondly, because the Soviet proposal aimed, it was said, to disrupt NATO as well as halt the formation of the EDC. Molotov responded to these criticisms by saying that the Soviet proposal could be amended and that he was open to persuasion about the value of NATO as a defensive organization.(…)”

  2. Matthew

    I find this view compelling but it will be a little awkward to explain to liberals when Russia ends up conquering all of Ukraine as they seek on track to doing

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Even in a more expansive scenario. Russia does not want Lvov or Galacia. The Banderites can have a home and be equal opportunity abusers of Poles and Russians from there.

    2. Kilgore Trout

      It is hard to see how the war can be sustained much longer, since Ukraine is running out of bodies, and the West out of weapons. But in the hive mind of the Neo-cons, continuing the war at simmer/ slow boil in a “defensive” mode, may yield the best outcome, confirming their claim that Russia/Putin threatens all of Europe. It forces Russia to continue moving westward to create a security buffer between themselves and Ukrainian forces, and therefore would in their minds “prove” Russia’s evil intent of territorial expansion.

      1. digi_owl

        The Biden camp may have started and kept this going in order to distract from whatever Hunter was up to there on behalf of the clan (and that Trump was getting curious about), while the Clinton camp wants to break Russia in order to get at those sweet sweet resources Putin so rudely denied them when he broke the oligarchs.

        While another bunch, looking to bring China to heel, see Ukraine at present as a distraction and a premature drain on resources while also wanting to at least keep Russia busy so they can’t aide China once the Taiwan straight heats up.

        For the latter a frozen conflict, so that Russia can’t start moving men and material east, would likely be optimal.

        But all of them seem to think they can just wave the congressional credit card and have the Pentagon stockpiles refilled over night like some Amazon Prime order of ice cream.

    3. Jams O'Donnell

      Russia’s stated goals in the war are for Ukrainian disarmament, Ukrainian de-Nazification and an end to the idea of the Ukraine joining NATO, as well as a new security agreement for Europe. In order to obtain these goals Russia does not necessarily have to occupy all of the Ukraine, but to make these goals permanent and meaningful it will have to ensure that part of the peace agreement ensures that any rump Ukraine is governed by rulers who will respect the agreement. Leaving a hostile and embittered remnant to foment trouble, aided no doubt by Germany, Poland and the UK will not ensure this, and will only encourage the EU/UK/US to continue in the march of folly.

      So whether the Russian Army goes to the borders of Poland depends on whether it needs to, given the above.

  3. renard

    “…a perception enhanced by Washington’s 2007 bilateral agreements with the Czech and Poland to deploy missile defense systems in these countries (allegedly to counter an Iranian “threat”).”

    AFAIK it’s Poland and Romania.

  4. The Rev Kev

    NATO countries are talking a lot about “freezing the conflict” as a way of “winning”. Thing is, Russian law states that any occupied Russian territory must be freed and the Ukraine still currently occupies big chunks of what are now Russian Oblasts. Can you see the Ukrainian army simply packing up their things and leaving all that territory behind in places like Kharkiv and Kherson? It would never happen to matter who was in charge of the Ukraine. But as Yves has pointed out – and which has been mentioned by Alexander Mercouris a coupla times – nobody in the west is asking the Russians what they think. The only way that this war ends is in a Russian military victory to not only fulfill their strategic aims but to internally wreck NATO who could not stop them and so proved themselves useless. Bonus points for the NATO countries emptying out their armouries for years if not decades to come. Same for the US. The US had some strategic policy – I forget the specifics – but they were supposed to be able to fight two wars and another major action elsewhere. And right now, they would be hard pressed to fight even one war.

    1. Polar Socialist

      There are rumours/news about Ukrainian troops packing everyone else’s things (looting) in Kherson, while preparing to leave, though.

      There was also an interview with Apti Alaudinov, commanders of the Akhmat forces (a collection of Chechens, ex-Wagners and foreign fighters). When asked if Russian offensive has already started (with all the advances along the line of contact) he said that Russian forces are for now merely keeping up the attrition of Ukrainians and improving their positions in preparation for a big offensive in the spring.

      That and the defense budget sort of indicate that Russia is aiming to resolve the SMO next year, starting sometimes around May, after the rasputitsa. If true, it will be an interesting campaign season.

  5. Frank

    This is a pretty good take on Russia’s overall strategic goals. I suspect the Russians gamed out many possible scenarios when planning the SMO, and taking the entirety of Ukraine was among them. If you read Putin’s article from July of 2021, he provides the historical and moral case for what is certainly a bold move on the geopolitical stage. Also, the Russians must have know that it would be impossible to strike a deal with the Americans after they completely blew off their proposals in December of the same year and that a great show of force would be necessary.

    Related, this is a good post:

    1. EMC

      Thanks for the link. Too little attention has been paid to Crimea as the ultimate goal in the entire destabilization campaign of Ukraine. It was the first place ethnic Russians were attacked in the days following the 2014 coup. It was also the goal of the summer offensive, as devised by western strategic planners. The southern front was supposed to be the only front. Continuing to fight in the east was Ukraine’s priority.

      The author has a few historical errors, or omissions, if you prefer. Georgia initiated the 2008 conflict, not Russia to gain control of the Black Sea coast. Crimea held multiple referenda since 1991 to separate from Ukraine, as they did in 2014, Russia didn’t simply take it. The approx 100K Russian military assembled along the border with eastern Donbass was in response to approx 130K NATO armed Ukrainian military assembled along the western border of Donbass. The SMO started when the Ukrainian assault on Donbass was renewed. Details.

      1. Frank

        Who started the war in Georgia is not particularly germane to his point that Russia took the opportunity to seize a large chunk of the country’s Black Sea coastline. The war started in South Ossetia, but Russia also sent forces into, and secured, Abkhazia anyway. In addition to being strategic land, it’s a beautiful piece of real estate, I have a view of the Abkhaz mountains from my window.

        I know there are many people who believe an invasion of the Donbass Republics was imminent, Yves was just in a discussion about it on another thread, but I’m not among them. While a Ukrainian attack might have happened at some point anyway, the decision to launch the SMO was made about a year before it started. There was Putin’s article in July, along with a serious crackdown on the liberal opposition. Word at the time was that it was in preparation for war.

        1. Piotr Berman

          Actually, Abkhazians pushed Georgians almost totally out of Abkhazia much earlier, and only a single mountain valley far from the sea was in Georgian hands. Apart from that valley, Russia used ground troops to separate bulk of Georgia from the sea prior to withdrawal, without resistance, which was a wise choice for Georgia, the war was short, territorial losses limited to several villages in Abhazia and Ossetia, and the destruction was minimal.

          1. digi_owl

            My impression of the Georgia situation was that the areas held military bases that Russia had leased since the USSR dissolved, and scheduled for withdrawal under Yeltsin. But either during Putin or Medvedev the withdrawal was dropped and they have been sitting pretty since.

            And yeah, Crimea has been the price since times immemorial. It is effectively one of those unsinkable carriers that allow the possessor to extend their influence across the whole of the Black Sea.

    2. Maxwell Johnston

      Thanks for the link. I tip my hat to Kevin Batcho. Taking the time to deconstruct an entire article is hard work, especially when said article is published in a carefully edited prestige publication like FP. I used to fantasize about setting up a website/blog devoted solely to reading each weekly issue of The Economist and shredding each silly (but crisply written) article much like Mr. Batcho at beyondwasteland has done, but it would be too much work (and of course there’s no guarantee that people would pay me for my efforts). You gotta pick your battles in this short life.

      1. eg

        Yeah, correcting all of the arrogant nonsense in every article of The Eclownomist would be like cleaning the Augean stables every week.

  6. Screwball

    Wall Street Chuck Schumer Tweet from yesterday;

    Democrats stand with President Zelenskyy.
    Democrats stand with Ukraine.
    Democrats stand for democracy.

    If Republicans don’t get serious about a national security package, Putin’s going to walk right through Ukraine and Europe.
    Money, it’s all about the money. Money buys more bombs, more war toys, and more killing. That’s all they know and care about. Screw the people here. Look how we treat our veterans, elderly, and homeless – but scaremonger for more bombs. Go enlist Chuck you war mongering POS.

    1. TimD

      Ah, Schumer the shrill, shill. Blame the Republicans through images of Russians taking over everything. The Republicans will blame the Democrats if they don’t support more border security. They will go round and round and round, past the point where they are too dizzy to continue. Less than 365 electioneering days left everyone.

    2. tegnost

      Look how we treat our veterans, elderly, and homeless –

      I think this is basically the core of it all. US PTB see that they have gotten away with fleecing the US , remember, in 2008 they crashed the economy, then bailed themselves out multiple times (I recall the dow at something like 6,000…see todays numbers and be awe inspired. All of that money was a handout, pretty much we’ll bail out one part of the population who will then kill off the rest, and consider themselves the good people while they’re doing the killing, see gaza) plus stuffed corporate coffers with the cash they felt would allow the purchase of the rest of the physical plant of the world. Your rent is too high because of this asset pump, not because of any particular superiority, but don’t try to get that idea past a meritocrat, it’ll ruin X mas dinner for sure.

  7. Fred

    Putin restated his goals in a recent news conference “He reiterated that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine — “de-Nazification, de-militarization and a neutral status” of Ukraine — remain unchanged. He had spelled out those loosely defined objectives the day he sent troops into its neighbor in February 2022.” No one knows what he means by de-Nazification, but it’s clear he doesn’t want Ukraine or any of the former satellite countries to join NATO or side with the West. Maybe there is logic to that from Moscow’s pov, but to do it by force is only going to cause them problems for decades to come.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      Not doing it, by whatever means, would cause them problems for decades to come. Can you suggest a realistic alternative to the use of force?

    2. Polar Socialist

      On de-nazification, one could read the UN resolution 76/149 (, pdf), which is kind of a checklist on how to de-Nazify a state. The one Ukraine and USA voted against.

      Just implementing the recommendations on that document would get Ukraine 9/10 of the way.

      You say “no one knows”, but for most of the countries (and people) in the world it’s quite obvious how not to be a Nazi. And that’s what it’s all about.

      1. digi_owl

        Lets never forget that until the SMO kicked off mainstream media kept wringing their hands about Ukrainian soldiers sporting clear Nazi derived symbols on their uniforms. But once Russia crossed the border all that was memory holed, and suddenly Azovs was just brave Ukrainians fighting a resurgent red army bent on taking Europe.

  8. Joss Smith

    Good Summation . . .

    If the Russians had wanted to take Ukraine they would have a long time ago . . . They don’t want to have to govern that nightmare.

    The Russians are in control of this event and the WEST knows it . . .
    They are watching the mounting dissension among NATO Countries.
    Who is running around looking for Money, Arms and Support . . . the WEST.
    Who is trying to convince their peoples to continue to support the War . . . the WEST.
    Whose Economies are in decline . . . the WEST.
    Who is making all the propaganda about Ukraine winning . . . The WEST
    Who is better off now than before the Special Military Operations started . . . the RUSSIANS !!!

    Now has the BIDEN Administration finally found their badly needed OFF-RAMP by no longer being able to fund the Ukrainians and blame it on the Republicans ???
    Will they be smart enough to use IT is the Question ???
    Time will tell . . .

  9. ilsm

    The image of Putin walking around Paris is not as interesting as the image of Putin standing down Hitler over Rhineland rearming in 1936.

    Do we allow the neocon to name how history rhymes?

  10. Chris Cosmos

    The US imperial agenda has been in place for some time, i.e., full conquest of the known universe by any means necessary. This explains the fanatics in power in Washington who have purged not only the foreign policy community in Washington but all the mainstream media of dissidents to their one-goal to not only rule other countries around the globe but create a highly atomized society that devalues family and community in favor of a common word culture based on consumerism/hedonism. I get it–certainly a one-world culture could be argued as a better than strongly nationalistic states. The fuel for this is the rise of international corporations and organizations of all kinds that want, always, more of a free-hand in political and cultural lives.

    The West can lose in Ukraine, lower the standard of living in Europe and still achieve its goal, not through military means (in the US war is about profit and little else) but culturally by creating compelling narratives that, again, devalue family, community, and nationalism that is why nationalists like Orban, Trump, and Putin are so hated in Washington. The irony is, in the US for sure, the alliance of neo-cons and liberal globalists, use divisions within the US usually social/cultural, to spread “diversity.” But that’s another argument for another day.

Comments are closed.