Putin's Endgame in Ukraine: Decapitation of the State and a Puppet Govt in Kyiv

To avoid the costs of a long-term occupation, he may want a pro-Moscow command, like the pre-2014 Yanukovych regime.

4 min read

As the Ukrainian military displays fierce resistance in the face of a Russian invasion, perhaps the biggest question on everyone's mind is: What does Vladimir Putin really want from the war?

The truly right answer is that nobody can tell. We can only guess, based on his past military actions and his diplomatic stances.

Experts and analysts have concluded that an installation of a new regime in Kyiv that would be subservient to Moscow may be what Putin has in mind. By doing that, Putin would be taking Ukraine back to the days of the Viktor Yanukovych government, which ruled the country from 2010 to 2014.

That new regime would ensure that Kyiv pivots towards Moscow, and not NATO and Western Europe.

It would also be a government under Vladimir Putin's thumb, and therefore, hardly a democracy.


Occupation Makes War Costlier

Putin has said in the recent past that he has no intentions of occupying Ukraine.

That claim would have been easier to believe had the Kremlin not repeatedly lied about not having any intentions to invade Ukraine.

There are, however, reasons to believe that Putin may not be entirely lying this time about the occupation, but not because of his desire to allow self-governance in Ukraine.

He hates democracy in Ukraine, as he does with respect to other Eastern European countries because those realities challenge his authoritarian grasp on Russia.

So, why is there a possibility that he would not order a Russian occupation of Ukraine? Because occupation is a costly endeavour.

There is enough historical evidence to suggest that post-war military occupations (or even during war) cost the occupying nation a lot of troops, money, and even time.

While around 2,00,000 troops may be enough to launch a brutal assault on Ukraine, military experts have questioned the possibility of using those forces to occupy the second-largest country in the continent, especially when the local population will fiercely resist the invaders.

"If Mr Putin's intent was to occupy the whole of Ukraine with a force of around 150,000, that would only conceivably work if it had the consent of the population," General Barrons, a British military commander who served in Iraq, told the BBC.

Putin must be aware of this, and it is unlikely that, in the face of the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) on him, his aides, and the Russian banks and financial companies, he would decide a future for Ukraine that would cost him more money and troops.

A pro-Moscow Regime

Intelligence officials in the US and the United Kingdom (UK) have been warning for weeks that the invasion of Ukraine will result in Russia orchestrating the overthrow of the democratically elected government and replacing it with a pro-Moscow one.

This move will ensure that Ukraine does not deviate from Putin's strategic objectives in Ukraine and Europe, some of which include:

  • Ukraine not joining NATO and the EU

  • The dismantling of democracy in Ukraine

If this indeed ends being Putin's play, then the favourite to be hand-picked by him as the next leader of Ukraine would be a man called Viktor Medvedchuk, who is the chairperson of a pro-Russia political organisation Ukrainian Choice. He is also vociferously anti-EU.

He has been charged by the Prosecutor General of Ukraine of treason and of attempting to loot the country's national resources in Crimea (which was annexed by Russia in 2014).

Medvedchuk has been under house arrest since May 2021, but that might just change if Russian forces take control of Ukraine.

Such an appointment wouldn't be too different from the time when Ukraine was ruled by President Viktor Yanukovych, who was the head of a pro-Putin government before the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea.

He was popular among the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine but was despised in the western part of the country for being subservient to Putin.

Under Putin's thumb, Yanukovych refused to sign the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the EU.

Consequently, large-scale protests erupted in the country in November 2013, demanding Yanukovych's impeachment

The protests escalated into violent clashes between the protesters and the state security forces in the capital city of Kyiv, which culminated in the overthrow of the Yanukovych regime in February 2014.

That worried Putin, who then went on to annex Crimea.

He revealed for a documentary film that the secret order for the annexation was given right after a late-night meeting during the Euromaidan revolution that discussed at length the deposition of President Yanukovych.

Following Yanukovych's ousting (who was later aided by Putin to flee to Russia), Putin has had to deal with two Ukrainian presidents whose policies have been quite explicitly pro-West.

One of them is Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the other one is his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.

The latter openly supported and worked towards Ukraine's membership of the EU and NATO because he believed that a non-aligned status could not guarantee his country's security.

He used to refer to separatists in Eastern Ukraine as "terrorists," and had even boldly stated that Russia-Ukraine relations can't be normalised unless Crimea is returned to Ukraine.

After Poroshenko, Putin has been dealing with the defiant Zelenskyy, who refused to leave his country as soldiers and tanks stormed the capital.

The Russian president, experts say, would sleep much better knowing that there is a president in Ukraine whose every move is controlled by the Kremlin.

How Putin intends to do so is still unclear, but it seems more and more likely every day that this is what he plans to do, given that he wants to 'denazify' Ukraine and transform the country's relationship with Russia.

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